Micrography – The Hebrew Word as Art

Below is the text from the above screen capture. The original link was gone but found via the Wayback Machine.

Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art

Micrography, the scribal practice of employing minuscule script to create abstract shapes or figurative designs, is an art form that has been used by Jews for over a millennium. This intricate decorative technique was first practiced in Egypt and the Land of Israel in the tenth century. Micrography developed within the Islamic cultural milieu in which the written word was frequently transformed into elaborate decorative patterns. This abstract ornamentation, emphasized in Islamic art, strongly influenced the artistic creations of the Jews living in many Near Eastern countries.

Much of the earliest micrography we have is found in biblical codices. Unlike Torah scrolls, these Bibles in book form were not subject to the stringent rabbinical rules that stipulated the arrangement of the text and the design of the letters. Without the prohibition against ornamentation, which applied only to Torah scrolls, these books offered the scribe considerable latitude in arranging and decorating the text.

The most common text employed by scribes to create their micrographic artistry was the masorah. Originally, the masorah (a system of notations that ensure the correct transmission of the writing and reading of the Hebrew Bible) was copied into the margins of biblical codices. Later, scribes began to fashion these masoretic notations into floral motifs and intricate geometric designs. The production of a decorated codex could involve more than one artisan. A sofer (scribe) wrote out the biblical text, a nakdan (vocalizer) was responsible for inserting vowels, accents and cantillation, and a masran (masorator) specialized in copying the masorah into biblical codices. In some instances, however, these tasks were all performed by a single scribe.

By the early thirteenth century, micrography appeared in Europe in the Sephardic manuscripts of Spain and Portugal as well as in the Ashkenazic works produced in Northern Europe. Micrographic ornamentation in the Hebrew books written in the Iberian Peninsula usually consisted of elaborate carpet pages placed at the beginning and ending of the manuscript and at the main divisions of the biblical text. In addition, these texts also featured decorative designs in the margins. The micrographic creations that bordered the text evolved from primarily geometric forms into figural and illustrative representations. Common motifs included the tabernacle implements, human figures and animals.

Bibles produced in France and Germany featured elaborate ornamental panels that introduce the individual biblical books. In addition to geometric designs, these opening panels of Ashkenazic Bibles often displayed a menagerie of micrographic animals, grotesques, fantastic beasts and hunting scenes.

While micrographic art can be found in many manuscripts of the Middle Ages, there were nevertheless instances of rabbinic objections regarding the transformation of the masorah into decorative patterns. Criticism was voiced by the renowned rabbi Judah he-Hasid (ca.1150-1217), who complained that the designs render the masoretic text unusable. He stipulated that a patron commissioning a scribe to copy a Bible, must instruct the scribe not to shape the masorah into any ornamental patterns.

Even after the decline of manuscript production in the sixteenth century, micrography continued to be used to decorate ketubbot (marriage contracts) and wall hangings. From the seventeenth century onward, scribes who practiced the art of micrography favored the texts of the five Megillot, Psalms and Proverbs as the basis of their art.

In 1798, the invention of lithography extended the micrographic arts beyond the exclusive realm of one-of-a-kind manuscripts. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the mass production of micrographic prints allowed this ancient art form to reach a much broader Jewish audience. These prints encompassed a wide variety of themes; biblical portraits and vignettes as well as panoramas of the holy sites of Israel were especially popular. Famous rabbinic, political and literary personalities such as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady, Theodor Herzl and Hayyim Nahman Bialik, were also favored subjects; their micrographic portraits were exactingly rendered from the minute words and letters of their own books and poems.

It is appropriate that a culture that has long emphasized the significance of the Hebrew word would foster a distinctive transformation of script into a unique decorative art. To this day, the art of Hebrew micrography is still practiced and the metamorphosis of text into image remains an unbroken Jewish artistic tradition across the centuries.

Image source from Boing Boing – Ancient Hebrew ASCII Art

ASCII Art: Super Low Bandwidth

Copy of an orginal post by Heather Champ. This is reposted from ASCIIArtGallery.com which is no longer online.

For those online whose Internet experience precedes the World-Wide Web, a first brush with ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange–a 7-bit character code capable of representing 128 characters) art might have been a computer print-out on the perforated feed paper with a representation of George Washington, the Mona Lisa smiling her mysterious smile, or perhaps even the somewhat silly grin of Alfred E. Neuman.

For the most part ASCII art lives on in thousand of signature files, representing three-dimensional letters, animals, and recently a stick figure doing the Macarena. And while the rest of the world may snickger and grin at these overly large “business cards” attached to each and every e-mail, ASCII art is coming into its own on a variety of different Web sites.

Why allow those chubby graphics to clog up a users bandwidth. Pixels are not the only element that can be used to create images online. Granted, ASCII art will never replace GIFs, but it can offer a very stylized look and feel that might be an appropriate design solution for a specific project. On the other hand, given that ASCII is generated in HTML, it’s easy to play with the font color without going through the bother of making changes in Photoshop and then retransparentizing GIFs.

äda’web has just launched their 4.0 interface–“Why äda’web interface 4.0? Because things go better with ASCII, the original Web art, the other white meat . . . and it is still best viewed with Netscape 3.n.” It’s wonderfully refreshing. Be sure to find Elvis! It’s a very smart and refreshing take on information delivery.

How to ASCII
ASCII art will only work with monospace fonts. Monospace fonts (e.g., Courier) allow the same letter spacing for each letter. For example, an “i” will take up the same room as the fatter “o.” Proportional fonts allow for smaller letter spacing; an “i” will have enough space so that the text flows more freely without looking as “gap toothed” as the monospace fonts. An HTML document must be coded using the
< pre > </ pre >
tag to ensure that arrangement of the characters will display properly with monospace fonts.

Online ASCII Resources

ASCII World–“You give us 26 characters, we’ll give you the world”–has a great online Transformation section that enables a user to generate Figlets, or ASCII headers. Gifscii is a utility that turns GIFs and JPGs into ASCII art. Enter the URL of an image and ASCII World checks the URL, fetches the image, and then converts it to an ASCII version. The process can take a minute or two, which is longer than the almost instantaneous Figlet generator.
Sophomore Colin Cross created a Figlet Input Form that generates a very impressive variety of output “fonts” more than ASCII World. It’s great for headers!
ASCII Art: Figlet Factory, Title Maker, Banner Generator
Past installments of Design Diary