Skip to main content Skip to main content

Art Through Time: A Global View

Writing Compare: Where Do We Draw the Line Between Word and Image?

Lindisfarne Gospels, fol. 29 (Cotton MS, Nero D.IV)

Lindisfarne Gospels, fol. 29 (Cotton MS, Nero D.IV)
Artist / Origin Attr. to Bishop Eadfrith of Lindisfarne (698–721), Northumbria (England)
Region: Europe
Date ca. 680–720
Period: 500 CE – 1000 CE
Material Ink, pigments and gold on vellum
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions H: 13 ½ in. (34.2 cm.), W: 9 ¾ in. (24.8 cm.)
Location The British Library, London, UK
Credit Courtesy of HIP/Art Resource, NY


Artist / Origin: Ed Ruscha (American, b. 1937)
Region: North America
Date: 1962, reworked 1963
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 71 ½ in. (181.6 cm.), W: 67 in. (170.1 cm.)
Location: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Credit: © Ed Ruscha. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photo courtesy of Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

Where do we draw the line between word and image?

There are many reasons for putting words in art and many reasons for adorning words. Sometimes, the integration of word and art is so complete that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Works like the Lindisfarne Gospels and Ed Ruscha’s Oof make us consider whether there is a line between image and text at all. Indeed, they make us question why we make the distinction in the first place.

Questions to Consider

  • Discuss the concept of “word as art” as it relates to each of these works.
  • The Lindisfarne Gospels focuses on words in a sacred context. In contrast, Ruscha’s OOF was almost irreverent within the artistic tradition at the time of its making. What different attitudes toward art and the word went into creating each of these pieces? What do you think each artist was trying to achieve?
  • The focus of the Lindisfarne Gospels page is the Greek name for Christ, while Ruscha’s work focuses on a word that is onomatopoeic. Do you think that the artists anticipated a literate audience for their works? How do you think the intended audience might have influenced the choice of language or the degree of the word’s legibility in each case?

Series Directory

Art Through Time: A Global View


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