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Is Language the Highest Art? The "Show Don't Tell" Language Art and Culture Fair

A Gathering of Language Artists-slide0
Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images

The "Show, Don't Tell" Language Art Fair took place on Wednesday in front of the Boston Public Library at 700 Boylston Street. The name of the event refers to a strategy used by professional writers and English editors: Instead of 'telling' information to readers, experienced writers use language to "show" examples that help them figure out the message on their own.

The Old Pine Tree Calligraphy Club teamed up with the English editors from Boston's 'DoctorMyDocument' to host the gathering. These two organizations establish a foundation of great diversity for the event -- because the calligraphers demonstrate the ancient, meditative art of Japanese brush calligraphy, while the document editors use modern English and laptop computers. Other exhibits included English calligraphy, poetry readings, local authors selling self-published work, and artists selling pieces that combine visual and language art.

All exhibits demonstrated that language art is a practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of doing something in a meditative way. The brush calligraphy artists and the English editors use language in different ways, but both know how to pour their attention over their present-moment activity. People who practice meditation believe that it generates a kind of energy. Dennis Takeda, a brush calligraphy artist from the Old Pine Tree Club, explains, "The artist infuses language with the energy of mindfulness."

Noah Sayer, one of the English editors with DoctorMyDocument, challenged the audience with a controversial claim: "Language is the deepest and most meaningful of all artistic media." His argument was that language reflects not only the speaker's state of mind, but also the entire collection of the speaker's lived experiences as well as the present moment environment in which language is being used. As an expression of culture and human nature, language is as practical as it is profound.

When an artist in the audience, Samantha Jodoin, took issue with the claim that language is the most meaningful of artistic media, Sayer responded, "Now see the interplay of human emotions elicited by an utterance from an artist practicing the highest art, the art of language!"

Jodoin replied, "We are visual artists, and we're just following your rule. Show, don't tell!" The English editors laughed and agreed that she had won the debate. She had also used their own message -- and their own medium -- against them.

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