Un-creative writing

There is text that is seen and text that is read. I will be exploring what text does, rather than what is says.

Dada artists:

The optophonetic of poet Raoul Hausmann, presented by Cecile Bargues (Visual representation of sound poetry). http://www.diptyqueparis-memento.com/en/dada-optophonetic/

“I pasted words and sentences together into poems in such a way that their rhythmic composition created a kind of drawing. The other way around, I pasted together pictures and drawings containing sentences that demand to be read.” — Kurt Schwitters

Schwitters’ also wrote sound poems. This is where phonemes are separated and recombined so they are no longer words.

‘Twelve’ poem by Kurt Schwitters https://www.hamishandmartine.co.uk/hamish-martine-and-kurt/

Schwitters also produced drawings using letters. These cannot be read, but instead were to be viewed for their visual quality.

I really like the shapes he creates on the page, in the above poems. The ‘Cigarren’ poem has been designed to be displayed as a long thin line, imitating the cigarette shape.

Concrete poetry is poetry in which the poet’s intent is conveyed by graphic patterns of letters, words, or symbols rather than by the meaning of words in conventional arrangement.


Kenneth Goldsmith

Kenneth Goldsmith explores ‘Uncreative writing’ in his book with the same name. In this video, he is reading a newspaper article as a ‘contemporary poem’.


Being a reader myself, I have always been fascinated by the beauty of words. The mundane becomes interesting when frame it or combine it in new or random ways.

I particularly like a list. This is one kind of list, my housemate’s shopping receipt from the supermarket:

Sam Winston

In this poster, Winston has cut the words of a story up, and arranged them in lists of alphabetical order.

Winston creates incredibly detailed and intricate artworks using words. In the piece Stolen Dictionary, he cut the words from the dictionary and pasted them in a formation that reflected his own narrative. I like this idea of re-purposing words that have been printed for another purpose.

My Experiments with un-creative writing

My first approach was to collect together random leaflets, flyers, catalogues and an unwanted novel. I then cut out words, but in a loose way. For example, I didn’t want to control the process too much. I wanted the sentences to be a bit random and not make sense completely.

I glued the sentences onto paper and scanned the page:

My second method came as an accident. I had earlier cut words from the green paper. This left rectangular gaps in the paper. When I laid it onto another page of text, certain words showed through. I then continued to cut into the paper, mostly at random, but I had to look at the page underneath to check the gap would show a line of text and not half a line.

I like this formation, because it is not a predictably (left-aligned) arranged text. It can be read in more than one day, decided by the viewer.

Words from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My third method was to use the random word generator.

I used it to generate singular words, writing them on paper as I went. I then re-arranged the text to an order that made sense to me/ had a better flow:

Blank arrangement

at the revolutionary bridge.

A perfectly palm-sized match.

How to place the text?

How the designer chooses to arrange the text will have an impact on the overall message.

Alignment refers to the way individual elements of a design are arranged. This is commonly seen in text placement- for example, most lines of text in a Microsoft Word document are left-aligned by default, where the text forms a uniform line on the left-hand side.’ (quote found here)

I looked at Modernist design to see how text could be placed within a design.

Kazimir Malevich, An Englishman in Moscow, 1913-14. Painted in what was known in Russia as a Cubo-Futurist style.’

The painting reflect the principles of Cubism. It has an underlying symmetry. The almost random placement of text in this piece, creates a feeling of freedom and playfulness. A more abstract alignment can add a dynamic quality.


A poster for Josef Albers’ Dismountable chair, 1929

The playful curving of text around the corner of the material echoes the curve of the furniture. The edge alignment of text at the top and bottom of the page act as a frame and focus the viewer’s attention to the central image.

A. M. Cassandre, Harper’s Bazaar magazine cover, 1939. ‘This cover playfully exploits Cubism, Purism and Surrealism to create a memorable image of chic modernity.’

Here, the cover lines are aligned around the shape of the mask.

Cover Lines: These are lines of text on the front cover which allows the audience to see what sort of content is within the magazine.’ (Slideshare.net)

The way the text is tiered makes it ‘step up’ across the cover. This is more fun than if Cassandre chose a right alignment for example.

