Document

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Document is a concept and artistic ideology proposed by Charles Ricketts in the unsigned editorial The Unwritten Book, which appears in the second volume of The Dial (1892).

Document is the integration of fine, referential details in a work of art, that may represent something but do not necessarily depend on a textual narrative nor generate a narrative within the text itself. Instead, it acts more like French Symbolist art, and meaning is generated through the interplay of the reader’s understanding of these elements and the artistic intentions of the creator. Ideally, though, meaning is not dependent on either of these interactions, and the work is able to represent and advocate for itself without viewer or creator.

Ricketts writes, “…the word Document represents some exquisite detail in a masterpiece, convincing to the spectator as a thing known, yet not of necessity the symbol of borrowed story”. Document is a set or series of details, that are possibly references, that the viewer may recognize. It does not necessarily illustrate a story, nor does it necessarily contribute to an internal narrative within an image or text.

He continues, “…yet this thing, by its cunning spontaneity, will give the emotion that sudden movement adds to nature”. Document offers an experience for the viewer, possibly generating emotion, movement, or an interplay between the knowledge of the viewer and the references and meanings they are able to uncover within an image.

Ricketts writes, “Let the great artists yet alive be witness that copybook culture is the only reason for this colourless currency in art and thought; the rainbow of Art is still there for Hope to look through, all pleasantness has not been snatched from the meadows and hills of Nature’s royalty, Art has been, Art is, so the present touches wings with the past”. In these sentences, Ricketts makes it clear that Document is an ideology that stems from a rejection to the consumption and audience-focused art popularized in other contemporary media. He believes the quick turnaround and technical advances that contribute to mass production of art renders these pieces “colourless”, and ruins their poetic and artistic natures.

But he quantifies this “copying” is not the same as including references to past artworks or other contemporary cultural works; in fact, this is a core feature of document. It includes references to the past, whether in narrative, symbol, or form, and uses these elements purposefully. It is different than copying, as these references “touch the wings”, and the text has its own identity while referencing and reimagining the past.

Ricketts, Charles. “The Unwritten Book.” The Dial, vol. 2, 1892, pp. 25-28. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/dialv2-ricketts-unwritten/

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