WRITING the STORY

Have you ever heard of asemic writing? The Cambridge Dictionary says asemic means “using lines and symbols that look like writing, but do not have any meaning.” The word “asemic” breaks down to without (“a”) and meaning (“semic”, like semantic). Meaningless script, why would you want that? Perhaps because there is something inherently beautiful about script itself, even without its meaning.

The word asemic is often used to refer to art made using script-like marks. The work can’t be read, only admired (or not) aesthetically. If you’re curious here’s a review of a book that delves deeply into asemic art. An example of asemic art by American painter and collage artist Cecil Touchon can be seen here. The Belgian poet and painter Henri Michaux is known for using script-like marks in his work. Maybe you’re familiar with the American painter Cy Twombly, whose paintings currently sell for tens of millions of dollars. He used gestural marks as well as actual words in his work to great effect.

You could say that the hinge on the door to meaning is well oiled in these works; wide swings can both reveal and obscure meanings.

And what does this all have to do with photography? Maybe you already guessed or scrolled down and figured it out. I have been noticing script-like marks in nature for years and I’m drawn to these lines and shapes, with their natural affinity to what I see on the page. I’ve always liked to read – put me in a bookstore or flash a text at me and I’m instantly alert. Not just the meaning, but the simple shapes of letters and the linear, orderly appearance of text appeal to me, too. I suspect that the pleasure I get from reading and an attraction to the look of text gradually became conflated in my brain. Maybe that led to my tendency to find text-like marks in nature. As I walk along the beach, the strands of eelgrass at my feet give afford as much pleasure as an elegant piece of calligraphy or a perfectly executed classic Garamond font. A birch tree’s bark, a white page with black text – both elicit a tingle of pleasure.

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1. It looks like calligraphy to me.
2. Rocks on the Oregon coast.
3. Marks left by worms or ancient symbols?
4.

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6.
7.

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9. A Death Valley landscape is spare enough to resemble writing.
10. A dried-up lagoon that was once flooded with saltwater shows imprints from plants and animals, a natural text telling the story of what went before.
11.

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13.
14.
15.

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Reading can be aesthetically, emotionally, and intellectually gratifying. Many kinds of writing, from Arabic script to Medieval manuscripts to Japanese calligraphy, can be just as gratifying, in the eyes of this beholder.

Text and script: aesthetic touchpoints.

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79 comments

  1. Marvelous theme, Lynn, with your apt comparison of asemic writing to your images. Your Oregon rocks #2 is such a strong image, the worm marks are fascinating, the striations in 6, the wonderful patterns in 12. A collection of images that show your impressive ability to see nature’s “writings”. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jane, I’m glad you enjoyed this. The rocks in #2 are at Beverly Beach in OR, near Newport, if you’re ever up that way – they’re easy to find and there are other interesting things there. I think I’m just naturally attracted to this kind of thing but it’s interesting to consider the asemic writing angle, too. πŸ™‚ (No progress yet on the possible SF trip).

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  2. My breath stopped for a moment: would you now present the kind of alphabet still waiting in my archive to be presented?
    No, nature has such abundance, so the danger is small that two persons come to the same photographs. Even though sometimes …
    How could your examples of asemic writing be other than sand, wood … I love your idea of showing nature’s writing on the wall without transcription. We all know what it is saying anyway.
    Great pictures, as always, dear Lynn!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love everything about this post! What a great collection of images! I’m honestly surprised I’ve never come across the term asemic before, because it’s surely a concept that’s floated around my brain. I love calligraphy, and I especially love it in languages I don’t read at all, like Georgian and Armenian. I’ve certainly given a number of images over the years titles involving “calligraphy,” and such details commonly catch my eye. Your eye for it is wonderful. Thanks for putting a word to my intuition!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also recall, when I’ve practiced calligraphy myself I was always fond of using foreign toponyms for the way you get beautiful combinations of letters unavailable in English. “Ljubljana” was always a favorite.

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    • I’m excited to read your comment, Jackson – you’re a kindred spirit. But Georgian and Armenian calligraphy, and Lbubljana – wow. Not something I’ve been exposed to. I just did an image search for Georgian calligraphy and I see what you mean – it’s beautiful. I’m attracted to a kind of Japanese calligraphy that’s very flowing – I think it’s called “grass style” and as I understand, it can be hard to read for folks who CAN read the language, which of course, I can’t. The idea of letter combinations as pure design is delicious. Thank you!

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  4. Very cool, Lynn! A great pleasure to let your eyes roam & see if some fanciful message will float into focus, like a Quija Board, or just to admire the patterns. And I guess there really are messages aplenty in these pictures – – nature dropping us a line, stories of rocks that were placed under such pressure they compressed and metamorphosed into something new, or fractured and were penetrated by other minerals, and cooked up into these gratifying maps and runes you’ve shown us.
    Sometimes don’t you see an old book or manuscript, and the calligraphy or old hand-inked font will just stop you in your tracks? and so does your album here, what a great collection you’ve presented!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maps and runes, yes. πŸ™‚ And all sorts of things. Oh, no question that old books – really old books – can be magic. When we were in Belgium a few years ago we had a fantastic time at the Plantin-Moretus Museum, a 400-yr-old Unesco World Heritage site. The entire place exudes such atmosphere…and it’s full of amazing things. If you’re ever in Belgium I’ve no doubt you would lose all sense of time there. Thanks for your comment!

