Texts, like images, are central to representations and understandings of the world across cultures. As such, they have long appeared alongside images in artworks, and in some cases, are the artwork's essential characteristic. Ancient artifacts such as the Rosetta Stone and the Code of Hammurabi demonstrate the long-standing role of texts in commanding political and moral authority, a tradition that continued, for instance, with the use of inscriptions on Roman monuments. In many cases, texts take on striking visual characteristics of their own: Egyptian hieroglyphics consisted of small, figurative symbols, elaborate Arabic scripts served as essential decorative elements in religious spaces where figurative representation was banned, and Medieval manuscripts often included exquisitely detailed lettering. Much more recently, text has played a central role in modern and contemporary movements: Georges Braque's Cubist paintings featured words tucked between lines of fractured geometry, while Roy Lichtenstein's cartoonish Pop Art paintings often contained quote bubbles. Conceptual art up to the present has made heavy use of texts, as seen in Joseph Kosuth's dictionary definitions, Jenny Holzer's "truisms", and Lawrence Weiner's wall pieces.

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