Part 1. Project 3. Research Point: Text in Art

Research Point –

I accessed both the hyperlinks listed in the course manual.

The first ( led to a Page Not Found error message.

The second ([0]=im_vid_49%3A2579) led to a catalog of all the work held by the Tate.

One link which did work was

The essay at this hyperlink seemed to be about the evolution of the use of language and its increased incorporation into art. This ranges from examples by Bruce Nauman with neon tube wording to more basic presentations of words by Edward Ruscha as seen in his ‘Dirty Baby’. Ruscha focused more on pop culture and common parlance when choosing his word forms. In this sense ‘time’ and ‘place’ are very relevant because out of context the words ‘Dirty Baby’ have very different meanings.  

Bruce Nauman, ‘La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits’ 1972

Bruce Nauman
La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits 1972
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Edward Ruscha, ‘DIRTY BABY’ 1977

Edward Ruscha
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© Ed Ruscha

As marketing became more important with the rise of consumerism post-war especially in the 50’s it makes sense that people were paying more attention to the effect that the different presentations of words can have. The font or size, ie small/bold etc, can impart different meanings to the same word choices. This is something which I explored in my previous module, Illustration One.

Displaying a selection of words can inspire the viewers imagination into creating a sensation for themselves as I saw in Exercise Two when looking at the work of Kate Paterson. “The scent of rain left on the moon” is something which I can conjure up very easily.

The essay then continues on to talk about artists associated with the dada movement and their rejection of traditional art materials in favour of ‘ready-mades’. Again Duchamps ‘Fountain’ is brought up, apparently ‘this controversial work questioned the identity of the artist through the incorporation of text’. That statement piqued my curiosity until I read on to find that this was only because he’d written his pseudonym ‘R.Mutt’ on the side. Frankly, unless you’re leading a secret double life or have a high level of identity theft paranoia you don’t need a pseudonym. As for writing it on the side of a plaster cast of a toilet, I can only assume that this was to try and add hidden layers of meaning to hide the fact that it is just showboating. A plaster cast of my toothbrush with my name on the handle is not a controversial statement on oral hygiene habits of the 21st century, it’s just a plaster cast of a toothbrush from someone currently living in a 4 person room.

The section which I found most interesting was this “Conceptual art represented a shift towards ideas and systems that invited the viewer to engage with an intellectual concept, art became increasingly ephemeral and transient – famously described by Duchamp as the “dematerialisation of the art object”.

I think that this pinpoints what it is that I struggle with so much with conceptual art. Whereas the conceptual art movement focused on ideas and systems which the viewer has to take more of an active role in, to me proper art is a physical depiction of something tangible.

Reading further through the essay there were more examples of how artists have used the presentation of words alone in different forms to provoke some kind of mental engagement with the viewer. They seem to be intended to stimulate either the imagination of the senses.

Ian Hamilton Finlay takes this a step further with his garden creation Little Sparta. He has random words which relate back to Ancient Greece, Sparta and Athens at different points within the garden.

I read the Errata page in the course manual and found a reccomedation for another article to read. (

Things that I noted from the article-

  • Cubists were the first to include text in their art in approximatley 1912
  • Pop artists (such as Andy Warhol) used logos and phrases from consumer culture in their work
  • Even many layered fragmented old wall posters were used as found art. ie Mimmo Rotella
  • Concrete poetry arranges words and letters in a visual way, often the emphasis is more on the layout than the content
  • Wordscapes – descriptions of scenes from films – interesting idea
  • text in art is useful as a call to action. ie the Guerrilla Girls use it with humour and imagery to make a point about relevant issues.
  • Having watched the video about ‘Bob and Roberts Smith’s work, I do not think there is as much deep meaning to it as the videos presentation implies. Where is the line between hobby and art?


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