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Art Through Time: A Global View

Writing Compare: How Has Technology Impacted the Relationship Between Word and Image?

Book Cover for Zang Tumb Tumb

Book Cover for Zang Tumb Tumb
Artist / Origin: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (Italian, 1876–1944)
Region: Europe
Date: 1914
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Type on colored paper
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 8 1/16 in. (20.4 cm.), W: 5 5/16 in. (13.5 cm.)
Location: Private Collection
Credit: © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

Biblia Latina (Latin Bible)

Biblia Latina (Latin Bible)
Artist / Origin: Johann Gutenberg (German, ca. 1400–1468) (publisher)
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1455
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Type on vellum
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 16 in. (40 cm.), W: 12 in. (30 cm.)
Location: Otto Vollbehr Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress/Photo by Octavo

How has technology impacted the relationship between word and image?

The invention of moveable type in the fifteenth century was a watershed moment in history. The ability to produce printed material in mass quantity not only led to increased literacy rates, but also had a major impact on visual culture. Through prints, artists could share works and techniques across long distances and a wider segment of the population could afford to own art than ever before. It is often suggested that the trade-off for these beneficial developments was the death of the “art” of writing and lettering. The two examples seen here, however, attest that mechanical reproduction never entirely erased the desire or the attempt to bring an artistic element to words.

Questions to Consider

  • Both of these books employed recent print technology. How so? What did these new advances in media mean for the visual appearance and circulation of text in general?
  • Both of these works take an artistic approach to the printed word. Compare and contrast these approaches. How do you think each responds to existing traditions at the time it was made? How has book printing continued to develop over time? Do you see artistic elements in the printed materials that circulate in your own visual and material culture today?
  • What is the relationship between the artistry of these books and the content comprising them? Do you think the artistic choices are appropriate to the content in each case?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2