Book Review : "Philographics," by Genis Carreras

“Plurality should not be assumed without necessity.”
 - William of Ockham

There are few occasions in life that give one a feeling of unadulterated joy and bring forth a ready smile, than being witness to a perfect synthesis of thought, action, expression, and the resulting artform. For no matter if one is witness to the birth of a conventional form of art (painting, music etc.) as a vehicle for enriching ones leisure, or a rigorously crafted piece of expression that defines ones vocation (a building, a plane, a graphic design, a computer program) - they are both art, in the highest possible sense. But the quest of artistic creation is often superseded by the need of artistic production, whose "more is good" philosophy often gets in the way of a deeper exploration of the process of creation behind the said artwork. Ornate embellishments and details certainly have their place in the appreciation of skillful techniques employed by the artisans, but the art that allows the observer to rise above the details is extremely rare, and the artist - an endangered species! 

Yet, minimalism thrives! From the monotonic symphony of Yves Klein, the stark lines of Frank Stella, to the now vogue Scandinavian furniture designs - minimalism is making a growing comeback into a world driven to distraction by the overpopulation of life's luxuries. Hemingway famously remarked - "Prose is architecture, and the Baroque age is over." He was right then, and he is right today. A good minimalist representation promotes representation of higher concepts with the bare minimum primitives, or primal forms of expression - lines, shapes, colors, sounds - one or more used as a language to describe the art. A great minimal artform takes these same primitives, and allows the observer to use them as their tools of expression, on a blank canvas of their choosing! Genis Carreras' Philographics, a delightful, minimalist exercise in expression, falls into the latter category.

The premise of the book is very straightforward -- to explain all the important schools of thought in the world, using the medium of graphic design. It is the execution that is almost sublime in its minimalist approach to the depiction. Carreras floated this project as a kickstarter, and received tremendous support from the community. BIS Publishers took over the responsibility for bringing out a second edition (with improved production values) that provided this "visual dictionary of philosophy" (as Carreras describes it) mainstream exposure and publicity. 

The strength of Carreras' designs are their elegant simplicity, and an almost immediate identification with the real-world phenomenon described by the graphics. The stark images drive the viewer's attention directly to the subject matter, first revealing the literal meaning, and then, gradually, teasing an orthogonal reference that makes the connection to the definition very personal and enduring. As a visual learner, I found this approach rather refreshing.

Throughout the text, the author/artist gives a sense of maintaining a fine balance between intelligent and gimmicky. What could have easily turned into a glorified celebration of philosophy in a stark, yet pop-artsy style instead comes over as an intelligent collection of visual metaphors. I think it would not be an uncommon experience for the readers of this book to find themselves lingering over a particular graphic/definition for much longer than the usual duration to read a page, in spite of having almost nothing comparable in terms of purely textual percepts.

Highly recommended!

A selection of images from the book (Click on the image to enlarge.)
Absolutism Determinism Aestheticism
Capitalism Skepticism Existentialism
Free Will Structuralism Relativism