Reading into "On The Road"

April 25, 2008
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In June, the Indianapolis Museum of Art will be showcasing the 120-foot-long scroll on which Jack Kerouac wrote his landmark work "On the Road." My question: Is the scroll itself art or artifact?

The scroll -- famously owned by Jim Irsay -- won't be alone on display. It will be joined by 83 cross-country photographs by Robert Frank, who collected them in the his 1958 book "Les Americains." For more details on the exhibition, click here

For a brief history at the scroll – and a look at it -- click here.

Your thoughts?
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  • Interesting question. On the artifact side of the argument, the words on the paper are called the defining novel of the Beat Generation, thereby representing a specific historical time period and a cultural phenomenon. The scroll itself represents a period of technology that many Americans alive right now never experienced, and illustrates how one writer adapted his need to this reality; while Kerouac couldn’t make corrections on his “screen,” he could type as continuously as we can on today’s PCs, thereby creating his own crude type of word processor.

    At the same time, the scroll is arresting to view. It’s creative. It’s mind-boggling to imagine a man so involved in his creation that he couldn’t be interrupted long enough even to insert a new piece of paper into the typewriter. And the fact that the scroll was created for a practical purpose doesn’t preclude it from being art.

    I started out convinced it was an artifact. But as I thought about the Native American art I’ve seen at the Eiteljorg Museum – some of which ostensibly was created for a practical purpose – my certainty became shaky.

    What’s your take, Lou?
  • I've never seen it, I would guess that it would be accurate to call it art because it intends to be a creative piece, not merely a documentation.

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