Type as Image

Laura Gordon Mitchell's picture

I am new using this forum, so take it easy tiger.
I am currently trying to pursue a topic for my major that looks at the idea of the threshold/ boundary/ cross over point in which type as a word and type as an image. I started to look at contempoary manifestations of typography as form but started to ask myself where the hell I am going with this. Do I cut it down to exploring when 'words become images?'. My intrest lyes with the borderline when words 'as written functional form' cross over to becoming form/ images which represent the word with so much more meaning and emotion. Does this have any intrest or am i travelling the road of no return?

privateortheris's picture

Hi Laura, very quick thought - and apropo of nothing else - but it strikes me that islamic calligraphic art is in your groove. In Islam only the word is allowed

for instance. I doubt if this is anything new to you but I think it's so good. Having a think about anything so obvoius in the western tradition.

privateortheris's picture

And you could do worse than have a look here http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.linotype.com/images/pi... - what an interesting subject you have!!

Laura Gordon Mitchell's picture

A contemnpoary example i had found was by Eduard Cehovin whos work

"Re-design in Public Space: The Work" visually documents in public spaces the commemoration of the birth of Slovene avante-garde poet, Srecko Kosovel and the celebration of Slovenia joing the European Union.

His posters which are displayed on advertising billboards interpret the poems to create visual poetry and by changing the image of the poems has given them a new form.

The words in his interpretations are hardly readable but the essence and message appear more powerful than the written words themselves, sorry for the lack of imagry to show, hope you get the idea.

Nick Shinn's picture

You could try something with languages that readers don't understand, which still use the Latin alphabet, which they do. What kinds of (text only) layout and typography communicate ideas about the content, and which don't. You could use a multiple choice form. eg create genre ads in unknown languages and ask: Is this an ad for *travel *financial services *cleaner *camera? etc.

Laura Gordon Mitchell's picture

images just dont want to be there

Paul Cutler's picture

There's always the Swiss posters:
This is just one of many links out there…

oldnick's picture

All words are images, in the sense that we recognize, integrate and process words ideographically, that is, as an entirety, rather than as a sum of its parts. In this sense, words written with the roman alphabet (or any other alphabet) are no different from Chinese, which is purely ideographic. Virtually all conscious activity relies on pattern recognition, and words, taken individually, are discrete patterns (with discrete bouma, I am told).

However, alphabetic languages have an advantage over ideographic languages when one encounters unfamiliar words; in these instances--depending on how regular the rules of pronunciation are in the language in question--you at least have some idea of what the word sounds like, even if you can't determine what it means. That is, unless the language is English, e.g., bough, cough, dough, through, tough.

In Arabic calligraphy, words become design (not images, which are forbidden); in a good deal of logotype design, words become pictures (brands); somewhere on this website, there's a link to Bembo's zoo, where letters become critters. Pictograms become letters, letters form words, words form ideograms, ideograms become pictograms -- it's a marvelous circular process.

Norbert Florendo's picture

There are many directions you can take with this as suggested above.
Since letterforms are glyphs, whether expressed as characters of a typeface, handlettered, manipulated, gestured/calligraphic or even graffiti.

IMHO, the more difficult road to take would be to research expressions of "word art" that actually uses existing typefaces (with only minor modifications). Herb Lubalin was a master at this form -

More expansive expressions can be found when typography is actually graphic design. Paul brought up the Swiss posters...

Calligraphy/graffiti is the easiest area to explore since with skill, letterforms actually do become "art".

oldnick's picture

Thanks for posting the "Mother & Child" art, Norbert; it's perhaps my absolute favorite example of the evocative power of typography.

Nick Shinn's picture

images just dont want to be there

But they can't help it, they are. Are you were seriously interested in the "threshold", or do you just want to do some word art?

david h's picture

> My intrest lyes with the borderline when words ‘as written functional form’ cross over to becoming form/ images which represent the word with so much more meaning and emotion

Explore the work by the artist
Jean Michel Basquiat

'He was able to integrate Afro-American history, the politics of rap, the language of jazz and his own rebellious nature into an extraordinary visual language.

Basquiat's paintings function as narrative for life events, cultural critique and mental states.'

mb's picture

the work of chris ware, as well as signwriters in general, might be worth a look at.


there's also the hall of best knowledge.

and of course el lissitzky, especially his book 'for the voice', created entirely out of items from the letterpress cases.

timd's picture

You could also look at the work of the Futurists and Vorticists

Laura Gordon Mitchell's picture

I have started to look at the 'book of kells' where the first experiance with the 'image' connects you and the 'written ' word reveals itself.
They had the notion that when you wrote a word down you killed it, as the word only lives in your imagination. Their typographic work expresses the need to let the letter live when it is on the page so illuminated the letter decoratively, in comparison with contempoary manifestations of type where type is used as image the type again has the notion of being alive having a personality and generates emotion with its audience.

The Islamic lettering is also of interest to me as a New Zealand/ European and know no other language other than english I read Islamic type as image and find the use of pos/neg space and the arrangement of letters beautiful.

"It relates to the total organisation of language
and writing in the form of image"

jlg4104's picture

There are so many interesting directions you could take. Many of the above suggestions are worth exploring, but I guess for a project topic you need to pick just one main direction and go with it.

