If I had been solely a writer, I could have been forgiven for balking at the idea of symbols and emoticons taking over what had once been the territory of words. As electronic devices are able to display ever more complicated images, words fall away. No need to even write LOL, if you can choose one smiley image to say: ”Oh, that is very funny; you’ve got me in stitches!”.
On the other hand, letters and words are creeping into fields of design that have previously been the domain of images. Letters on coffee mugs and bracelets, words on tote bags and tablecloths. Language where once was art. If I had been solely an artist, I could have been righteously indignant at this takeover.
But I am a dedicated fan of and a committed trader in both writing and art. So why am I distressed by this new fluidity and intermingling? Shouldn’t I rejoice at the multidisciplinary abilities of the muses?
The University of Leeds in the UK has recently commissioned artist Liliane Lijn to create a new art work for their campus. Called Converse Column, it will be nine metres high, a cylinder of words revolving, changing, representing “communication as a creative symbol”. Lijn is also both writer and artist and her work seems to walk the line (excusing the pun) between “the conceptual and the visual”. So is it art or is it writing?
I must confess to doing some wordy art myself, although admittedly as a teenager some thirty years ago. It was fun. It was pretty. It might even have been art. (Only one work of the whole portfolio has survived - see image above.)
Maybe that is the issue that niggles at me – whether it is art. Whether it is creative writing.
It might not matter. It might not make the smallest bit of difference to anybody that the art of writing personal letters has been superseded by the act of choosing from a plethora of bit(e)-sized cartoons showing your exact emotions, without the need for grammar, style, creativity or any other related brain activity. It probably does not matter that an objet d’art has been replaced by distressed timber letters spelling HOPE or LOVE and that T-shirts feature tradenames, memes and witty repartees just as often as purely aesthetic design.
You may call me a purist, but I feel somehow cheated. I feel superfluous. I feel like a team of painter and seamstress ousted by a fabric designer; a professor and a concert pianist shoved aside by a music teacher. I feel like an old office assembly of typewriter, telephone and fax machine expelled by an uppity smartphone (one with lots of emoticons).
I know that, like Lijn, I should embrace the intermingling of disciplines and rejoice at more people becoming involved, however fleetingly, in both art and writing. Like a health-conscious mother I should be glad that the processed cereals have added vitamins and the muffins are made with carrots. Or should I?
Art. Writing. For now I think I’ll just let each of them be what they are. And I’ll walk that blurry line until it is a line no more.