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  5. Every day we learn something and today was the day to get to know this new term. However, the fact that I have not known him in 63 years of life does not mean that I did not have the perception of his existence. And I say this because from a very young age I have been enchanted by β€œnature’s writing”, by its lines, cleavages, movement etc, etc. A wonderful world, which even today enchants me with its invisible and codified “writing”.
    Many congratulations for compiling such a beautiful and meaningful set of images to illustrate and bring this word to our life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I feel the same way – we might not have known this word (I just learned it recently) but we certainly were aware of the phenomenon. It’s not surprising that you have been enchanted with nature’s writing since a young age. Thank you for the generous words – it was fun to put this together. I think soon I might do a post with only photos of the sand and the many styles of writing you can find there….

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      • I love the graphics/lines/messages that the sand and the seashore offer us.
        If you are interested in seeing it, I have at least two posts published in which I show images on this topic. One is entitled “A escrita das ondas/The writing of waves” and was published on 21 July 2016; and the other “Ria Formosa III” published on 2 October 2018.
        All looks are different and yours will certainly give you new approaches and beautiful images.
        We are waiting for that post!

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    • I think the meaning is whatever you make of it, just like it is in art, and if you enjoy the various scribbles and lines, that’s great. πŸ™‚ If not then there is lots more to enjoy, right? πŸ˜‰

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  6. Lynn! This is marvellous. What a πŸ‡πŸ•³ asemic writing could be! I see you mentioned Arabic calligraphy at the end – this came to my mind when reading your intro. A beautiful selection of images, too.

    βœ¨πŸ™πŸ•‰πŸŒ±πŸŒΏπŸŒ³πŸŒ»πŸ’šπŸ•Šβ˜―πŸ‰βœ¨

    Liked by 1 person

      • Rabbit hole. I feel that I could disappear down one following links, each one leading to many more, related to this topic. By the way, I feel that ‘asemy’ should be the noun for this, but it does not appear to exist (cf. ‘polysemic’, ‘polysemy’). Would be interesting to investigate the semiotics of ‘asemy’ πŸ˜‰ A bit like learning the point of pointlessness…

        πŸ˜ŒπŸ™βœ¨

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  7. You’ve got a great collection of abstractions here. What a good find in #6.

    In linguistics, gradations of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis hold that to a greater or lesser degree the structure of a language controls or limits the ways in which speakers of that language interpret reality. You’ve made me wonder whether anyone has put forth a similar hypothesis regarding the various scripts that languages use. The best case might be made for the effects of such different scripts as those used to write Chinese and English.

    I’m with you on your #3: https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/beetle-galleries/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Steve, the rock in #6 is nearby, on a strip of beach where it’s revealed at every low tide. πŸ™‚ I believe the pale green inclusion is serpentine. The rocks there are amazing – I felt like I was on a treasure hunt the first time I saw them.
      I do know about that theory, though I didn’t know the name of it, or the details. You raise a very interesting question – someone must be doing or have done a master’s thesis on that!! I’m sure the issue of writing direction – left to right vs. right to left, up vs. down, etc. has been studied. But it would be fascinating to look into the issue of how the act of writing different scripts actually affects the brain, one’s approach to life, etc. And then of course, there are the generational differences since young people today don’t spend much time actually writing. Interesting!

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  8. Dear Lynn,
    I, too, love to play with nature’s hieroglyphics.
    Sometimes such a sign comes very much like a language.
    Sometimes I have the suspicion, I would post a swear word or the like, which had merely scraped a little animal out of wood.
    Soon I will also publish an article “Insects and language”, in which I explain that they occasionally use words.
    More on your photos later. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s a pretty new word to me, too. One thing I never considered until just now is that photographing all these scribbles and scratches and linear happenings in nature might be a back-handed way to satisfy the urge to draw. Hmm. πŸ™‚ Thanks, Jean!

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    • Once you start thinking about it, I’m sure that’s true. I don’t usually have anything that specific in mind when I’m out there but it’s obvious that I’m naturally drawn to the look of text, wherever it appears. It becomes more obvious when I review the photos – and once in a while I add an appropriate tag. But when I put this together I had to comb through “beach” and “grass” and “bark” tagged photos. πŸ™‚ Thanks, Howard – I noticed you said you were away on another blog – hope you’re having a good time.

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  9. I love these! With some of the pictures I would have thought of structures earlier, but you are right, often there is more in it. Many really look like language. I often feel the same when I see birch bark or the signs of worms or the lines you found on / in the stones. Nature always has something to tell. I think we talked about asemic writing before. You mentioned Cui Fei to me and I love her works, but also the other artists your referred to are interesting. You found many wonderful “signs” here. I like the two pictures of #12 in comparison and 13 is beautiful. What I like most is your little experiment in #8! Great! It tickles my brain πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know I was thinking of you when I put this together, don’t you? There’s no question in my mind that you see the same phenomenon, quite often. πŸ™‚ Yes, I remember we talked about asemic writing….and I’m glad you found these other artists worthwhile, too. I’m glad you like #13 and I’m especially grateful to you for mentioning the “experiments.” I know I should do more!! I hope you’re much better now and are able to work tomorrow, which is already today where you are. πŸ˜‰ I’ll visit very soon (yes, your blog, not your country…)!

