Lynd Ward Quote: The Book Artist (1947)

Words of wisdom from the great American illustrator Lynd Ward, from the book Work For Artists What Where How (1947), available on Lynd Ward is probably best known for his children’s book The Biggest Bear, and for his wordless adult novels in woodcut such as God’s Man, Vertigo, and Song Without Words.

Here’s the transcribed quote:


Lynd Ward

Only a very small part of the vast quantities of paper used in our civilization goes into books. Torrents of printed material from other presses cover the land as newspapers, magazines, leaflets, brochures, billboard posters, throw-aways, cartons, wrappings and billheads. The output of the country’s book presses is no more than a fraction of one per cent of the tonnage of paper used annually in the United States. These figures are not, however, an accurate index of the importance of books. The book functions differently from other products of the press. Yesterday’s newspaper, last week’s magazine, last month’s billboard posters are gone from sight and mind.

In sharp contrast to the transitory character of these, the book has a tangible existence in time and space. It is physically solid and, in an impermanent world, relatively permanent. Artists have always had a special concern with these attributes in connection with their creative work. The fact that the book has these qualities may be responsible, in large part, for the long and enduring relationship between artists and books.

I wonder if that statistic has changed much in the past 68 years? My guess is that it has not, the one major difference being the much larger scale of printed material there is nowadays. I hadn’t ever considered what the ratio of books to other printed materials would be, and thinking about it, it isn’t too surprising that books comprise such a small percentage of what is printed. Just look around you.

The idea of the permanency of physical books is just as, if not more relevant today than it was then. Now we have the great ebook vs print debate, where ebooks suddenly are impermanent. What does the impermanence of ebooks mean culturally? Google Vice President Vint Cerf warns of a “digital dark age”, the idea that our current technology will become obsolete and our data unrecoverable. The technology of the printed book, however, is timeless.

Classic American illustrator. The following examples show you why!

From God’s Man:
lyndward_godsman1 lyndward_godsman2
The Biggest Bear cover:

From Beowulf:


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