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Art Makes Words Attract Attention

Wildly colored lettering makes Wiliam Safire's NYT Magazine article attract attention.

Wildly colored lettering makes Wiliam Safire's NYT Magazine article attract attention.


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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 1, 2007
Latest Update: September 1, 2007

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Making Art

Look Closely at the Art Around You

William Safire wrote or the New York Times Magazine of September 9, 2007, an article on what led Americans to refer to the attacks on the World Trade Center attacks as "9/11." Their graphics team made the brightly colored lettering you see above to attract attention to what otherwise might have been a dull visual page in the magazine.

Some of you may have graphic programs that let you play this way with lettering on your computers. Some of you may have art supplies that include resist and water color mediums that will let you paint lettering this way. And some of us have neither those programs, nor art supplies. I scanned the magazine's lettering into my computer, then used the Windows Paint program that came free with my computer to block out the colors from the image on the back of the page. Use the spray paint icon so no hard lines will show between the colors as you make the background back into a solid gray.

And some of us don't have working computers. No problem. Ordinary crayons and white paper will let you make fancy patterned and colored letters that suit our need to attract others to conversations about issues that matter to us.

If you sew or knit or chrochet, there are lots of techniques that would let you decorate letters on cloth, on paper, on wearable art. Embroider the words. Choose short messages. This is about sound bites, not about speeches. Choose colors that would attract you. Wear it or share it as a card or box or gift. And talk about it with everyone you know. Explain what you've learned. That will help embed it in your apperceptive mass.

If you do scrapbooking, make a scrapbook page you can share with friends and family. Send it to someone you care about who's far away. Make it into a card. Make it into a postcard and surprise your friends near and far by mailing it to them.

If you neither work with thread, nor scrapbook, nor make cards, try a visit to the local hardware store and find wild doodads to add to clothing or a hat or mittens or a wristband. Buy a piece of card stock, or recycle an old card. Glue on doodads till you like the way it looks. Include a word or two that has meaning for you on an issue that matters. Share it in the mail or on wearable art. Or decorate a frame or a box and plunk it on your coffee table as an art object.

There are millions of ways to turn your thoughts into visual messages and to share them. It is in sharing ideas on the issues that matter to us that we learn the skills needed for decision making in our local and national issues.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does the art you make need to look professional?

    I don't think so. It needs to look cared for, like someone took reasonable effort to stimulate the viewer's attention and thought. Beyond that, anything goes in Outsider Art, and most of us are definitely outsiders to the professional art world. But our work is handmade and unique. We know how it happened from start to finish. We did it from start to finish. And that means that we're engaging in therapy for alienation.

    People lose orientation when the whole world around them is inundated by plastic and metal that has been turned out by machines, even robots. They no longer know how to make things, how to make them work, how to build them, how to use them for maximum efficiency. That makes us outsiders in our own context. Making things brings us back to a time when we could create and maximize our own "things."

    The world population has grown to large, too diverse, to make individual construction of most "things" practical and cost effective. Craft and art offer us a way to counterbalance that alienation. To understand our world and our relation to it more fully. A way to appreciate the time-saving industrialization of production, without losing our identity in the process.

    Try making art. It's therapeutic as well as fun. and it helps make our world more beautiful in many ways.


    • Freud, Moses and Monotheism. New York Times Magazine, September 9, 2007. At p. 15. Article by Mark Edmundson. I'll put up an essay on this article later. It's an interesting discussion of Freud's last completed book, in which he explores the actual importance of religion in leading humans to a more intellectualized, internal, abstract approach to understanding the human condition.

      Mark Edmundson suggests that Freud began to see religion as like unto poetry [and art]. jeanne

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