Text In Art

I like writing, journaling, storytelling, even the physical act of practicing penmanship is a present-focused, meditative endeavour.  I like how what I write enhances what I create. I like how it tells the story of a piece I’ve worked on, laboured over and lived with, often for weeks and weeks.  I like that I can go back and read what I have written.  It tells me where I was, what I was working through, focused on, and learning.

I like that writing acts as a marker for growth.  When I re-read past stories, I can see where I’ve been and how one action led to another which in-turn brought me to my current place in life.  Writing is reassuring, it tells me that wherever I’m currently at isn’t where I will be forever.  That the possibilities of tomorrow are even greater than those of today.

Clearly, I like writing but…

Does text have a place in or on a piece of artwork?

I know that the written word when included on a piece of artwork isn’t to everyone’s liking. I can remember a time when I would look at a piece of art and say to myself ‘If only it didn’t include the words…it would be so much better”. Well, as it turns out my opinion regarding text on art has evolved.

Now when I look I ask myself, “Why? Why did the artist choose to include text?”  I search for context and meaning behind the artist’s use of text.  How did they utilize what can sometimes be a visually distracting element?  Then I decide, were they successful?  Does it add to my understanding of the piece or the individual who made it?  Would the piece be as successful without the words?

Version 2

A closeup of my latest sculpture detailing 1406 words written free hand and burned into a birch beam.

Yup, that’s a whole lot to consider and it has taken me years to get here.  Considering how I used to think, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve taken a huge leap when choosing to add text to one of my own sculptures.  I wanted to use words as a skin, a pattern.  Like wood grain or the bark on a tree.  The focus isn’t the words themselves and the story they tell, although that’s part of it, they are intended to be a representation of my process and ultimately of myself.

When I’m in the developmental stages of a project my sketch book often contains more words than it does drawings.  Notations for ideas, possibilities, research information, history, myth, legend, all of this is considered when I’m deciding on the form.

So, if my work is about me and how I experience this world then I must acknowledge that the written word is a big part of that journey.  I am aware that including text risks alienating those who will lament, much in the same way I used to, “If only it didn’t include the words…it would be so much better.”

However, I’ve learned to trust my instinct and it’s telling me that this is the right sculpture and now is the time to experiment with the written word.