Art and Text (book) by Aimee Selby

Above Image – Art and Text Book Cover. Image Source.

Art and Text, by Aimee Selby (Book) 2009, Black Dog Publishing

Beginning my endeavour into Text Based Art, I was recommended the book ‘Art and Text’. This book is basically a bible if you are interested or want to begin text art, it includes the history and origins, over 100 artists in the field of text art, and how they use text within their works. It also includes essays on the subject, where researchers have discovered the art style and its reasons.

I found this book incredibly useful for various reasons. Below are some key points I derived from the text that addresses the use of Text within contemporary art (20th Century – Now).

  • Text in Art represents a much deeper and more significant mode of thought, rather than a simple turning away from the visual and imagistic
  • Artists found in text that it was not merely an opportunity for re-course to an anti-aesthetical, non material medium, but the possibility for an art that could be thought, purposed and stated; Art and Idea
  • Text based art brings a critical questioning of the viability of language as a toll of communication


One of the included Essays is; The Schwitter’s Legacy; Language and Art in the 20th Century by Will Hill. In this essay he discovers the origins of why text bled into art:

  • Artists of this time (saw) potential of the printed word to convey meaning and express a particular attitude. The typewriter created a discussion between the written and printed word

The image above is of Lewis Carol’s ‘The Mouse’s Tale’. This essay uses this poem as the point of discussion as to the potential of written word as art. This is because of its use of form; the poem is shaped into a literal mouse’s tail – from this the context of the words is amplified and it has the play on words – Tale v. Tail, this kind of technique has since been used by Artists of today including Bruce Nauman.

Will Hill continues in his essay:

  • To give text a pictoral form reveals complex contradictions between visual representation and linguistic description, and reminds us that language is a fragile and illogical construct, bound to its subjects by cultural compact alone. While we take for granted the equivalence between the word and its subject, they are not linked by any actual resemblance, but only by the shared perception of meaning inherent in language.


Another essay in the book; Turning the whole thing around: Text Art Today, by Dave Beech. He has included a quote by contemporary text art Fiona Banner, where she explains why she uses text as an art form:

“Personally I am very conscious of the brilliance of language and communication – I mean it is the blood of our thoughts – but I also find it frustrating and I have a lot of fear about language and communication”.

I think this quote really sums up why Artists use text within art; it is the blood of our thoughts. Art is the outcome of people’s thoughts, feelings, emotion, and so using text shows this directly.


I will continue to read this book throughout my practice and gain more knowledge from it. It has given me a huge insight in to the world of text, one line that has really stuck with me is at the beginning of the book; Text in Art represents a much deeper and more significant mode of thought. Considering my practice and what I want to achieve from my work, Text Art seems the most suitable art form for me; my work surrounds my fear of death which is a constant though in my head. I’m really excited to start a practice in text art and I’m excited to start using words more.


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