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The Word is Art

Michael Petry

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A fascinating overview of how contemporary artists incorporate text and language into work that speaks to some of the most pressing issues of the 21st century

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There has been much scaremongering about the ‘death of the book’, and how, as words find new ways and means of transmission, young people might gradually begin to shun writing. In the digital age, text becomes information, and information strives to become free. But what value can text hold in the sphere of visual art? How is such text different from poetry? Can the poetic itself be visual art, or is text in this context consigned to the realms of gimmick and catchphrase?

Looking at the work of a broad range of artists including Bruce Nauman, Julien Breton, Jeremy Deller, Takashi Murakami, Tracey Emin, Christian Boltanski and many more, The Word is Art examines each of these questions, contending above all that in the digital and online age, words have become more important than ever. With the advent of texting and social media, many predicted the debasement of language, and some have pointed to evidence of this in our so-called ‘post-truth’ culture. Artist Michael Petry demonstrates that, on the contrary, words remain critical, powerful and central to art practice.

Digital communication has seen the word as text permeate life in ways that the poets and artists of yesterday could never have imagined. Presenting a brief history of word- and book-based art, and examining major areas where the word has dominated artistic practice, this book takes us on a fascinating and richly illustrated global tour of diverse contemporary art forms.

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'Petry's book paints a redeeming picture of language, underlining how artists continue to inspire us with their radical and creative use of words'


Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Size: 27.5 x 23.0 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Illustrations: 250

Publication date: 15 July 2021

ISBN: 9780500295977

Contents List

Introduction • 1. Installed Words • 2. Three-Dimensional Words • 3. Light • 4. New Media • 5. The Conceptual Word • 6. Social Comment • 7. The Drawn Word • 8. Books Further Reading

About the Author

Michael Petry is an artist, author and Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), London. He has written or co-written a number of books, and The Trouble with Michael, a monograph of his practice, was published in 2001. Petry was the first artist-in-residence at Sir John Soane’s Museum, and his one-man show, ‘The Touch of the Oracle’ at the Palm Springs Art Museum, was accompanied by a ten-year career retrospective publication. He is the author of Nature Morte: Contemporary Artists Reinvigorate the Still-Life Tradition, also published by Thames & Hudson.