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11 - Language in Visual Art

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

David W. Galenson
Affiliation:
University of Chicago
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Summary

Introduction

A distinctive feature of visual art in the twentieth century is its use of language. Words had appeared in paintings and sculptures since classical times, but their use was generally restricted to a few specific functions. From an early date, inscriptions served religious purposes, identifying the protagonists in a biblical scene or referring to a relevant biblical text. Artists' signatures identified the person responsible for a work, and dates were often included to specify when a work was completed. And artists sometimes included the title of a painting within the work's image. In the early twentieth century, however, some artists began using language in their works for very different reasons. Over time this practice spread, as words and even sentences became more conspicuous in a number of artists' work. Eventually, in some cases language became more important than images, and for some artists words replaced images altogether.

The introduction of language into art for new purposes is a symptom of the increasingly conceptual nature of visual art during the twentieth century. The increasing acceptance of the use of language equally became an independent factor fueling the conceptual orientation of art, for the possibility of using language appealed to many young artists with conceptual goals: the example of important visual artists whose work featured language helped make visual art an attractive activity for many conceptually oriented artists, and provided them with points of departure for new conceptual innovations.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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References

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  • Language in Visual Art
  • David W. Galenson, University of Chicago
  • Book: Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804205.013
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  • Language in Visual Art
  • David W. Galenson, University of Chicago
  • Book: Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804205.013
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Language in Visual Art
  • David W. Galenson, University of Chicago
  • Book: Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804205.013
Available formats
×