David Byrne’s Dingbats and the art of self knowledge
What makes us the people we are? Byrne’s new book, A History of the World (in Dingbats) has something approaching an answer
A Dingbat, as David Byrne uses the word, is an oddball typographical element, once used in book and magazine printing to both give layout instructions to the printer, and to create a pleasant sense of space on the page.
“These meaningless glyphs eventually morphed into little drawings and icons that are often used to break up imposing and intimidating blocks of text,” explains the author and recording artist. “A flowerpot, a bird, a cup and saucer, that kind of thing – they’re not usually meant to illustrate specific text content.”
During the pandemic Byrne drew a wide array of dingbats, with the intention of using them in a new web magazine he was working on, but the dingbats had other plans. “As soon as I began to draw I got carried away,” he writes, “they immediately assumed a life of their own.”
The results of that artistic voyage can now be found in Byrne’s new book, A History of the World (in Dingbats). It’s a charming, winsome, enlightening, and also at times eerie book, reminiscent of perhaps the kind of ruminations we all underwent in 2020. Consider this accompanying passage for a series of particularly heady dingbats, entitled Bridge to the Mind.
David Byrne, like many people, enjoys drawing. David Byrne / © 2022 Todo Mundo Ltd
“Rolled up in tissue paper. Secured with a rubber band. Rooms where we dwell. Thoughts and feelings accumulate, like unread books and junk mail.
“There, almost hidden under a pile of cleaning solutions and electronic chargers, is a paper window to the life I used to know.
“This is you, it says. But it’s not me now.
“Who was I then? Would I like myself, even? Would the person I’m with like me? Is there forward momentum, as it seems to feel to us, or are we moving sideways?
“What’s going on in there? Are there other people in there like me? Are you there too, my love?
“Every book I’ve read, every street, face and song. I’m made up of people and things outside myself, beyond myself, and beyond my own control.
“Here is the miracle.”
A History of the World (in Dingbats)
Were your 2020 visions a little like this? Then maybe you'd like to get a copy of Byrne’s new book. Find out more about A History of the World (in Dingbats) here.