William Ivins Jr.  

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William Mills Ivins, Jr. (18811961) was American curator and connoiseur of visual culture. His best-known book is Prints and Visual Communication, first published in 1953.



After nine years' legal practice, he was asked to take on the conservation and interpretation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art print collection from its founding in 1916 until 1946. He built up the remarkable collections that can be seen there today, and he wrote many prefaces to exhibition catalogues, as well as other, occasional pieces which were later collected and published.


The son of William Mills Ivins, Sr. (18511915), a New York public utility lawyer, Ivins studied at Harvard College and the University of Munich before graduating in law from Columbia University in 1907.

McLuhan quotes Ivins on print culture

Print culture, ushered in by the Gutenberg press in the middle of the fifteenth century, brought about the cultural predominance of the visual over the aural/oral. Quoting with approval an observation on the nature of the printed word from Prints and Visual Communication by William Ivins, McLuhan remarks:

In this passage [Ivins] not only notes the ingraining of lineal, sequential habits, but, even more important, points out the visual homogenizing of experience of print culture, and the relegation of auditory and other sensuous complexity to the background. [...] The technology and social effects of typography incline us to abstain from noting interplay and, as it were, "formal" causality, both in our inner and external lives. Print exists by virtue of the static separation of functions and fosters a mentality that gradually resists any but a separative and compartmentalizing or specialist outlook.--The Gutenberg Galaxy pp. 124-26.

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