The Art of Words

There is a strong connection between words and art. Not just words used to describe art, but words that form art. Some words look bold and important, others are meant to slip over a page.

(Full disclosure: I’m teaching a class on words and arts on Sat/Sun, April 26-27 at the Mesa Art Center.)

My world is on paper. But there are other ways to handle words. Johnathan Harris does it in cyberspace with the Word Count. He’s an artist whose entire body of work exists on computers. Part of Harris’s mind is an engineer’s mind, part is an artist’s mind. Harris created a list of the 86,800 most common words in the English language. He sorted them and posted them. The most common word is “the” and its number is ‘1’ . “of'” and “and” are in places 2 and 3. You can look up a word to see where it is or type in a position number and see what word it is.

Looking at them turns you into an instant numeric scholar. Click on “666” and you get the word “easy.” There is some wonderful divine justice in that. “God” at number 376, is between “began” and “top.” It starts to make sense after a while. “Death” (number 454) is between “church” and “sometimes.” There are words in sequence that make sense. “Running” and “Feet” and numbers 698 and 699. “Contagious” (2159) is just one over from “Feverish” (2161).

Harris wasn’t finished yet. He started a count to see which words people looked at most often and created another list–the Query List. What’s the most common word people looked up? Of course, “sex.”

You can also see Harris as a speaker on TED–the conference of interesting ideas told by their fascinating creators. And read his 2007 story, the whale hunt.

Have some fun. Type in your birthday, your age, some special number. See what comes up. Words are art. In many ways.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. See her work at (c) 2007. All rights reserved.


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