Top 5

Top 5 Words as Art

Did you know some artists draw letters and words instead of fruit bowls?

Joe Tilson, ‘U - Unknown Systems’ 1969–70
Joe Tilson
U - Unknown Systems 1969–70
Tate
© Joe Tilson. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018

The world of art is huge. There are so many different types of art that sometimes it can be confusing. Have you ever wondered if words can be art? How about your English homework? Have a look at U - Unknown Systems by Joe Tilson; apparentely he thinks yes! Let’s explore how and why artists use words in their art.

1. To Say What You Believe

Bob and Roberta Smith, ‘Make Art Not War’ 1997
Bob and Roberta Smith
Make Art Not War 1997
Tate
© Bob and Roberta Smith

Sometimes artists use words in their art to protest against something or make a change. Make Art Not War is a big square painting by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith. It’s made on two wooden panels which the artist found in the rubbish! The artist says that his father, who was a soldier in the Second World War, told him ‘Make art, not war. Don’t hate, draw’. His father’s words inspired him to make art that is anti-war. Don’t you find these words beautiful?

2. To Fight Against Unfairness

Guerrilla Girls, ‘You’re Seeing Less Than Half The Picture’ 1989
Guerrilla Girls
You’re Seeing Less Than Half The Picture 1989
Tate
© courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com

Have you heard of the Guerrilla Girls? They’re a group of female artists but no one knows who they are because they wear Gorilla masks to hide their faces. Their artwork fights against racism and sexism. They made the poster called You’re Seeing Less Than Half The Picture because they believe that art should be by all kinds of people. This includes women and people of colour. They're speaking to the art world which at the time (and even today) was not diverse enough. Aren’t they super cool? We think so too.

3. To Make People Think

Jenny Holzer, ‘Truisms’ 1984
Jenny Holzer
Truisms 1984
Tate
© Jenny Holzer, member/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The words ‘good and evil’ are from a series of artworks called Truisms (isn’t that an awesome name!?) They were was created by an artist called Jenny Holzer. In the 1970s, Holzer wrote a series of statements on posters. She glued them to walls and fences around New York. This is an example of an artist using words to interrupt people’s routines. Holzer wanted people to see these powerful, strange and sometimes puzzling messages on their way to work or school, pause and maybe think for a few seconds.

4. To Make People Feel Happy ... or Sad

Martin Creed, ‘Work No. 890: DON’T WORRY’ 2008
Martin Creed
Work No. 890: DON’T WORRY 2008
Tate / National Galleries of Scotland
© Martin Creed

These bright, glowing words were made by the artist Martin Creed. He used neon tubes and shaped them into different letters. Creed says 'I work to feel better. I produce things to help me to live'. You could say this artwork is asking us to relax and enjoy life. However, some people see a hidden meaning behind this work. They feel that the artwork reminds us of the things we worry about. Who knows? Art can have different meanings and effects for different people. It’s up to you to make up your own mind.

5. To Share Emotions

Gillian Wearing OBE, ‘‘I like to be in the country’’ 1992–3
Gillian Wearing OBE
‘I like to be in the country’ 1992–3
Tate
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

I like to be in the country is a photograph that shows an ordinary couple holding handwritten signs; one says: “I like to be in the country”. The other goes: “the last holiday abroad was nice but I can’t afford it”. To create her art, the photographer Gillian Wearing asks people to write something on a piece of paper. They can write whatever they want. Then she takes a photograph of them with their words. This is interesting because the artist and the person in the picture work together to make the artwork! We can learn a lot about how people are feeling through the words they write. How does this photo make you feel? What was the last time you went to the country?

So what do you think about these artists? Can you spot any text around you or in your everyday life that can be art? How about making your own arty words?

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