“Words for me are very visually powerful”, French artist Laure Prouvost once said in an interview with Dazed, “because with words people create their own vision”.
This could be a fitting preface to a new book from Thames & Hudson, The Word is Art, which takes an in-depth look at the visual power of language. Compiled by Michael Petry, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in London, the book examines works by Prouvost, Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, Ed Ruscha, and other contemporary artists who use words to make provocative statements about the most pressing issues of the 21st century.
From Jenny Holzer's huge projections of feminist poetry, to Raymond Pettibon's anarchic poster art, artists across the globe have occupied public spaces with words. Petry's book considers how language becomes a critical and powerful tool in these works, arguing that the use of words in visual art is usually much more than pithy sloganeering.
The Word is Art seeks to disprove cynical prophecies about the ‘death of the book’, and challenges the presumption that texting and image-saturated media have undermined the power of language. In this post-truth culture, many politicians and influential people have used words to limit our insight and imagination. But Petry's book paints a redeeming picture of language, underlining how artists continue to inspire us with their radical and creative use of words.
The Word is Art – published by Thames & Hudson – is available now