Exercise 2.5: Text in art

We are asked to write down some observations during a short walk, and to consider how they might be presented.

I have previously looked at photographers who use text in their work as part of both I&P part four, and C&N part 2. Of particular relevance are my notes on Barbara Kruger here, and John Kippin here. Both of these artists use text as part of their imagery, embedding it within the image rather than as an external caption. However, the artists we are referred to in preparation for this exercise take the theory a step further, using text exclusively as their work – the text becomes a form of imagery. Both Long and Fulton create works from their walks which are represented by words describing what they saw and/or how they felt. The words individually are not necessarily evocative; in “A Five Day Walk” the first line is simply “First day ten miles”. However, followed by “Second day twenty miles” and so on we get a real sense of the level of exertion required. We can feel the tiredness just thinking about it, we can recall an occasion when we have done something similar. I think that not being cluttered by a photograph actually frees the mind to walk in its own imagination rather than being tied down by a visual image.

I began to wonder how text art differs (if at all) from poetry. I think that insofar as there is a clear dividing line, the latter focuses mostly on the sound of the words, the former is a more immersive experience building not just on sound but on appearance as well. Poetry can be read out loud, text art cannot. Whether on top of an image or on its own, the text in Long and Fulton’s work is not just written it is carefully placed. Font choice, size and colour are all carefully considered to best represent the experience being presented.

For my exploration of text I decided to undertake a very short walk that I pass by regularly – across a short bridge that for a brief moment takes me away from the noisy and rather dated High Street and into a wilderness. Every time I cross this bridge I want to photograph the light shining through the trees, often I do briefly stop for a picture. I confess I couldn’t help myself taking a lot of pictures with my phone during this exercise, though with hindsight I realise that this tied me to the visual experience rather than allowing me to properly consider my other senses. Looking back at what I wrote down, it was primarily visual. I did jot down that I felt cold and wet, or could hear the wind in the trees, but these are quite superficial observations and I say nothing about how I felt emotionally. I’m sure there is some meditative/mindful advice about needing to not look in order to truly see; looking back on this exercise I can see some truth in this sentiment.

I walked the bridge twice, lingering both times. The first time it was cold, grey and windy, the second it was pouring with rain. I deliberately went in this weather as I thought it was more interesting (perhaps more romantic?) than the sunny days I a usually drawn to this area. I scribbled words down in a notebook. I then sat and wrote up these words in a layout that seemed intuitively appropriate – I didn’t spend much time dwelling on what I was doing and had only a pen and paper to work with.

 

I found it hard to avoid being contrived; writing “circles” in a circle for example. Looking back I like the first more than the second, but I think that is because it has a degree of symmetry which looks more elegant than the second “wet” version. Neither is really very successful as a piece of art, and I cannot escape the desire to pair the words with imagery, but there are some interesting words and phrases which I do think have some impact. The “thud thud thud” is perhaps out of place, but it related to people walking across the bridge and for some reason when I see it I think of the Billy Goats Gruff which makes me smile! The list underneath it also works for me – a random list of things I spotted which gives a sense of the way my eye was flitting around as I walked.

Although this isn’t a form of art I think I am cut out to make in its pure form, I am definitely going to try harder to jot down words which convey my thoughts and feelings when I start my walks for my assignment. The tiny glimmers of something interesting in the work above is enough to show me that there is merit in trying this out, either with a view to using the words alongside the images or just to trigger new ideas about how to visually represent the way I experience the journey.

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