Text Art

20 goto 10, a gallery in San Francisco, just ran two exhibitions with ASCII and ANSI art. It’s about text-art – ASCII is a set of characters and doesn’t use colours, whereas ANSI has more characters and uses 16 colours. There are also other standards, such as Commodore’s PETSCII which is also 16 colours. I will just shortly introduce these two exhibitions, and then write about text-art more in general.

“Welcome to #BUTTES” shows ASCII-art by the BUTTES collective. There is also a limited edition book released called “The Horrible Boner Tragedy” which might still be available at Needles & Pens. Some photos by Nullsleep here. The ANSI exhibition focused on ANSI-art by ACiD which have been a big name in the ANSI-scene since the start around 1990. Geek Entertainment TV did a piece about it which you watch here.

Text as Art

According to SixteenColours.net there have been a number of gallery appearances with BBS-related ASCII and ANSI before, mainly in Russia and Belgium 1999-2005. If you want to look at BBS-related ASCII/ANSI I can recommend BBS Ads Collection (ASCII-ads for BBS) and Sixteen Colours (ANSI-artpacks). But there is a lot of non BBS-related text art around aswell, tracing back to the 1960s – Ken Knowlton and Leon Harmon: Studies in Perception I (1966). Here’s some teletext-graphics in an art-context:

  • Page 444 (2007) by MOMS, teletext broadcasted on Icelandic TV.
  • Teletext by Jodi, everybody’s favourite data trash duo.
  • Teletext is Dead (2007) by Dan Farrimond – animated teletext glitches.
  • Microtel (2006) was a teletext exhibiton organized by Emma Davidsson (Lektrogirl) and Paul B. Davis (8 Bit Construction Set) that ran on Dutch public television.

Probably the most famous ASCII-artist in the art world is the net.art pioneer Vuk Cosic and his team ASCII Art Ensemble. They made projects such as History of Art for the Blind, History of Moving Images and Deep ASCII. Definitely worth checking out although his concepts might be overshadowed by the billions of AVI/JPG->TXT converters around these days.

Non Purist Text Art

All the above mentioned constructs text-art within the bitmap grids that we usually see on old computerscreens and in books (where the font is not proportional – the character ‘i’ is as wide as the character ‘w’). This “digital” technique was probably used even before the birth of digital computers – in Teletype maybe as early as 1923. In the early computer days ASCII was not a standard, but 5-bit Baudot was common. There was a Baudot-based program called EDITH (IBM 1401 and Univac 1004) in the early 1960s that made print-outs of a naked woman. You could set switches on the front-panel to decide the level of nudity – B being soft and E being completely nude. (source 1 2)

We could also go back to creative ways of using typography, such as in Alice in Wonderland (1865). We could even, through the 50s movement of concrete poetry, look at the 17th century when people used letter arrangements to enhance meaning. But that’s maybe going a bit far back. Going a bit further on in time, we can see text-art from 1898 by Flora Stacey here. However, this was made by turning the paper around so it is not locked into the traditional digital typography bitmaps. (A very extreme example of this technique is the American artist Paul Smith.)

  • Delaware is a Japanese collective that made some very nice art/design using pixels and bitmap graphics. They also tend to write really nice texts about their art and music philosophy.
  • Gelbart – Please Don’t Use Drugs – Music video in ASCII-characters, but animated outside of ASCII-grids.


The BBS-culture and the demo/cracking scene of the 80s/90s were using ASCII/ANSI/ATASCII/PETSCII as fundamental parts of their distribution. However, there were also demos made in these text-modes. Here’s a small (rather strange) selection:

Vuk Cosic and ASCII Net.Art – Youtube-video
The History of ASCII (Text) Art
Ancient Alphabetic Art @ Jefferson Computer Museum

13 Responses to “Text Art”

  1. r00s Says:

    i hate jodi.

  2. chipflip Says:


    israeli money! http://www.flickr.com/photos/goto80/1694863484/
    petscii typewriter style -> http://noname.c64.org/csdb/release/?id=9566

    owata ascii game – where is it?

  3. Ebay Teletext Porn « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] Previous teletext ramblings at chipflip can be found here. […]

  4. Peter van der Gulden Says:

    ASCII-art with PHP, CSS and JavaScript:
    a turning globe: http://www.peter.vandergulden.nl/globe
    a map of the netherlands:www.peter.vandergulden.nl/plattegronden#1
    a yawning autoportrait: http://www.peter.vandergulden.nl/zelfportret
    a portrait of neil armstrong: http://www.peter.vandergulden.nl/portretten#39
    a accurate clock: http://www.peter.vandergulden.nl/tijd

  5. chipflip Says:

    thanks for that. the yawning doesnt make me yawn at all!

    and… florian cramer writes this when talking about jodi:

    ASCII text, the “American Standard Code for Information
    Interchange” the lowest common denominator of all computer character sets,{7} was used since the 1970s to emulate graphics in non-graphical computer networks, so that, out of technical restraints, it reinvented the classical literary genre of pattern poetry known since Simias of Rhodos of the 3rd century B.C..{8} With the Net.art of jodi and later the community of the “7-11” mailing list, ASCII Art was rewritten from naive mimetic figuration into an experimental and ironical art form that played with error codes, pretended system crashes and the spam-like mass mailings. “Location” and “faq” map the transition from figural to self-reflexive ASCII codes: In both pieces, the old naive ASCII Art literally becomes the sourcecode of its reflexive Net.art successor.


  6. 8bit today « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] to be a blog to stay tuned to, especially since he already posted one of my  favourite pieces of text art by Poison! Check it out here and read the interview where he mentions a certain floppy disk that I […]

  7. aSCIIaRENA – New Site for Scene Ascii « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] ASCII artists release collections of their work (ASCII collys) and it’s these collys that are indexed at aSCIIaRENA. I think that almost all of it looks great, but I have a very soft spot for Amiga ASCII. I ran a small and shitty BBS in the mid 1990s (google-one-hit-wonder, almost), and called local boards with my 2400 baud modem. If you want read more on text art, check this post. […]

  8. chipflip Says:

    ANSI-remix of John Whitney: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OW9nztJKwc

  9. chipflip Says:

    twitter art: http://digitaltools.node3000.com/blog/2039-explore-twitter-art-with-140art >> http://twitter.com/140ARTIST,

  10. Teletext is Videotext is Text TV??? « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] been some art projects with teletext, and I mentioned some of them here. I have a vague memory that someone (Paul B Davis?) had some art running on a national teletext (in […]

  11. drawing learning Says:

    drawing learning…

    […]Text Art « CHIPFLIP[…]…

  12. Battlefield 3 community Says:

    Battlefield 3 community…

    […]Text Art « CHIPFLIP[…]…

  13. Teletext Art – An Overview | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] Now when that’s clear, let’s turn to teletext art. If context is what defines art, then teletext art is a quite recent thing. Early examples include works by Maki Ueda (Dutch TV, 2000), Jodi’s noisy Teletext (Dutch TV and www, 2002) and the xxxellent Teletext Babez by Dragan Espenschied (Dutch TV, 2001). Microtel (Dutch TV, 2006) was a group exhibition that involved plenty of people from the micromusic.net community. Page 444 by MOMS (Icelandic TV 2007) is also worth mentioning here, although the YouTube-clip has been removed since I found it in 2008. […]

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