Beyond Words: Text in Art functions as an unessay for Professor Ryan Cordell’s class titled The Technology of Text offered during the Spring 2017 semester at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Professor Cordell describes the nature of an unessay:

The unessay is an assignment that attempts to undo the damage done by this approach to teaching writing. It works by throwing out all the rules you have learned about essay writing in the course of your primary, secondary, and post secondary education and asks you to focus instead solely on your intellectual interests and passions. In an unessay you choose your own topic, present it any way you please, and are evaluated on how compelling and effective you are.

The unessay is a concept that is also explored in academic literature:


(Patrick Sullivan, The UnEssay: Making Room for Creativity in the Composition Classroom, 2015)

This blog explores the use of text as an element in art and a tool at the artist’s disposal. This is a fitting topic because every artwork that incorporates text operates as a type of unessay. Text freed from its formal constraints as an element of artwork is definitionally an unessay. Artistic use of text expands the function of text and dismantles the boundaries we usually associate with text. The viewer/reader is asked to look beyond the direct meaning of the words and symbols (assuming there is any direct meaning at all) and explore the meaning and relationships that arise from the manipulation of text size, motion, color, placement, and medium.

Beyond the Words: Text in Art examines the use of text in art across many different times, cultures and mediums, including Chinese calligraphy, Orthodox iconography, ancient writing, poetry, modern painting–and new mediums–including and poetry. Modern art is given particular attention because the use of text as an artistic element exploded in the 20th Century:

The use of written language in art has been gaining ground over the last century, with the likes of René Magritte, Lawrence Weiner and Bruce Nauman adopting it as a tool of self-expression.

(More than Words: A new book charts the rise of text in art).

In my personal art project, featured for Unessay 2, I explore the use of text in political propaganda and political protest art in the context of an imagined Trump Border Wall between the US and Mexico at the San Diego/Tijuana Border.