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What Is a Calligram?

By K. Reynolds
Updated May 23, 2024
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A calligram is a poem, a phrase or a word that is arranged in a design that creates an image or a visual representation of the subject of the text. In essence, it is a combination of poetry and visual art. Throughout history, calligrams have been a part of many cultures and civilizations as a way for artists to express themselves.

Islamic calligraphy was one of the earliest forms of the word art, because the characters were handwritten in a very artistic way. This form of art is revered in the Islamic world because the art often transmits its religious heritage. In Islam, visually representing divinity is forbidden, so the people who were in charge of writing and transmitting religious, sacred texts found calligrams as an alternate way to adorn the books and manuscripts.

Micrography is the Jewish form of word art, and it was developed around the ninth century. It has the same functionality as a modern calligram in that it uses letters as a means of creating different designs. These designs generally are abstract, geometric representations of different ideas discussed in the text itself.

One of the most famous examples of a calligram is encompassed within the work of the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. He wrote a series of calligram poems that made him and this form of word art famous all over the world. The volume containing those poems was named Calligrammes. His poem that mimics the shape of the Eiffel Tower probably is one of his most popular calligrams.

Concrete poetry, also known as visual poetry, is a form of art and literature derived from Apollinaire’s calligrams. The arrangement of the words and the visual aspect of the poem are just as important as the content. Also, the visual form of the poem can be related to the other elements of the poem, including the meaning of the words, the rhyme or the rhythm.

The art of calligrams has become popular as technology and the Internet have made it possible for almost anyone to create and share calligrams with the world. This art form also has evolved with the modern ways of communicating, and calligrams can be seen on a variety of websites, blogs, forums and online art galleries. Enthusiasts can find calligrams that have been graphically designed with different colors, characters and even animation. Technology has made it possible for individuals to artistically express themselves in a variety of ways through calligrams.

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Discussion Comments

By snickerish — On Sep 16, 2011

If there is anyone out there who has not seen a calligram, I suggest they stop right now and put it into an internet image search! It is a beautiful combination art form.

I think it is so amazing how calligrams use two different art forms to create a new art form.

I think this style of art can help people learn what certain words are. It also helps you focus on the subject at hand.

For instance, sometimes a poem itself can seem to have multiple or confusing meanings. But if the poet puts their words in a picture, it helps more people understand, gauging a larger audience.

Also it can be an early education tool. You can use specific calligrams to describe what a word means. For example, the word grow as a calligram can be : grOW...This shows the actual word starting smaller and getting bigger. So you not only see the actual word, you also see the meaning of the word! These kind of calligrams are great learning tools!

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