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The Art of Handwriting

July 2 - November 6, 2013

Writing a letter in one’s own hand can be an artistic act. Handwriting animates paper. The bold flairs of calligraphic script shout for attention, while elegant flourishes of cursive sashay across the page. Free-spirited scribbled letters trip over each other, and distinctive dashes help direct traffic. Some crossed t’s and dotted i’s stand alert, and others slump or sway into their neighbors. Every message brims with the personality of the writer at the moment of interplay between hand, eye, mind, pen, and paper.

The letters here, from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, show that an artist might put pen to paper just as he or she would apply a line to a drawing. For each artist, a leading authority interprets how the pressure of line and sense of rhythm speak to that artist's signature style. And questions of biography arise: does the handwriting confirm assumptions about the artist, or does it suggest a new understanding?

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