Cursive and Art

USA Today and Newsweek recently published articles on the decline of teaching formal cursive in elementary schools (block lettering is still mandatory). In order to prepare young students for today’s Digital Age, grade school curricula are showing a preference for keyboarding lessons over cursive. Both articles question the need for teaching formal handwriting in cursive from an educational, historical, and evolutionary standpoint. With students now only being taught formal penmanship approximately fifteen minutes a day in the third grade, I began to wonder how this would affect visual art. Take for instance this work:


Written in French, the letters in René Magritte’s La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (1929) can be identified by the reader. An accompanying gallery label would aid further in translating the text. But with more and more students less inclined to write in cursive at a young age, one can’t help but also wonder how well they would visually identify and comprehend it. The text of this work is crucial to the point the artist is trying to make about the perception of visual art.

As mobile phones and computers become the main forms of communication nowadays, is this a sign that English cursive is actively on its way to hieroglyphic status? Fortunately we still have time; canvases aren’t optioned with an electronic signature just yet.

Devi Noor

2 Responses to Cursive and Art

  1. Leah says:

    Very interesting thoughts on the perception of language and visual images! Thank you for this…I suspect that the perception of type in artwork would not only be affected by the less frequent use of the mannade mark by the viewer, but also the ways that visually designed type is used and perceived. Fonts in cursive form have and will continue to exist ; it seems like the connotations of that form will be more lasting than how the form was originally made. Very much like how a record needle scratching on an LP is still understood as meaning a full stop in a crowded room, even if the young audience has no idea what a record looks like!

  2. Matty Byloos says:

    Is it possible that we’ll still be able to recognize, register and understand cursive in places like artwork – the letters, after all, resemble block text, but are only changed formally so that one might gracefully move from one to the next when composing a word or sentence. It’s not as if the “C” in Magritte’s work above is illegible to someone who knows the letter but might not know cursive. It makes me wonder if hieroglyphics had been rendered out-dated by an ancient computer, would the hieroglyphics been recognizable still to someone who knew the mark but not how to write it? Provocative post indeed….

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