Text in Art

The links in the course notes had expired so I found another relevant link for the meantime that discusses the use of text in art: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/exam-help/themes/letters-and-words

The Tate website breaks down the usage of letters and words in art into five main themes:

  • ‘Found’ words: Printed packaging, labels and layers
  • Words and shapes
  • Words that tell stories
  • Words and ideas
  • A call to action

‘Found’ words: Printed packaging, labels and layers

1912 – cubists first collaged newspapers and bottle labels into still life paintings. ‘Found’ printed letters and words add visual interest or texture.

Kurt Schwitters and Pop artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Andy Warhol all used ‘found’ words in their art. In a similar vein Michel Majerus featured logos and mass produced products however, unlike pop artists, he uses them as identity rather than trying to subvert. Mimmo Rotella turned the advertising fonts into unintelligible mass of lettering. Similarly Gwyther Irwin scavenged posters from London’s East End.

Words and shapes

Concrete poetry – as much about the layout as the meaning of words. Sculpture of words.

Ian Hamilton Finlay used colour and arrangement of text to suggest circus in Poster Poem (Le Circus) (1964) and the arrangement of a single word to suggest meaning in Ajar (1967).  Michael Craig-Martin sees himself as a constructor “I think of my paintings as flat sculptures”. Robyn Denny used text to represent a person in Manman (1957).

Words that tell stories

Using words linguistically – to create narratives.

Fiona Banner creates ‘wordscapes’ that describe feature film plots or events. Tom Phillips starts with printed pages from books and isolates phrases or parts of words and recombines them with paint or collage to form a new narrative [this puts me in mind of when people used pages from a book as a code to send a different message]

Ian Breakwell and Sophie Calle use text alongside photographs to tell narrative about observed lives [Is this what we often do in our heads when we observe people in daily life?] Tracey Moffatt uses photography and text to mimic Life magazine photoshoots but the captions suggest the trauma underlying the photo [this combined with the ‘found’ words is similar to the idea I had of combining the words found in newspapers relating to a topic i.e. disability or homelessness, collaging them and painting portraits over the top so that the words are “under their skin”]

Diary like narratives are created by artists such as David Hockney, Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin when they combine words and images.

Words and ideas

Conceptual artists use text to explore ideas. Conceptual art – idea is more important than artwork

Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree (1973) is a shelf with a glass of water on it and text claiming the glass of water is an oak tree. Ewa Partum is performance artist who scatters cut out letters in different locations and creates poetry out of them.

Ed Ruscha and Bruce Nauman explore language and its use.

[Not convinced conceptual art is my cup of tea]

A call to action

The Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous group of feminist artists who use words and figures to highlight discrimination in the art world. [I adore this group (particularly the statistician part of me!) I do wonder whether they have had any effect. It is interesting that they describe themselves as feminist when they are also highlighting racism. Looking at photography at a local finals exhibition, it really struck me that the vast majority of portraits were of good looking people. I find it tedious that people used as models aren’t average or even unconventionally looking people. Art often seems to me to have fallen into the commercial “photoshopped images” trap. I would like to see representation from the viewpoint and of a broader cross section of society.]

Jenny Holzer uses posters and signs to put across her message. Glen Ligon uses words to explore and examine American culture and history.

Bob and Roberta Smith makes statements with a revolutionary air and are created on objects found around the home. [He has some interesting ideas about the use of language and its meaning (or subverting the meaning if necessary) but after reading about Guerrilla Girls I am wondering why Patrick Brill has chosen a pseudonym which suggests that there is a woman collaborating with him?]


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