As a conceptual matter, there is no necessary distinction between "text" and "image." Text, as has been pointed out above with some great examples, IS image, in the sense that text is visual (well, unless read aloud?). If that seems like a trivial point, consider that there is no *visual* criterion by which we could distinguish "writing" from "not writing" whenever we encounter any highly decorative use of an unfamiliar script-- decorative inscriptions in Arabic are a perfect example. We might see it and NOT KNOW it's any kind of "writing" at all. Same for a lot of graffiti-- it often takes a while to see that within the dynamic and playful clusters of strokes, there may be something as simple as a tagger's name and/or some identifying information.

I think this point at which a differece in *degree* (extreme but comprehensible stylization) becomes a difference in *kind* (we actually CANNOT TELL until it's explained to us) is a very interesting point, b/c it's both a cultural and a cognitive matter of whether we "get" what we're seeing or not.

It's also worth adding that the functional vs. artistic dichotomy is itself a relatively modern, Western notion. Where any kind of inscribed marking ("writing" or otherwise) serves a *ritualistic* function, it is kind of BOTH functional AND artistic AND more. You see that already in many nonwestern inscriptions and in Western but not-so-modern stuff like illuminated manuscripts. Doing script as "glory to [pick your god]" can't be broken down so easily into those functional vs. artistic categories-- the ART is what helps the writing serve the FUNCTION of propogating, glorifying, etc., one's belief system.

- Jay

stw's picture

my favorite by Gerard Huerta

Paul Cutler's picture

Is that from Al Capone's police file? That is is really beautiful…

stw's picture

: )
No, its a cover for the band Chicago. The Album is called XIV.
I dont know if the tracks on it are good, but I wish I had the album.


stw's picture

By the way:
Also a great cover of the band. Its their first album. Its a bit hard to read in this scan, it says "The Chicago Transit Authority"
And these songs are great! I wish I had it too!

lore's picture

Hi...I would have a look into comics/comix and graphic novels first: Will Eisner's in "Comics and Sequential Art" for example. Eisner was famous for blurring the distinctions between words and images. Rick Griffin is another one: check the original psychedelic swash logo for Rolling Stones magazine in 1968 (no longer in use). Sorry I haven't got the files with me at the mo. And maybe you could also check out the Devil Girl choco-bar by Robert Crumb for Kitchen Sink? Good luck.

Paul Cutler's picture

quote - And these songs are great!

Are you really into Free Form Guitar? I had this many years ago and loved it but not that track…

stw's picture

OK, Free Form Guitar is bad.

Laura Gordon Mitchell's picture

What are the criteria that identify a difference in nature between type as text and type as image?

I propose there is no identifiable difference between the nature of type as text and the nature of type as image, rather they have an common innate nature, however through interpretation they develop an implied nature. The character of this implied nature is determined by the threshold differentation between type and image

jlg4104's picture

Laura-- I agree with you, as my note above suggests (I think). I am interested in this very same set of questions. My sense is that it's probably not a good idea to search for a specific, lone criterion that distinguishes the two, but rather to focus on what features of what "marking systems" (my own way of putting it) are good at doing what kind of thing. Phonemic alphabetics, e.g., do a fairly decent job (with varying success) at presenting a graphic clue about sound. The IPA does it better, though. Pictures can make an impression, but they can't lay out an explicit cluster of premises, claims, conditional statements, etc., quite as well as text (alphabetic or not-- Chinese, e.g., is written and read "serially" but isn't alphabetic).

The only way I've been able to make a distinction between "text" and "nontext" is not too different from yours-- it has something to do with what is made explicit and what isn't, what is meant to convey points A, B, and C to any given audience, and what can convey points X, Y, and C to a specific audience provided they have the right contextual knowledge.

Lest this sound like a bunch of jibber-jabber, consider the photo below:

Some would say that it may make quite an impact but can't really articulate an argument the way a text could. On that line of thinking, a picture is NOT really worth a thousand words. But if we say that such a picture conjures up all kinds of claims, evidence, reasoning, conclusions, etc., provided one has the contextual knowledge to bring to one's viewing of it, then a picture may be worth a whole lot MORE than a thousand words.

Now, this makes things a lot easier for those wondering whether type is an image or not, or what criteria there are for separating them. The examples above are nice-- they show all kinds of funky ways "letters" can be given pictorial embellishments. But if you want to talk about can even, say, a simple Times New Roman "A" be seen as an IMAGE, well, the answer is YES obviously. Then, if we want to say, but can it make an "argument," again, the answer is YES, but ONLY if we see it in some context that gives us an "A" in the form of some kind of argument (A-list, a grade of "A", The A-Team, etc.). The triangular, upward-pointing "shape" helps, of course, but the letter being in the first position of the conventional Latin alphabet does, too.

Anyway, this is cool stuff you're interested in. ANd not simple. I won't pretent what I'm saying answers it all. Just some speculations.

- J

jlg4104's picture

Would we even know, without contextual knowledge, that the pic at the following URL is "writing" or "text" at all??


Syndicate content Syndicate content