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      • Yes, you should do more experiments! It is really exciting. The one with the map is kind of brilliant. It really makes you think. The brain is looking for a translation πŸ™‚
        – Yes, I worked today. The others had to carry the heavy things πŸ˜‰
        Oh, I wouldn’t mind if you would come for an espresso and a piece of cake πŸ™‚ A pity one still can’t beam somebody somewhere….

        Liked by 1 person

        • A pity for sure!! We have to have an imaginary meeting at the Berggarten Cafe….and meanwhile, I’m glad you were able to work, that must have felt good. The two photo collages both have maps but now I see that the map is hardly visible in the one on the left. A nice story about the one on the right is that I was in Florida, in January (escaping NYC winter, YES!) by myself. I had a red jeep that I rented – that was all they had left, lucky me! – and I was exploring the Everglades and various back roads every day. I love tropical plants. I picked up a piece of an epiphyte (I think it was an epiphyte) from the ground and brought it back to the hotel. Then I just placed it on the map I was using and voila! Desaturation in Lightroom helped. Have a good weekend!

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        • It must have been a great time in Florida, especially in winter. And the relaxed atmosphere led to this interesting picture πŸ™‚ I would love to see the other photo in full size!
          Yeah, a good treat at the Berggarten πŸ™‚ A nice weekend to you too!

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    • Petra, I apologize for not acknowledging your comment earlier. Thank you for your enthusiasm – it’s such an interesting subject, isn’t it? And I love your reminder that all the senses have gifts for us. πŸ™‚

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  10. I loved this! Fascinating. As usual some appeal to me visually, speak my language I suppose you could say, others not so much. But even those had me looking twice. I rarely go out alone with the camera and no agenda other than to simply photograph what I find visually appealing; there’s always some other agenda, so I enjoy going on these forays with you. And perhaps I should take my camera on an outing with no agenda!
    Alison

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  11. Thanks for introducing me to a new word and subject, Lynn. I immediately thought of Brice Marden (https://www.google.com/search?q=brice+marden&sxsrf=AOaemvIeTgMWyoihu57F_SSZ7ZvsRRoxPA:1632892505623&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiotYPOtqPzAhXVEVkFHcIXBkQQ_AUoAXoECAEQAw&biw=1219&bih=531&dpr=1.5), one of my favorite painters whose work seems somewhat related.

    You’ve done a wonderful job of connecting asemic writing to nature. It’s fun to imagine that the marks you’ve pictured are meaningful writing, though, in a language we have yet to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s good to hear from you, Alan…the word is relatively new to me, too. I’m glad you mentioned Brice Marden because I hadn’t thought of him, but of course! At SVA I studied with Dorothea Rockburne and she was close to Brice – she thought very highly of him. Long time ago! Thanks so much for your comment about seeing asemic writing in nature. Yes, it might be nice to read and speak some of these languages. I suppose there are even more of them than the ones humans have created…

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  12. Hello Lynn,
    Doing commentary now without using translator..will be very rough english , kind ofπŸ˜‰

    1 slightly threedimensinonal Wirtin
    2 elephant feet
    3 onliner
    4 Sand?
    5 some use such lines on ceramic cups
    6 like a spidernet
    7 like a drawing
    8 interesting
    9 writing without beginning and end
    10 press this on clay to create a lively surface
    11 dark
    12 like my hands right now
    13 multiple links
    14 engraved
    15 endless writing

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your English is fine and I know the translator can be a pain to work with. Thank you for your comments! SLightly three-dimensional is exactly what the first one is. πŸ˜‰ And elephant feet, perfect! I didn’t think of that! Yes, #4 is sand, where plants were flattened and then the wind blew the sand across them. Pretty cool. I see the pencil drawing quality in #7, that’s a good observation. And I can imagine pressing the texture in #10 onto clay. In #11 I manipulated the image to darken the background much more. You made me laugh with #12 – I feel that way, too! πŸ™‚ Thank you, it’s fun to read your comments.

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  13. Pingback: WRITING the STORY – MobsterTiger

    • Exactly, nature abounds with beautiful lines and shapes – not to mention colors, textures….sounds, smells…and I know that you know that. πŸ˜‰ You asked me what my favorite is – how interesting, and I can’t do it! But #1 is up there. Also #7, the pair in #12, and the last one. Thank you Julie, have a good weekend!

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  14. These lines remind me of those on the necks of loons, on the sides of zebras, or elsewhere in nature — slightly wavy parallel lines that branch off and join each other, or split, depending on which color and which direction you are looking at.

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    • Yes, those are interesting, aren’t they? I think certain gilled mushrooms have gills that split like that, too – in that case, it’s not about camouflage but in the case of the loon and zebra, I would think it is. Nature never fails to fascinate, all you have to do is look. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, and also for all the work you do.

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