I recently came across an amusing web site called Wordle. It produces visualizations of the words making up a piece of text, with the size of a word in the picture reflecting its frequency in the text. I used it to create the representation below of what my previous post, “The Place of Story” (including comments), is about. (Clicking on the image will take you to a larger, more readable version in the Wordle gallery.)


Though I doubt this word play has crossed that line into art questioned by Jay, the Wordle program does allow you to alter a number of aspects of the presentation, and to re-do the layout until you get a arrangement that strikes your fancy. Several color possibilities are offered, and you can even choose your own four-color palette plus background. I made a display of Melanie’s post on Moby Dick using colors from her fabric panels.


I didn’t find that font (which the program chose at random) so appropriate, but I did like a number of juxtapositions, such as “work art,” “without read,” “different mind,” “question answer,” and others. Knowing the evanescence of art from bitter, bitter experience, I preserved the result before making changes to the font and reducing the number of words displayed. I then re-did the display several times to get something with an outline that, if not exactly whale-like, at least resembles a whale more than the earlier versions did (I think it’s swimming to the left?).


To use Wordle, you don’t need a piece of coherent writing as input. Any set of words, with repetitions to control prominence, will serve. The combination of randomness in position with meaningful or controlled input reminds me of the automatic writing of the Surrealists. The unconscious does, in fact, come into play insofar as it affects what words and combinations you notice when viewing the results. In any case, the procedure might well help in generating or organizing ideas about a subject, perhaps even lead to new insights.

Anyone can add images to the public gallery on Wordle. They can later retrieved by knowing the URL or by searching. Images by the same creator are grouped together if one clicks on the creator name. Feel free to use the name Art and Perception if you wish, and tell us about what you’ve done. Or just contemplate one and let us know if you see anything interesting or fun in it.