‘Cassandre’s imagery was so strange that his work looks psychedelic today (the chemical Surrealism of a later time). For an American magazine of this era, his work must have stood out like a big strange thumb.’ (quoted from here)

“During his brief tenure as cover artist for this high-end fashion publication, Cassandre both brought Surrealism into American editorial illustration and depicted the emotional and mental collapse of an entire world as it rapidly disappeared forever.” — Art Chantry

Jan Tschichold

‘In 1927, he joined a group formed by Kurt Schwitters, The Circle of New Advertising Designers. It was this group that formulated the principles of what was proclaimed The New Typography. Although the group had some dialogue with the Bauhaus they kept a distance, possibly for fear that either side might subsume the other’s identity. The New Typography was organised around these principles:

  • asymmetrical balance of elements
  • content designed by hierarchy
  • intentional white space utilisation
  • sans serif typography

(above) The cover of Typographic Mitteilungen: Elementare Typographie, 1925, a trade magazine in which Tschichold introduced the ideas of the Russian Constructivism and The New Typography to Germany’s printers. The content was met with great controversy but was widely adopted.’

(info sourced from)

Russian Constructivism

(right) Gustav Klutsis, ‘Workers, Everyone Must Vote in the Election of Soviets’ poster, 1930. For this memorable image Klutsis used his own hand, repeated many times.

The elements in this poster create diagonal movement. This gives the image a sense of instability and something in motion.

“Constructivism is early Soviet youth movement created by Vladimir Tatlin that was inspired by Cubism, Suprematism and Futurism. It flourished following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and sought to abolish the traditional artistic composition, and replace it with “construction.” Concerned with the use of “real materials in real space”, the movement sought to use art as a tool for the common good, much in line with the Communist principles of the new Russian regime.

The foundation of Constructivism was to express the experience of modern life and to develop a new form of art more appropriate to the democratic and modernizing goals of the Russian Revolution and build a new society.” (info sourced here)

Herbert Matter, Travel poster, 1936

This poster is promoting the Swiss travel industry. Arranging the text at an angle reflects the slope of the mountains and action of the skier in the background. This text arrangement hints at the fun and adventure of the holiday.

Working with scans

scan of the collage
To create this effect, I opened the scan in photoshop and played with the levels. These colours are disturbing. They distort the words and affect the readability of the text.
scan of the collage

When working from the scan, I can achieve many effects. The image is restricted in that the placement will remain the same as when I manually stuck the pieces on the paper. However, I have the option of moving each piece individually by turning the image into a vector on adobe illustrator.

I can then select ‘line art’ ‘technical drawing’ and other options to change the appearance of the line.

I opened the scan in adobe illustrator. I transformed the scan into a vector image, by clicking ‘Object’ > ‘Expand’. This was the result.
I then selected ‘pathfinder’ > ‘outline’ > stroke 2 pt.
Because the image is now a vector, I was able to ungroup it, take the letters apart, or distort each letter, as above. I stretched the ‘u’ and ‘a’.

I experimented with bitmapping the image. After opening the image in photoshop, I then converted it to greyscale >bitmap > diffusion dither. This was the result:

‘Diffusion dither’
Diffusion dither, then ‘invert’ flips the image to the negative version.

Some effects affect the readability of the text. I opened this scan in adobe illustrator and turned it into a vector.

image trace > technical drawing> stroke increase> outline>
reversed the fill:

I liked the look of the word ‘substitutions’, but the other words are mostly unreadable.

The word ‘substitutions’ reminded me of this modernist style by the design duo Sawdust:

Legibility and readability are not the same thing. The degree to which a typeface is legible is entirely dependent on the designer of the typeface, whereas readability is largely the province of the typographer. Legibility is the degree to which individual letters can be distinguished from each other. Generally, the most legible typefaces are those with larger, open or closed inner spaces.’

Readability refers to the ease of reading text. ‘the reader should not normally be aware of the activity of reading at all.’

‘The ability to read quickly and to be able to select in order to use time efficiently depends very much on the order and arrangement of type being normal. Surprises are disruptive to the mechanics of reading.’

Language & Type (part 1)

History of Typography

In the 19th century there was a reduction in price of printing material. This enabled people to read, which allowed a democracy. (You can’t have a modern democracy if people can’t read). This reduction in price, lead to several things:

A rise in advertising- they saw posters competing in public. A visual noise shown in the painting by John Orlando Pary of a London street scene:

Both artists and writers saw this and were inspired. They turned to each other’s craft to enhance their work. Artists used words within their work, such as the collages by Picasso and Braque. Symbolist poetry came from writers reading the newspaper and seeing a contrast in the words about a variety of subjects.

Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar, and Newspaper – collage by Picasso https://www.weinerelementary.org/picasso-and-collage.html
Modernsim & Post-Modernism

“From the end of the 19th century, modernism was shaped by the industrialisation and urbanisation of western society. It marked a departure from the rural and provincial towards cosmopolitan, rejecting or overthrowing traditional values and styles as functionality and progress became key concerns as part of an attempt to move beyond the external physical representation of reality as depicted by cubism and the bauhaus.”

Around the 1st World War, the western world was politically heated. Dadaism and the Constructivists came out of this time. Dadaists opposed the traditional beliefs of a pro-war society.

The optophonetic of Dadaist poet Raoul Hausmann, presented by Cecile Bargues http://www.diptyqueparis-memento.com/en/dada-optophonetic/
Cover of Merz, Kurt Schwitters, 1925

During the communist revolution, the art movements within this were the Futurists in Italy and the Vorticists in Britain. Their work represented the breaking up of the old world.


“Constructivism began as a Soviet youth movement. The Russian Revolution of 1917 involved many Russian artists, who combined political propaganda and commercial advertising in support of the new communist revolution.”


“Bless all English eyes” BLAST manifesto by the Vorticists. The harsh typography states a list of things the Vorticists were against (‘Blast’) and what they supported (‘Blessed’).

In the 1920’s, rules were written by Modernists and new typefaces were invented. This occurred at the rise of Fascism. Herbert Bayer was a designer who came up with the ‘Universal’ typeface, that he planned to be used by everyone, in a way of re-writing tradition. By changing what the world looks like, people are introduced to the new as it surrounds them in everyday life. This typeface at the time was extremely new and surprising.

Universal, 1925, Herbert Bayer

“Bayer’s Universal typeface was developed at the Bauhaus and is a reduction of Roman forms to simple geometric shapes. The circular form features heavily, and you can see how each character is closely based on the others.”The Fundamentals of Creative Design by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris

Radio design by Dieter Rams. His work was described as ‘quiet simplicity’. He was a pioneer of the Modernist movement and worked for Braun.

Jan Tschichold

Poster, Buster Keaton in “Der General”, 1927
Internal spread from brochure Merken Sie sich bitte: Die Reklamemesse, 1927

“New Typography uses white space to create visual intervals in an asymmetrical layout. An underlying grid unifies the page. Personal expression is rejected in favor of order and clarity. The predominant graphic design style in the world by the 1970s, the Swiss style is recognizable by its strong reliance on typography, usually sans serif type in flush left alignment.”

Late Modernism occurred in the economic boom in the 1950’s. Wim Crouwel’s posters from 1960’s-1980’s have a similar appearance to design now:

1967s New Alphabet Typeface. https://speckyboy.com/icons-graphic-design-wim-crouwel/
Wim Crouwel Leger Poster, 1957.

Matt Willey- contemporary designer

The New York Times magazine
NYT Olympics

“Post-Modernism developed following the Second World War and questions the very notion that there is a reliable reality through deconstructing authority and the established order of things by engaging the idea of fragmentation, incoherence and the plain ridiculous.

Post-Modernism returned to earlier ideas of adornment and decoration, celebrating expression and personal intuition in favour of formula and structure.”

Fuse magazine, founded by Neville Brody and John Wozencroft

An example of Post-Modernism, the designers expressed their imagination across the pages. Sometimes readability was compromised, as form reigned over function. The magazine was produced at the time when computer technology allowed designers to experiment with new tools.

Fuse 2, Runes: Edition Poster design by Neville Brody, 1991 https://www.amazon.co.uk/FUSE-1-20-TASCHEN/dp/3836525011

Automation is a phrase that is used to describe the transition from the old skilled job (for example, of typography) to the present digital age where the digital design tools are available to anyone.

Gilbert, Type with Pride https://www.typewithpride.com/

“On 31 March, 2017, Gilbert Baker the creator of the iconic Rainbow Flag sadly passed away. Mr. Baker was both an LGBTQ activist and artist, and was known for helping friends create banners for protests and marches. To honor the memory of Gilbert Baker, NewFest and NYC Pride partnered with Fontself to create a free font inspired by the design language of the iconic Rainbow Flag, the font was named ‘Gilbert’ after Mr. Baker.” This is one of the world’s first coloured fonts.

