From a conversation between Brody Neuenschwander and type historian Jan Middendorp:

Jan Middendorp: Have you thought about the question whether calligraphy is somewhat of an anachronism, or has it never been an issue to you? Would you like to call it something else if you could?

Brody Neuenschwander: Calligraphy is not an anachronism, since that would mean that it is out of place in time. Calligraphy is a cultural incongruity. We do not have it in our tradition. We are painters, marble carvers, bronze casters and builders. Since Duchamp we have the license to use any materials whatsoever to make art. But we do not have the license to make text aesthetic. This was given to the Chinese and the Arabs, and for very different reasons in each case. Should I have been born an Arab? It would have made things easier, but a lot duller. Their tradition is too well established, hard to budge, patriarchal and stiff. There are some great modern Arabic calligraphers, but their innovations are not on the scale of contemporary Western artistic production. I am actually rather happy with the idea of pushing this particular envelope, helping to create a new calligraphy.


It is very difficult to open the eyes of Western high culture – a more self-satisfied and bourgeois world has never existed. But our time in the cultural limelight may be near its end. Huge new forces are at work. And these forces are coming from cultures that have always placed calligraphy very high on the cultural agenda. World-calligraphy. Strange idea, a contradiction in terms even. But there is music in it, I feel.

I tend to use the term text art, since this calls up the roster of artists mentioned above: Mallarmé, Duchamp, Apollinaire, Marinetti, Dada, Lisitsky and the other Constructivists, Schwitters, Magritte, Twombly, Warhol, Kosuth, Fluxus, Holzer, Diamond (has she been looking at my website?), Kruger, Nauman, Dotremont….. The literature on this subject is very limited, which is surprising given the importance of text in modern and contemporary art.


Calligraphers can contribute two things to the text art debate it. First, the sense of text made by hand as an act of writing. Here the artist is physically present, expressing personal opinions and acting on immediate impulses. The neon of Nauman and the “found” letters of Warhol do a different kind of work.

Second, by giving shape to the text, the calligraphers slide easily along the form/function scale. Language becomes more image, less text. I am not saying that “One Hundred Live and Die” is not a text image, but that the typographic neon letters impress the language more firmly on the viewer than, say, the Cloud Series of Jessica Diamond. The calligrapher works at the text/image border.

So, you see, I really do want to call myself a calligrapher (visions of the Topkapi). But I need to make sure you know what I mean by the term. Trash the monks and the scriveners. Cross breed with the graffiti artists and the conceptualists.