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6 Creative Uses of Sentence Diagramming

Inkall.com
Inkall.com

Sentence diagramming was once a widespread technique for teaching kids how to analyze the structure of a sentence. If you had to do it in school, you either loved it or you hated it. Most kids hated it. But for the kids who loved it, it made language into an orderly puzzle, complicated but solvable, where words clicked into interlocking pairs, groups, and chunks, until a picture of the hidden architecture of sentences emerged. That architecture, when exposed, can be beautiful. It’s no wonder that sentence diagrams have made their way into art. Here are 6 creative uses of sentence diagramming.

1. Our Own Effort (Proust)


Click to enlarge. Image courtesy of Nicholas Knight

Artist Nicholas Knight features sentence diagrams in many of his drawings, collages, and wall installations. He diagrams quotes from famous artists and thinkers that highlight the interplay between meaning and structure. This work, Our Own Effort (Proust), represents Proust’s statement that “what we have not had to decipher and to clarify by our own effort, what was clear before we came, does not belong to us.” You can figure this out, through the clarifying effects of your own effort, if you closely study this print that at first appears to be a colorful subway map.

2. close 

Image courtesy  of Kelly Sherman and Barbara Krakow Gallery.

Artist Kelly Sherman has produced a series of works diagramming lines of original poetry. As she says in her artist’s statement, “reiterating or undermining the sentences’ content, the work in this series addresses the hierarchies, structures and overwhelming eloquence of language.” In this work, close, the modifiers of the adjective “close” in “so close like breath” are obscured to different degrees by layers of vellum, adding another element of visual structure.

3. 9 artists/9 spaces

Photo courtesy of lnkall.com.

In 1970, the Minnesota State Arts Council organized a show of art in public spaces called 9 artists/9 spaces. The invited artists prepared their pieces, but almost none of the works were ever seen because, as Peggy Weil explains in this unbelievable history of the event, “one by one each piece fell victim to controversy or mishap.” One was vandalized, one was dismantled by the FBI, and one was shut down after a giant cache of explosives were discovered in the basement of the building where it was installed. The piece Robert Cummings created, a giant sculpture of diagrammed sentences made up of 1150 painted letters on wooden scaffold, was destroyed when a semi truck crashed into it. As if that wasn’t unlucky enough, the camera of the photographer who was at that very moment photographing the piece was also destroyed, along with the detailed images he was in the middle of capturing for posterity.

4. "Which Sentences Are We Diagramming"

Comic by Kevin Huizenga; image via Austin Kleon. 

In “Which Sentences are We Diagramming,” Kevin Huizenga illustrates the frustration of parsing confusing sentences. He tries to untangle structure through everything from sentence diagrams and lists to base-running and Mad Libs. The full version of this comic is at What Things Do.

5. "a loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge"

Image courtesy of Follow Your Gnose

 

This post from Follow Your Gnose gives instructions for making your own sentence diagram mobile. The sentence pictured here, “a loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge,” is from Thomas Carlyle. With some card stock, wooden dowels, fishing line, and glue you too could set some delicately balanced clauses spinning in the breeze.

 

6. "cross-stitching is contagious"

 

Image courtesy of Embroiderbee

The straight lines of sentence diagrams lend themselves well to anything made on a grid. Embroiderbee offers a huge selection of free needlework patterns, including this cross stitch sentence diagram.

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Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
The Covers of Jack Kerouac's Classic Titles Are Getting a Makeover
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press

Readers have been enjoying classic Jack Kerouac books like The Dharma Bums and On the Road for decades, but starting this August the novels will have a new look. Several abstract covers have been unveiled as part of Penguin’s "Great Kerouac" series, according to design website It’s Nice That.

The vibrant covers, designed by Tom Etherington of Penguin Press, feature the works of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline. The artwork is intended to capture “the experience of reading Kerouac” rather than illustrating a particular scene or character, Etherington told It’s Nice That. Indeed, abstract styles of artwork seem a fitting match for Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—a writing style that was influenced by improvisational jazz music.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, which was published just one year after On the Road. The Great Kerouac series will be available for purchase on August 2.

[h/t It's Nice That]

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John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz
Murdered

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.

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