A Pimple on My Ass. David Byrne / © 2022 Todo Mundo Ltd. from Part Four: I Can See Beyond the Swamp!

David Byrne’s Dingbats and the art of motivation

The singer, songwriter and fine artist’s new book of simple, yet absorbing drawings has something to say getting ourselves out of challenging territory

Can you spot a dingbat? David Byrne. In the singer, songwriter and fine artist’s new book, A History of the World (in Dingbats), Byrne uses this word as it was once employed in the printing trade. Back in the days of movable type, the word ‘dingbat’ described a typographical element, unintelligible to the general public, but well-understood by the printing pros who once oversaw the production of books, newspapers and magazines. Dingbats were used by typesetters to both give layout instructions to printers, and to create visual breathing space.

Over the years, dingbats have evolved into small drawings or cartoons you might have noticed breaking up the page in publications such as The New Yorker. They’re entertaining, but aren’t directly related to the words they accompany.

Back during the early days of the Covid 19 pandemic, Byrne began to sketch a few dingbats of his own. He planned to use them in a digital publication he was launching, but the dingbats had other ideas. He’s since exhibited them at Pace gallery in New York and has now drawn them together in this new book, for which he has also written some explanatory texts.

This new book’s themes recall those odd unnerving days of lockdown many of us experienced, and remain well suited to many modern dilemmas. Take these words, from the chapter entitled I Can See Beyond the Swamp!, which seem to speak to that ebb and flow of motivation that comes when you realise you won’t be bogged down forever.

David Byrne / © 2022 Todo Mundo Ltd.

“Here, from this slight rise, I can see where the swamp ends,” writes Byrne. “The swamp is not the whole world! Dare I go there? We have the possibility of movement and we are in the process, transported.

“What might happen? What lies beyond? Beyond our village, beyond our network. Can we go there? Beyond ourselves?

“I can see it! It is better than what is here. I need a way to get there. To move who I thought I was.

“Can I bring my friends with me? Is it expensive? Will I know how to be there? Can I fit in? Will they like me there?

“There’s no going back, eh?”

A History of the World (in Dingbats)

There really isn’t. If you’d like to join Byrne on that route to higher ground, consider ordering a copy of A History of the World (in Dingbats) here.