Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing.The word asemic means "having no specific semantic content", or "without the smallest unit of meaning". With the non-specificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning, which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. All of this is similar to the way one would deduce meaning from an abstract work of art. Where asemic writing distinguishes itself among traditions of abstract art is in the asemic author's use of gestural constraint, and the retention of physical characteristics of writing such as lines and symbols. Asemic writing is a hybrid art form that fuses text and image into a unity, and then sets it free to arbitrary subjective interpretations. It may be compared to free writing or writing for its own sake, instead of writing to produce verbal context. The open nature of asemic works allows for meaning to occur across linguistic understanding; an asemic text may be "read" in a similar fashion regardless of the reader's natural language. Multiple meanings for the same symbolism are another possibility for an asemic work, that is, asemic writing can be polysemantic or have zero meaning, infinite meanings, or its meaning can evolve over time. Asemic works leave for the reader to decide how to translate and explore an asemic text; in this sense, the reader becomes co-creator of the asemic work.
In 1997 visual poets Tim Gaze and Jim Leftwich first applied the word asemic to name their quasi-calligraphic writing gestures.They then began to distribute them to poetry magazines both online and in print. The authors explored sub-verbal and sub-letteral forms of writing, and textual asemia as a creative option and as an intentional practice. Since the late 1990s, asemic writing has blossomed into a worldwide literary/art movement. It has especially grown in the early part of the 21st century, though there is an acknowledgement of a long and complex history, which precedes the activities of the current asemic movement, especially with regards to abstract calligraphy, wordless writing, and verbal writing damaged beyond the point of legibility. Jim Leftwich has recently stated that an asemic condition of an asemic work is an impossible goal, and that it is not possible to create an art/literary work entirely without meaning. He has begun to use the term "pansemic" to describe this type of work. Others such as author Travis Jeppesen have found the term asemic to be problematic because "it seems to infer writing with no meaning."
Asemic writing exists in many different forms. It is often created with a pen or brush, but can range from being hand drawn in the sand with a stick and documented by photography,or to works on canvas, paper, computer images, and animations. The key to asemic writing is that even though it is traditionally "unreadable" it still maintains a strong attractive appeal to the reader's eye. Various asemic writing includes pictograms, or ideograms the meanings of which are sometimes suggested by their shapes, though it may also flow as an abstract expressionist scribble which resembles writing but avoids words. Asemic writing, at times, exists as a conception or shadow of conventional writing practices. Reflecting writing, but not completely existing as a traditional writing system, asemic writing seeks to make the reader hover in a state between reading and looking. Asemic writing has no verbal sense, though it may have clear textual sense. Through its formatting and structure, asemic writing may suggest a type of document and, thereby, suggest a meaning. The form of art is still writing, often calligraphic in form, and either depends on a reader's sense and knowledge of writing systems for it to make sense, or can be understood through aesthetic intuition. True asemic writing occurs when the creator of the asemic piece cannot read their own asemic writing. Relative asemic writing is a natural writing system that can be read by some people but not by everyone (e.g. ciphers, wildstyle, etc.). Most asemic writing lies between these two extremes. Influences on asemic writing are illegible, invented, or primal scripts (cave paintings, doodles, children's drawings, etc.). But instead of being thought of as mimicry of preliterate expression, asemic writing may be considered to be a global postliterate style of writing that uses all forms of creativity for inspiration. Other influences on asemic writing are alien languages in science fiction, artistic languages, sigils (magick), undeciphered scripts, and graffiti. Uses for asemic writing include mental and creative idea stimulation, non-verbal communication, meditation, hoaxes, and general authorial self-expression.
Asemic writing occurs in avant-garde literature and art with strong roots in the earliest forms of writing. The history of today's asemic movement stems from two Chinese calligraphers: "crazy" Zhang Xu, a Tang Dynasty (circa 800 CE) calligrapher who was famous for creating wild illegible calligraphy, and the younger "drunk" monk Huaisu who also excelled at illegible cursive calligraphy.Japanese calligraphers subsequently expanded upon Chinese abstract calligraphic expression by Hitsuzendō (the way of Zen through brush), allowing their works to move past formal presentation and "breathe with the vitality of eternal experience".
In the 1920s Man Ray, who was influenced by Dada, created an early work of wordless writing with his poem Paris, Mai 1924, which is nothing more than dashes on a page. Later in the 1920s, Henri Michaux, who was influenced by Asian calligraphy, Surrealism, and Automatic writing, began to create wordless works such as Alphabet (1925) and Narration (1927). Michaux referred to his calligraphic works as "interior Gestures". The writer and artist Wassily Kandinsky was an early precursor to asemic writing, with his linear piece Indian Story (1931) exemplifying complete textual abstraction.
