What’s your favorite class in school? For some, it might be language arts. It can be so much fun to tell stories and express yourself in writing. For others, it might be art. Who doesn’t love making a variety of crafts? Did you know that writing and art can sometimes be combined?
While we usually think of writers as creating works of art in our imaginations with their words, some people make the written word a form of art in and of itself. Their works can be beautiful art that’s composed of nothing more than words.
If you’re a fan of older books, especially fairy tales, you may be familiar with a form of word art known as initial capitals. For example, in a fairy tale that starts out “Once upon a time,” the “O” in “Once” might be extremely large, intricate, and ornate.
When a first letter is capitalized like that and turned into a beautiful drawing to set off the first part of a paragraph, page, or chapter, it’s called an initial capital. You might find some modern books with initial capitals, but you’re more likely to find them in older books.
Another form of writing as art that many children are familiar with is calligraphy. In its simplest sense, calligraphy is very fancy handwriting. The letters are typically in a cursive style, drawn with a brush or a pen, and marked by decorative swashes and flourishes.
If it helps, you can think of calligraphy as the art of writing letters so as to express the beauty of what is being written in the formation of the letters themselves. Calligraphy traces its roots all the way back to the first cave paintings made by prehistoric man.
Those cave paintings gave rise eventually to hieroglyphs, which in turn led to the first written alphabets. Modern calligraphy as we know it today developed from the efforts of the ancient Romans to adapt the Greek alphabet to suit Latin.
The monks who worked as scribes in the churches of the Middle Ages were tasked with committing the word of God to paper. Inspired by the holy words they were transcribing, the monks began to add artistic elements and flourishes to the letters themselves to create manuscripts that were as beautiful as the thoughts they contained.
The unique, narrow style they developed also helped to conserve expensive paper. This style became known as Gothic, which is the original form of European calligraphy most of us are familiar with today.
The popularity of calligraphy waned over time with the invention of the printing press. Books, especially Bibles, were printed in Gothic print on presses. Calligraphy, to the extent that it was practiced, was more personal in nature, finding its expression in beautiful penmanship in personal correspondence.
Eventually, the art of calligraphy was revived when British poet and artist William Morris became interested in the beauty that could be found in elegant penmanship. He also reintroduced the flat-edged pen that remains popular in calligraphy to this day.