Most of us are so used to reading that we forget each letter is a shape and each word its own composition. There’s a significant aesthetic dimension to the writing we read daily—in emails and books, on packaging and signs—and so it makes sense that visual artists have co-opted graphic design and typography strategies for their own philosophical ends.
Using language, artists transform a basic communication tool—the alphabet—into unique provocations. Language is also particularly malleable, cost-free, and renewable. “There’s a million different ways artists can use it,” said Jewish Museum curator Kelly Taxter. “Often, it’s artists who work with issues of politics or social justice.” Just as artists are still finding new ways to manipulate paint, canvas, and space, they’re constantly developing fruitful new reasons to turn words into art.