In the 1950s there is Brion Gysin (whose calligraphy was influenced by Japanese and Arabic calligraphy), Isidore Isou (who founded Lettrisme/Letterism), Cy Twombly (a former US Army Cryptologist), and Morita Shiryū/Bokujin-kai Group (Ink Human Society)all of whom expanded writing into illegible, abstract, and wordless visual mark-making; they would help lay the foundation for asemic writers of the future. Mira Schendel was an artist from Brazil who created many illegible works over the course of her life, for example her piece Archaic Writing (1964). Mirtha Dermisache is another writer who had created asemic writing since the 1960s. Dermisache actively said that even though her graphisms have no meaning, they still retained the full rights of an autonomous work. 1971 was the year when Alain Satié released his work Écrit en prose ou L'Œuvre hypergraphique which contains asemic writing throughout the entire graphic novel. León Ferrari was another artist/poet who created many asemic works in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Escritura (1976). 1974 saw the release of Max Ernst's work Maximiliana: The Illegal Practice Of Astronomy: hommage à Dorothea Tanning; this book is a major influence on asemic writers such as Tim Gaze, Michael Jacobson, and Derek Beaulieu. Roland Barthes was also involved with asemic writing; he titled his asemic works Contre-écritures.
A modern example of asemic writing is Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus (1981). Serafini described the script of the Codex as asemic in a talk at the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles held on May 8, 2009.In the 1980s, Chinese artist Xu Bing created Tiānshū, or A Book from the Sky which is a work of books and hanging scrolls on which were printed 4000 hand carved meaningless characters. The 1980s also saw artist Gu Wenda begin the first of a series of projects centered on the invention of meaningless, false Chinese ideograms, depicted as if they were truly old and traditional. One exhibition of this type was held in Xi'an in 1986, featuring paintings of fake ideograms on a massive scale. Also in China, during the 1990s, an abstract calligraphy movement known as "Calligraphy-ism" came into existence, a leading proponent of this movement being Luo Qi. Calligraphy-ism is an aesthetic movement that aims to develop calligraphy into an abstract art. The characters do not need to retain their traditional forms or be legible as words. In Vietnam during the 2000s, a calligraphy group called the Zenei Gang of Five appeared. To this group of young artists, “Wordless” means that which cannot be said, that which is both before and beyond the specificity of naming. To be without words is saying nothing and saying everything.
Satu Kaikkonen, a contemporary asemic artist/writer from Finland, had this to say about asemic writing:
As a creator of asemics, I consider myself an explorer and a global storyteller. Asemic art, after all, represents a kind of language that's universal and lodged deep within our unconscious minds. Regardless of language identity, each human's initial attempts to create written language look very similar and, often, quite asemic. In this way, asemic art can serve as a sort of common language—albeit an abstract, post-literate one—that we can use to understand one another regardless of background or nationality. For all its limping-functionality, semantic language all too often divides and asymmetrically empowers while asemic texts can't help but put people of all literacy-levels and identities on equal footing.
Bruce Sterling comments about asemic writing on his Wired magazine blog Beyond the Beyond:
Writing that doesn’t have any actual writing in it whatsoever. You would think that this must be some kind of ultimate literary frontier, a frozen Antarctica of writing entirely devoid of literary content, but I wonder.
What is “beyond asemic writing”? Maybe a neural brain-scan of an author *thinking about* asemic writing. Maybe *generative asemic writing*. Maybe “asemic biomimicry”. Maybe nanoasemic writing inscribed with atomic force microscopes by Artificial Intelligences.
False writing systems are artificially constructed alphabets or scripts used (sometimes within the context of a false document) to convey a degree of verisimilitude. Examples of this include alien dialogue in comic strips, animated cartoons, and graphic novels (such as Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen , and the Valérian and Laureline series). The script in Luigi Serafini's 1981 Codex Seraphinianus was confirmed by the author to have no occult meaning. The Voynich manuscript, a mysterious work on which the Codex Seraphinianus was likely based, uses an undeciphered writing system which some have speculated to be false.
Calligraphy is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a broad tip instrument, brush, or other writing instruments. A contemporary calligraphic practice can be defined as "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner".
Codex Seraphinianus, originally published in 1981, is an illustrated encyclopedia of an imaginary world, created by Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini between 1976 to 1978. It is approximately 360 pages and written in an imaginary language.
Concrete poetry is an arrangement of linguistic elements in which the typographical effect is more important in conveying meaning than verbal significance. It is sometimes referred to as visual poetry, a term that has now developed a distinct meaning of its own. Concrete poetry relates more to the visual than to the verbal arts although there is a considerable overlap in the kind of product to which it refers. Historically, however, concrete poetry has developed from a long tradition of shaped or patterned poems in which the words are arranged in such a way as to depict their subject.
An artistic language, or artlang, is a constructed language designed for aesthetic pleasure. Language can be artistic to the extent that artists use it as a source of creativity in art, poetry, calligraphy or as a metaphor to address themes as cultural diversity and the vulnerability of the individual in a globalizing world.
Nastaʿlīq is one of the main calligraphic hands used in writing the Persian alphabet and traditionally the predominant style in Persian calligraphy. It was developed in Iran in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is sometimes used to write Arabic language text, but its use has always been more popular in the Persian, Urdu, and Turkic sphere of influence. Nastaʿlīq remains very widely used in Iran, Afghanistan, and India and other countries for written poetry and as a form of art.
