from A to Z
It is commonly said that ours is a visual culture, that is, one that communicates with us mainly through images rather than through text – something perfectly illustrated by phenomena such as Instagram, TikTok or memes. We seem to prefer an image that we can look at and seize the meaning at once, rather than read through endless paragraphs. The former is easier and faster. But are we really living in a world dominated by images?
You can turn on any TV news channel to see that there’s so many message bars there that it is sometimes difficult to see the person speaking. Tattoos with inscriptions, T-shirts with quotes or famous typographic artworks seem to suggest, often in capital letters, that text is doing just fine and is far from ceding ground to its more accessible cousin, image.
A famous quote from the Bible says that “in the beginning was the Word.” And although the history of art did not start with words, but with rock paintings depicting hands or silhouettes of wild animals, over time words written on the canvas grew to become one of the best tools to convey content. Of course, one could argue that, in order to understand written artworks, one must first know the language – and that’s true. The same way, for many paintings, we need knowledge of history, symbols or context in order to grasp the concept of ancient scene or an abstraction that does not show at first glance.
The meaning of images that speak to us through words, or entire sentences, can be very different. Some are primarily decorative, where the artist relies on the ornamental nature of the font and eye-catching colors, in which case pop art is often the source of influence. Other works, meanwhile, seem to make us laugh or wonder how come a trivial quote like that could possibly warrant a place in an art gallery. Many artists use words to raise difficult social issues – related, for example, to broadly understood injustice – and then such a work can act as a political manifesto.
It all depends on the artist and their artistic vision. Browse our gallery below and read the accompanying descriptions that will try to answer the age-old question of “what could the author possibly mean by that?”.
transl. Jakub Majchrzak