Johanna Drucker
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1994, English
Nonfiction, Graphic Design
ISBN: 9780226165011

From the Publisher. Early in this century, Futurist and Dada artists developed brilliantly innovative uses of typography that blurred the boundaries between visual art and literature. In The Visible Word, Johanna Drucker shows how later art criticism has distorted our understanding of such works. She argues that Futurist, Dadaist, and Cubist artists emphasized materiality as the heart of their experimental approach to both visual and poetic forms of representation; by mid-century, however, the tenets of New Criticism and High Modernism had polarized the visual and the literary. Drucker suggests a methodology closer to the actual practices of the early avant-garde artists, based on a rereading of their critical and theoretical writings. After reviewing theories of signification, the production of meaning, and materiality, she analyzes the work of four poets active in the typographic experimentation of the 1910s and 1920s: Ilia Zdanevich, Filippo Marinetti, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Tristan Tzara. Few studies of avant-garde art and literature in the early 20th century have acknowledged the degree to which typographic activity furthered debates about the very nature and function of the avant-garde. The Visible Word enriches our understanding of the processes of change in artistic production and reception in the 20th century.

On 1 book list
Warren Lehrer

Johanna Drucker, an important practitioner/scholar, has been mining the territory between literature and art for over two decades in a bevy of books that include The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination; The Century of Artists’ Books; Graphic Design History: A Critical Approach (with Emily McVarish); Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing, and Visual Poetics; and The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art. The latter two titles are especially relevant to this list because of their insightful and careful deconstruction of visual/literary texts. In The Visible Word, after defining a vocabulary and framing a context for a critical analysis of this field of activity, Drucker focuses in on specific works of Apollinaire, Marinetti, Zdanevich, and Tzara. If you are interested in getting beyond how awesome these early 20th-century typographic masterworks look (written in French, Italian, Russian, Dada), and want to understand what they are about—their metaphorical underpinnings, how the form and content come together—get a copy of this book. The reproductions are not great, but you can find them elsewhere.

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