Speech and the spoken word are powerful means of communication, but some artists convey thoughts through written words. I’ll discuss artists who used various mediums from the 15th c to the present.
I’ll begin with the Netherlandish artist Jan van Eyck who painted one of my personal favorites, "The Annunciation" (1434-1436). It can be seen at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
This painting portrays the moment the archangel Gabriel delivers a salutation to Mary from God: "Ave gratia plena" [Hail, full of grace]. Mary has been chosen to bear the Son of God.
Mary’s acceptance: "Ecce ancilla domini" [Behold the handmaiden of the Lord]. The words are in gold letters, written in reverse for God to see.
The genius of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is shown in his ability to write backwards. Being left-handed (myself included) can cause smudging when writing. To prevent this mishap and more importantly to keep his scientific ideas secret – from critics, rivals, and the Roman Catholic church, he used this 'mirror-writing.'
Leonardo’s notes were written in journals, some twenty (20) said to exist. In 1994 Christie’s auction house sold the "Hammer Codex" to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates for a record $30.8M. The "notebook" was previously owned by Armand Hammer, the chairman of Occidental Petroleum.
Artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011) - Abstract expressionist and Minimalist - was best known for his calligraphy, scribbles, and graffiti.
Some parents might say, "my child can do that!" - surprising many disbelievers with the sale of one from a series titled "Blackboard" – setting a record price in 2014 for $69.6M.
Twombly used oil paint, wax crayon, industrial paint, colored pencil, and graphite in his works. Other examples of the artist’s 'written words' are: "Apollo and the Artist" (1975) and "Letter of Resignation" (1959).
Conceptual artist Tracey Emin, a member of the Young British Artists (YBA), is best known for her neon lighting – pastel colored light tubes bent to look like the artist’s handwriting – spelling out Emin’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
From Emin’s "I Promise to Love You Collection" are her personal admissions 'up in lights': "I Promise to Love You," "I Listen to the Ocean and All I Hear is You," and "Love is What You Want."
Whether artists use methods such as: handwriting in a private journal, printing words in a graffiti style, or expressed themselves by using bright lights – we are witnesses to the marvels of the language of art.
You can own an 11"X14"photo print of Tracey Emin's "I Promise to Love You," available here from Amazon.com.