Islamic calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting and calligraphy, based upon the alphabet in the lands sharing a common Islamic cultural heritage. It includes Arabic Calligraphy, Ottoman, and Persian calligraphy. It is known in Arabic as khatt Islami, meaning Islamic line, design, or construction.
Chinese calligraphy is the writing of [Chinese characters]] as a art form, combining purely visual art and interpretation of the literary meaning. This type of expression has been widely practiced in China and has been generally held in high esteem across East Asia. Calligraphy is considered as one of the four best friends of ancient Chinese literati, along with playing stringed musical instruments, the board game "Go", and painting. There are some general standardizations of the various styles of calligraphy in this tradition. Chinese calligraphy and ink and wash painting are closely related: they are accomplished using similar tools and techniques, and have a long history of shared artistry. Distinguishing features of Chinese painting and calligraphy include an emphasis on motion charged with dynamic life. According to Stanley-Baker, "Calligraphy is sheer life experienced through energy in motion that is registered as traces on silk or paper, with time and rhythm in shifting space its main ingredients." Calligraphy has also led to the development of many forms of art in China, including seal carving, ornate paperweights, and inkstones.
Japanese calligraphy also called shūji (習字) is a form of calligraphy, or artistic writing, of the Japanese language. For a long time, the most esteemed calligrapher in Japan had been Wang Xizhi, a Chinese calligrapher from the 4th century, but after the invention of Hiragana and Katakana, the Japanese unique syllabaries, the distinctive Japanese writing system developed and calligraphers produced styles intrinsic to Japan. The term shodō is of Chinese origin as it is widely used to describe the art of Chinese calligraphy during the medieval Tang dynasty.
Western calligraphy is the art of writing and penmanship as practiced in the Western world, especially using the Latin alphabet.
Luigi Serafini is an Italian artist and designer based in Milan. He is best known for creating the Codex Seraphinianus, an illustrated encyclopedia of imaginary things in what was believed to be a constructed language. This work was published in 1981 by Franco Maria Ricci.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the visual arts:
An undeciphered writing system is a written form of language that is not currently understood.
Indian calligraphy is the Indian tradition of calligraphy. The art form has served multiple purposes since its inception in the second century BCE, including the duplication of religious texts and as a form of basic communication.
In Chinese calligraphy, Chinese characters can be written according to five major styles. These styles are intrinsically linked to the history of Chinese script.
Asemia is the term for the medical condition of being unable to understand or express any signs or symbols. It is a more severe condition than aphasia, which is the inability to understand linguistic signs. Asemia is caused by damage to the areas of the brain that process communication – more specifically, when there is damage to the left side of the brain in the areas that process communication such as Broca's and Wernicke's areas. Damage can be inflicted by physical trauma to the brain, but is more commonly caused by stroke and sometimes tumors. The onset of this condition is usually quick but not permanent. Treatment of this condition is traditional speech therapy in which the individual must relearn how to read, write, and talk. Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery can take days to years. Considerable recovery is common, but often not to the full extent of baseline ability.
RETNA is a contemporary artist, primarily recognized for graffiti art. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and started his career in the early 1990s. He developed a distinctive constructed script which is derived from Blackletter, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Arabic, and Hebrew calligraphy, as well as more traditional types of street-based graffiti. In addition to exhibiting at institutions and galleries in Los Angeles, Miami, London, New York and Hong Kong, Retna has done advertising work for brands such as VistaJet, Louis Vuitton, and Nike. His artwork adorns the cover of Justin Bieber's Purpose album that debuted in 2015.
Informalism or Art Informel is a pictorial movement from the 1940s–1950s, that includes all the abstract and gestural tendencies that developed in France and the rest of Europe during the World War II, parallel to American abstract expressionism. Several distinguishing trends are identified within the movement such as lyrical abstraction, matter painting, New Paris School, tachisme and art brut. The French art critic Michel Tapié coined the term "art autre" in the homonymous book published in 1952 in relation to non-geometric abstract art.
Calligraffiti is an art form that combines calligraphy, typography, and graffiti. It can be classified as either abstract expressionism or abstract vandalism. It is defined as a visual art that integrates letters into compositions that attempt to communicate a broader message through writing that has been aesthetically altered to move beyond the literal meaning. Simply put, it is the conscious effort of making a word or group of words into a visual composition. As such it is meant to be both an aesthetic experience and provocative art—mixing tradition and precision with modern unbridled self-expression.
Maliheh Afnan was a Palestinian-born artist.
The Hurufiyya movement was an aesthetic movement that emerged in the late twentieth century amongst Arabian and North African artists who used their understanding of traditional Islamic calligraphy within the precepts of modern art. By combining tradition and modernity, these artists worked towards developing a Pan-Arab visual language, which instilled a sense of national identity in their respective nation states, at a time when many of these states where shaking off colonial rule and asserting their independence. They adopted the same name as the Hurufi, an approach of Sufism which emerged in the late 14th–early 15th century. Art historian Sandra Dagher has described Hurufiyya as the most important movement to emerge in the Arab art world in the 20th century.