One of my birthday presents this year was a nice new notebook. It’s leather, with very fine pages that have a good tooth (meaning, they take ink in interesting ways). As a result, I’ve had a chance to experiment with frames on some of the pages, as a way of teaching myself more about Ars Memorativa.
It turns out that illustrations in medieval books serve a couple of different purposes. Not only are they there to provide beauty, but they also help “cue” the readers of the book — some of whom may only have seen a given book once or twice in their entire lives — to remember a specific passage or text more easily. If you can recall the image that goes along with the text, you have a better chance of remembering the text itself. I can’t prove it, of course, but I think that this is one of the points of the Decans of the Zodiac, and the Mansions of the Moon (and by extension, the images on the Kavad). The goal of these images is to help train the memory to retain certain facts, by providing the brain with unusual, distinctive, even grotesque images that serve as keys to specific thoughts or ideas.
It makes sense to use frames as a way of making these images more distinctive, as well. As a result, I’ve been playing with frames as a lead-up to figure-drawing within them. Part of the inspiration for this was the work with the Decans images I was doing for a while, but also discovering Zentangle and other forms of repetitive artwork. I’m going to teach some of these patterns for next year, and see what comes of it. If kids can start using them to create memorable doodles in their notes, which help them find critical pieces of information, then this is a useful technique to work with, maybe.
Although I’ve made the frames highly elaborate, though, I can’t forget that the ultimate goal is to learn and then teach ars memorativa techniques. The frames help provide ‘bookmarks’ in the book to find specific materials, and to remember them by use of the distinctive illustrations. If the illustrations don’t help readers and ‘rememberers’ connect with the information they’re looking up, it’s not as helpful as it should be.