“The colour combinations are blended on letters to represent the ‘open and fluid communities’ that make up LGBTQ.” (from The Fundamentals of Typography 3rd edition)

Postmodern design:

Eye Magazine, Issue 102

Photo book Artist Research

Workshop #4 Editor as Author- Designing with photographs

In week 4 we have been introduced to photobooks. Photobooks use mainly images and sometimes text to convey a message across the book. We discussed the importance of the editor of a newspaper and the way they shape the publication as much as an author. The way images are chosen, presented, edited and the sequence they appear in all have an effect on the overall narrative or message. The images can carry the stories.

Dieter Roth

Some artists have created photobooks based on news stories. One example is Dieter Roth, who is known for making miniature books. In 1961 he made The Daily Mirror Book, using snippets from The Daily Mirror newspaper. In this way, the artist is maybe consciously or subconsciously interpreting the news and showing us the parts he is most drawn to.

By using one small area of a photo or a piece of text, we are more aware of how the image looks visually. The meaning becomes ambiguous, and this leads the viewer to guess what they are looking at. Is this snippet from a story about something positive or negative for example. By showing half of a sentence, our minds try to fill in the gaps of the area we are not seeing. The artists choice of images shows us something about his personality. For example, some of the images are quirky and humorous when taken out of context.

Daily Mirror Book

In a way, he is reconstructing the book by forming a new book made from the old book. He is giving the newspaper a new life and making it more meaningful to people. A newspaper is an object that is thrown away after use (a transient object) By constructing The Daily Mirror Book, he is creating an object that has value. If someone handed me a newspaper, I may or may not read it but it would soon go into the bin. If someone handed me a tiny book they had spent time and effort into creating, I would likely keep it.(it has become a durable object)

Dieter Roth, Daily Mirror Book

Images from

Artists’ Books and Multiples: Dieter Roth | Daily Mirror (artistsbooksandmultiples.blogspot.com)

Visual Media Center News: Book Art Resources (dusaahvmc.blogspot.com)

From Idea Generation by Neil Leonard and Gavin Ambrose

To make a Dadaist Poem is a set of instructions written by Tristan Tzara in 1920. Dadaists and other artists and writers, such as William Burroughs of the Beat Generation in the 1960s, would use similar techniques when coming up with inspiration for their work. To make a Dadaist Poem encourages spontaneity in the creative process.

By juxtaposing ideas, the artist is making something new. The unpredictability of these methods means the artist is open to inspiration and the outcome is interesting and unusual.

2-page layout of Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto, printed in Dada 3 (December 1918)

The poet Tristan Tzara was a strong advocate of the international Dada movement, but his Dada Manifesto of 1918 appears to be complete nonsense. It is, in fact, just that — but in a really interesting way that perfectly serves the goals of the Dada movement

Dada Manifesto – Smarthistory

Tzara, gave the following instructions on how “To make a Dadaist Poem” (1920):

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are—an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

To Make a Dadaist Poem | Modernist Commons

‘Piece from The Third Mind by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin’ from
Project 0: Introduction /Automatism (Cut-up Technique) (projectzero-john.blogspot.com)
William Burroughs

William Burroughs would use cut up techniques for writing ideas. Several of his books were written this way. He used a similar method where he would take a page of text, draw lines on it. He would cut up and invert the sections. This would produce interesting narratives. He was also a visual artist as well as poet and novelist. He put together scrapbooks and painted.

Third Mind Collage, 1965
Burroughs in London – RealityStudio
Pedro Ramos

Inspired by Madeira, his birthplace, Ramos created the Black scabbard research centre. This photo book is made up of pictures from friends and pictures from the newspaper, all within Madeira. In this way, he is painting a picture of the region, made up of the many stories within it. I like that even though some pictures may not look like they have any connection to the picture on the next page, they are linked by their association with the place. Every picture seems out of context. Words are not needing because of the strength of the images.

MOTTO DISTRIBUTION » Blog Archive » Black Scabbard Research Centre, Pedro Ramos.

Luke Fowler- Two frame films. (2006-2012)

In this photo book, he is juxtaposing 2 separate images – from 2 far apart moments. By placing the images together, the viewer makes up a narrative that could be possible between the 2 or 4 images.

Luke Fowler – Two-Frame Films – Perimeter Distribution

Two-Frame Films (2006-2012) Luke Fowler – MACK (mackbooks.co.uk)

Luke Fowler- Two frame films. (2006-2012)
Luke Fowler- Two frame films. (2006-2012)