Cover image designed and lettered by Carl Frisso Angell
This show presents examples of script lettering from some of the best sign painters from around the world and showcases the aesthetic qualities of beautiful hand lettering--but its message runs much deeper than aesthetics alone. With the current debate about the future of cursive handwriting in American schools, this show explores questions of privilege, access, and the role of the human hand in an increasingly digital world.
Script lettering conveys elegance, grace, sophistication, and class. In centuries past, a “good hand” was viewed as a sign of virtue and breeding, while a “bad hand” (never mind a total inability to write in cursive) was deemed uncivilized. Script lettering featured on a shop sign can communicate that the goods or services provided are high quality. But hand lettered cursive—whether painted on signs or scribbled in personal diaries—is becoming endangered as more and more schools are forgoing its instruction in favor of more practical skills like typing. In our current technological age of immediacy, cursive writing, like sign painting, is considered aesthetically pleasing but non-essential.
As the debate about cursive education rages, advocates and opponents stake their claims on cursive’s relation to the value of aesthetics, its role in cognitive development, its usefulness in the face of perpetual advancements in technology, and the part it plays in developing or maintaining a sense of self. At the heart of the arguments, however, is a question of history and posterity: what will we lose if cursive is abandoned? Typing is faster, more legible, and more accessible than handwriting. In a similar vein, vinyl signs are faster, cheaper, and more interchangeable than a hand painted sign. If cursive handwriting is no longer taught in schools, only those with initiative and access will be able to learn it. If cheaply made, poorly designed signs are allowed to pervade our cities and towns, how will anyone know what a quality sign looks like?