Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A is for Art

The first in a series exploring art and letters.
As a young boy growing up in a small town, the only person I knew who might even conceivably call himself an artist, was the local sign painter, a man named Kenny McCoy. As a picture-painter he wasn't much of an artist. But in terms of the ancient art of making letters and words "speak," he was considered to be one of the best. Today, few of his kind even exist, their art and craft long since usurped by the computer and various types of printed vinyl with adhesive backing. The quality isn't necessarily better though the computer/printer generated messages may be somewhat more archival and less prone to flaking or fading, especially on painted metal. In any case, I learned a great deal from this man about the power of signage and art in general.
The development of the letter "A" down through the ages.
The creation of letter shapes to signify spoken sounds, thus forming an alphabet, may be one of the oldest (or second oldest) types of art we know of today. As the chart above depicts, the vowel sound for "A" was first pictured as a bull, its horns forming the "legs" of what might appear to us as an upside-down letter "A." That was about five-thousand years ago, give or take a few centuries. Dwellers of the Sinai simplified the Egyptian hieroglyph somewhat, followed by the Phoenicians about 1,200 BC with the aleph. The Greeks, around 600 BC, called their version "alpha" (as in alpha-beta, to coin the term, alphabet), while the Romans, around 114 AD, made minor adjustments in the shape to create the modern-day "A." Given the fact it comes first in most alphabets, the letter and vocal sound connection may be the oldest of all such communicative devices.

The "A" in Make Poverty History.
Whether diamonds or
rhinestones, it's the thought
that counts. Right? Right?
Letters, regardless of their size and exact shape, are first and foremost designed to communicate. Size wise, they can range from the massive scale of the Make Poverty History team (above) seen erecting a giant letter "A," one of an enormous series of letters spelling out their slogan, which spreads over more than a hundred yards (100-meters). From there letters can be etched down to a microscopic detail, or set with diamonds. Regardless of size and the materials used, these letters, and most others, all have as their basis, the con-veyance of human thought in "written" forms. However, in the case of the letter "A," we also have a structural device (and a damned good one at that). It's no secret that the triangle is the strongest structural shape known to man. Used in multiples, or in combination with weaker shapes, we en-counter it so often we seldom give it much thought. Well, the letter "A" is simply a tri-angle with legs. Though somewhat weak-ened by the addition of legs, in practice, it makes the basic triangle much more practical in that it elevates its triangular shape to provide space for human occupancy underneath, as in the classic "A-frame" structure seen below.

We also see the structural applications of the "A" shape in items as common as street barricades, but also Gothic windows and...bookcases?
If the engineers love the "A" shape, artists likewise have long been fascinated with decorative attributes of this and virtually all letterforms. Artists have the added advantage of having two similar, yet different shapes to play with--upper and lower case. In the case of the letter "A," the differences are quite radical as seen below. Designers refer to such differences as "one-storey" and "two-storey." The lower-case "a" even has two versions--print and script.

The script version of the lower-case "a" can be seen just above.
As seen in the highly decorated pink "A" (above), the line between stylized letters and illustrated letters is exceedingly thin (sometimes all but nonexistent). We're all at least somewhat familiar with the monkish illustrated manuscripts of medieval times (below, upper row, center). Artists today, and for some years past, have taken such exquisite art to ever growing extremes as seen in some of the other examples below. For what they're worth, they do add an element of excitement and expression to what might otherwise be a boring text. The advent of corporate logos have also propelled both the stylized and illustrated letterforms to such creative heights. I have no doubt a lot of medieval monks are growing restless in their graves.

The images may change but the vocals remain the same.

"I'm Mr. A, and I thank you for
checking out my family tree.


No comments:

Post a Comment