The characters behind the letters

Letters are usually seen as texts, as gestures that put across the meaning of written language. But letters can also be seen as pure image, as having their own aesthetic merit and pertaining to an intricate visual system of signs. What letters look like is one of the main subjects examined in «The Elements of Typographic Style,» a book originally written in 1996 by Canadian author and poet Robert Bringhurst and published in Greek a few months ago by Crete University Press. The initiative behind its publication belongs to the Association for Greek Typography and the translation is by Giorgos Matthiopoulos. Among other issues, the book explores the form and shape of letters, the structure that forms a written text, the hierarchy of letters and fonts, the ways that they can be matched together and how all of this changed through different periods. Throughout, the focus is on the Latin and not the Greek alphabet. The author takes the reader step by step through the various aspects of typography and manages to turn much technical information into an exciting read. He talks of how there is harmony, rhythm and color to letters, therefore putting music and images into typography. There is also extensive information on the different typefaces and their history, as well as on how a choice of letters can best match the mood of a text. Included in the book’s varied contents is an extensive chapter on the historical survey of letters. One learns, for example, that the first text printed by a machine with movable type can be traced to 11th century China and to a man called Bi Sheng rather than to mid-15th-century Germany. An enlightening and rich source of information on the world of letters, the book can be read either in its entirety or in parts and is well suited to both the specialized and general reader. Charalambous appears to be exploring the potential of contemporary art and possibly the role of the artist, hence the incorporation of his self-image. He seems to suggest that art’s role is to enable a mental state and that it can be structured and logical as in the positioning of the glasses, but also as random and precarious as dancing on glasses is. His work is therefore a meditation not only on cultural values and the notion of time, but also on the form and function of art.