Johanna Drucker (born May 30, 1952) is an author, book artist, visual theorist, and cultural critic. Her scholarly writing documents and critiques visual language: letterforms, typography, visual poetry, art, and lately, digital aesthetics. She is currently the Martin and Bernard Breslauer Professor in the Department of Information Studies at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.
Drucker earned her B.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1973 and her Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley in 1986. She was previously the Robertson Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, and has been on the faculties of Purchase College, SUNY, Yale University, Columbia University, and the University of Texas, Dallas. She has also been the Digital Humanities Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, Digital Cultures Fellow at UC Santa Barbara, and Mellon Faculty Fellow in Fine Arts at Harvard University. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Drucker's research focuses on alphabet historiography, modeling interpretation for electronic scholarship, digital aesthetics, the history of visual information design, history of the book and print culture, history of information, and critical studies in visual knowledge representation. Most recently, her scholarship has focused on information visualization, "which draws heavily on models from the empirical sciences, where approaches based on representation and transparency prevail." In contrast to this approach, Drucker stresses the rhetorical and performative nature of visualization, with emphasis on interpretation. She contends that digital tools should be used to "design graphic forms that inscribe subjectivity and affective judgment."
In her first book, Theorizing Modernism: Visual Art and the Critical Tradition (1994), Drucker maps visual arts discourses through a rigorous examination of the rhetoric of 19th and 20th century critical writing and art practice. In the process, she theorizes the modernist tradition of visual art through a rhetoric of representation rather than from a formalist or historical approach, particularly regarding space, the ontology of the object, and the production of subjectivity. In The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art (1994), Drucker contends that much art criticism of Futurism, Dada, and Cubism has failed to appreciate the fundamental materiality of these movements in relation to both visual and poetic forms of representation. Drucker emphasized, for the first time, the extent to which typographic activity furthered debates about the very nature and function of the avant-garde. Continuing with her interest in letterform, Drucker's next book, The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination (1995) analyzes the history of the alphabet, not just as a collection of arbitrary signs, but as the direct visual embodiment of meaning in relation to intellectual movements. For example, she shows how modern typefaces, first developed in the late 18th century, embody Enlightenment philosophy. Shifting her focus to artist books, Century of Artists' Books (1995) is the first full-length analysis of the development of artists' books as a 20th-century art form, exploring their structure, form, and conceptualization. Analyzing such artistic luminaries as William Morris, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst, Drucker considers the book as metaphor, poem, and narrative or non-narrative sequence by situating its historical, theoretical, sociological, and technical aspects within 20th century avant-garde art movements. Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing, and Visual Poetics (1998) is a collection of selected critical essays by Drucker previously published in literary and scholarly journals. The book begins with a discussion of her work as a book artist and an account of what led her to pursue her scholarly interests. She provides close readings of contemporary language artists and the use of language in cyberspace.
In collaboration with Brad Freeman, Drucker produced Nova Reperta (2000), inspired by illustrations by the sixteenth-century Flemish artist Johannes Stradanus. Work on Nova Reperta was originally begun by Drucker and Freeman in 1993, who planned to include the work in the exhibition Science and the Artist's Book[notes 1] organized by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. She collaborated again with Freeman on Emerging Sentience (2001), a work that reflects Drucker's interest in the literature of artificial intelligence and the development of digital media. In Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity (2005), Drucker calls for a revamp of the academic critical vocabulary to something more befitting new forms and practices in contemporary art, especially as it engages with material culture. Considered at the cutting edge of art criticism, Sweet Dreams details the clear departure of artists from modernist avant-garde movements and shows the ways in which art criticism can shift its terms and sensibilities. Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide (2008) is an edited volume that traces the social and cultural role of visual communication from prehistory to the present, from logos to posters, from the political to the commercial, from early writing to digital design. The book details the ways in which designers have historically shaped graphic forms and effects. Taking up evolving issues of methodology in the burgeoning field of digital humanities, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Speculative Computing (2009) emphasizes the visual over the written system, the generative over the descriptive, and aesthetic subjectivity over analytic objectivism by building on the collective intellectual ferment of digital humanities as it developed at the University of Virginia, one of the universities where the field of digital humanities first developed.
In Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (2014), Drucker fuses digital humanities, media studies, and graphic design history to provide a descriptive critical language for the analysis of graphical knowledge and outline the principles by which visual formats organize meaningful content, particularly the graphical user interface.
Drucker is internationally renowned for her book art, which touches on a variety of themes, especially "the exploration of the conventions of narrative prose and the devices by which it orders, sequences, and manipulates events according to its own logic" as well as "the use of experimental typography to expand the possibilities of prose beyond the linear format of traditional presentation."
Her work has been exhibited at universities, libraries, galleries, and museums throughout the world, including Museum of Arts and Design, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, New York Public Library, Scripps College, Walter Phillips Gallery, University of Virginia, Smith College, Yale University, Rutgers University, University of California, San Diego, University of California, Santa Cruz, Purdue University, University of Arizona, University of Wisconsin, Houston Public Library, San Francisco Center for the Book, SUNY, Victoria and Albert Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Columbia University, Pomona College, Harvard University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Art Institute of Chicago, California College of Arts and Crafts, University of the Arts (Philadelphia), Istvan Kiraly Museum in Budapest, Barnard College, and Parsons School of Design.
A retrospective of Drucker's work, titled "Druckworks: 40 Years of Books and Projects by Johanna Drucker," has been exhibited throughout the United States.