With her permission, I am copying one of Alice Schaumann’s recent first reflective fieldbook entries as a model of the genre.
Reflective: Print II
Type as Art
Type was originally created to allow for the mass production of text. Its function was primarily utilitarian. Over time, printers began to experiment with different attributes of the letters, straying further and further from the humanist letters of the Renaissance. Today, typefaces need not even be legible. In class, we discussed typefaces like Digestive and Fit, which play with the forms of the letters in such a way that makes them difficult to read. Their value is not in their legibility, which is what earlier typefaces strove for, but in the way their creators experimented with the forms of the letters. The purposes for which type is used are now much more varied than they were during the Renaissance, and their form can vary as their function does. The Bushwick typeface discussed in the Heller article takes the neighborhood as influence for its form. Pablo Medina, the designer, draws from his Latino culture and the letterforms he encountered around the Bushwick neighborhood. His intentions are personal, political, and aesthetic. The way type is used today allows its form to be driven by these sorts of intentions, rather than just ease of reading.
What is it that allows type to become an artform? We saw a similar transition from utility to art in books. Like type, as they became easier to produce and more widely used, people began to use them as an artistic medium. As something is used more often and more widely, people develop expectations about it. These expectations give artists something to challenge. In this way, ubiquity breeds creativity. Simply by having form, type and books have the potential to be artforms. What determines whether they are is simply whether an artist chooses to use them as a medium.
Fonts, like other artforms, can evoke emotions in viewers. One of the typefaces we discussed in class was Aperçu. Olivia said the typeface made her feel nice. She recognized the font from the makeup brand Glossier, and wasn’t sure whether she liked the font itself or just what she associated with it. We also talked about Rosart, which Levi said made him think of adventure and digging holes. Some of the sample text presented in the Font Review Journal discusses archeology and the Legend of Zelda. Is this what made Levi think of adventure, or is there something “adventure-y” about the font itself? And were these topics chosen for the sample text because of some inherent “adventuriness” in the font? It’s hard to divorce our reactions to the typeface itself from our historical understanding of the forms it uses. The Font Review Journal tends to credit the letterforms themselves with our emotional response. It says of the lowercase g in Aperçu, “It is bulbous and inviting, with its little upturned ear implying an inquisitive nature.” But perhaps the bulbous g only feels inviting because bulbous fonts have in the past been used for things that feel inviting. On the other hand, perhaps the feelings invoked by textual forms come from connections we have to the forms themselves. The Font Review Journal often personifies letters, not just in giving them attitudes (“inviting”), but also in connecting their forms to human forms (“upturned ear”). Our impressions of fonts may therefore come not from fonts we have seen in the past, but from other contexts in which we have seen those types of forms.