What Happens When Text Is More Than Just Letters?

Long before written language as we know it existed, our ancestors communicated by using pictures. Cave paintings evolved into glyphs, cuneiform, and runes – all stylized graphic forms. From these, actual characters and letters materialized worldwide in a wild array of shapes. Individual cultures developed their own unique alphabets, from Khmer and Cyrillic to Armenian and Urdu.

Linguists identify about 100 different alphabets in use today. And words, letters, and characters have power—including visual and symbolic power. Even if you’ve never set foot in a yoga studio, you may have a phrase or even a single word that you consider your mantra. Maybe you call it your motto, or perhaps you prefer to call it a slogan.

In any case, letters and words fascinate us and give us strength. Whether you choose Botanical Canvas Wall Art, or a folksy Highland Cow Canvas, seeing a few choice words in print can make us smile and encourage us to push on. That’s why so many office environments display inspirational wall art with mantras, mottos, and slogans, the most familiar being “Hang in there!”

protect your peace

Protect Your Peace by Gia Graham
We know life is crazy. Consider incorporating a fine art canvas into your decor that reminds you to take a break, take a breath, and take a step back to stay in your happy place. Here’s an example featuring the universal peace sign on a soothing background of 2022’s Pantone Color of the Year, Very Peri.
In addition to wall art, we often adorn our bodies with our favorite mantra. If you’re hardcore, you may even choose a permanent tattoo. If you prefer a softer approach, maybe just a t shirt with your motto will do. As we suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, it’s centering and calming to remember that we are Worthy, Loved, and Cared for. Consider this powerful image of a young woman in a meditative state, reminding herself of her own value.

loved cared for canvas

Worthy. Loved. Cared by Princella Seripenah

This strong yet feminine illustration would be ideal for a self-care space where you exercise, meditate, pray and de-stress.

Sometimes, it’s enough to stick to the script, using the written form of letters and words themselves to send a meaningful message. Script, as in cursive or longhand, is a dying art. Schools in America no longer teach cursive handwriting since keyboards have taken the central role in our communication. However, neurologists recommend that we get back to the practice of learning to write script or longhand cursive with a pen. The reason is that writing cursive, which consists of flowing, conjoined characters, fires up areas of the brain not activated by typing.

Interestingly enough, even printing letters with a pen or pencil does not activate the brain in the same way. It’s a proven fact that writing longhand improves memory function and may even be helpful as a technique to slow the progression of some forms of dementia. So, grab a pen and write a journal page (or a note or card to Granny!) every day to enhance what scientists call “neuroplasticity,” or flexibility and connectivity of the brain and neuron receptors.

All that aside, curving, swooping script is beautiful to behold. Viewing written cursive is a different experience from reading printed text because we know that cursive is done by hand. This gives the form a comforting sense of humanity. When we read the message of this simple, uncluttered graphic, it’s like getting a warm hug of reassurance or encouragement from a trusted friend.

Design the life you love

Design the life you love by Melanie Viola FotoDesign

Repetition is key for learning something new. From hitting a softball to playing scales on a musical instrument,  world-renowned author Malcolm Gladwell says that repetition is needed to master any skill – to the tune of no less than 10,000 times. Nowhere is this more true than in the acquisition of language. Parents and teachers can attest that young children will repeat a single sound repeatedly, for days on end, until the sound becomes a kind of chant. Hearing sounds and repeating them is how we all learn to speak, after all, and it’s how we most easily learn other languages, mais non?

Crazy Love Canvas

Crazy Love Canvas by Karlos Marquez

With this in mind, what word in the English language deserves to be repeated more than the word “love?” This energetic, contemporary graphic imprints the L-word across bright color blocks, urging us, or maybe even daring us, to follow our dreams in pursuit of love. This declaration of love is visualized in a burst of graffiti-style handwriting and an explosion of hot pink, electric teal, brilliant cobalt blue, and sunshine yellow on an otherwise empty canvas, suggesting that without love and dreams, the world is a sterile, drab place.

The forms of letters and words can be as comforting as a familiar song, or they can spur us into action. If you want a daily dose of energy to remind you to get up off the couch and take care of business, consider this silhouette of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately known as “the Notorious RBG.” Shown here in one of her signature decorative collars, Ginsburg seems unstoppable.

Fight RBG Canvas

Fight RBG Canvas by Susan Ball

The casual, hand-drawn lettering style and the realistic portrayal of Ginsburg’s profile give this image humanity and warmth that reminds us of our own capacities. Ginsburg was not some superhuman; she was simply a woman who cared about the world and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. With its evocative message and simple design, this portrait makes an inspiring touch in any office.

Existentialists like novelist Albert Camus maintained that human nature is unknowable. Every human being is a mystery or a riddle that can never be solved. Camus and others presented this belief as an explanation for modern alienation, what Sigmund Freud called civilization and its discontents. 

Although each individual is indeed mysterious, art is one human pursuit that may offer a sense of connection in place of separation. By knowing that a fellow human being made a piece of art, we realize how much we have in common with other people.

 windows to my soul

Windows To My Soul by Dean Russo

This modern artwork invites us to connect with others and combines illustration and photography for a surprising and exciting effect. The canine's brilliantly colored, graffiti-style outline vibrates with playful scribbles, symbols, squiggles, and dots. Set against a whimsical background of transparent, pastel watercolor washes, the text above the dog reads, “My eyes are the windows to my soul.” Gazing into the photo-realistic eyes above is compelling and invites us into a separate dimension of knowledge. 

The meaning of symbols is culturally dependent. A mark, signet, or icon may mean one thing to you, but may take on an entirely different meaning for another person.

Movement 9005 Canvas

Movement 9005 Canvas by Karlos Marquez

X O is a prime example. Today, we use these familiar symbols in pairs to signify kisses and hugs. But did you know that there are multiple meanings to these two letters? To a mathematician, “X” refers to the unknown factor, the answer to every algebra and physics question.. To Television viewers who tuned in season after season for a weekly serving of the popular series, The X Files, the letter reminds them of their favorite mystery-solving duo. 

An “X” is also a cross or crossroads. This mark has particular resonance for Christians, but they are not alone in perceiving two crossed lines. Indigenous cultures of the American continent used cross-forms in their sacred art long before the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 16th century. For instance, the Dine or Navajo use a cruciform mark to indicate the Four Ways, the four paths to living in reverence with the Great Spirit. 

In more literal terms, to “X” means to mark something, whether for negative or positive connotations. Storybook pirates marked their hidden treasures on maps with an “X” as a symbol for “X marks the spot.” Today, filling out forms, we may draw an “X” in the functional place of a checkmark or sign legally binding agreements.

“O” has a similarly layered significance as a symbol. In Buddhist thought, the “empty”  “beginner’s mind” is symbolized by the zazen, which is similar to an “O” painted in black ink as a sort of meditation. In this sense, emptiness is not viewed as a problem but rather as a state of receptivity.

We’re intrigued by this modern graphic fine art canvas which depicts an “X” and an “O” in a stark, abstract setting. Streams of paint flow upward against gravity, creating a weathered effect. Upon first glance, we can’t help but ask ourselves, Is the artist expressing negation, the contrariness of love, or something else altogether?

Sometimes, artists use text – characters and letters – and a few thoughtful words to reinforce a visual representation and add clarity. Our whimsical Highland Cow Canvas is one such work. In it, a realistically painted bovine beauty is crowned like a May-Queen with a headdress of lush blooms. The motto beside her reads “Wear the flowers”—good advice for any reader who needs to be reminded of the goodness and abundance of life.

Fancy Cow Canvas Print

Fancy Cow Canvas Print by Bonnie Mohr

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