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A word worth a thousand pictures?

sara.gladwin's picture

I was sort of musing after class about the phrase, "a word is worth a thousand pictures" and am not sure I fully agree with that statement. The phrase agrues that a picture can be more directive for the imagination, invisioning for the onlooker, while words leave room for the imagination. However, I would partially disagree. Firstly, imaginative thought inspired from words or pictures isn't necessarily reproduced as just a vision or reciprocal image in the mind, but also in words. The way words may inspire an image in the mind, a picture may inspire words; which is also of an imaginative kind. Secondly, words aren't always so vague as to inspire just any interpretation; they contain associations, connatations, and produce feelings within a reader, just as a symbol in a painting holds a particular layer of meanings to the person observing. I always felt that word choice within a text was anything but random; specific to whatever statement or meaning the author desires to convey. Perhaps a word is worth a thousand pictures in terms of it's significance in transferring meaning to a reader, but I am not so sure words have so much less control that they are unable to strongly direct and influence the reader into a particular frame of mind or imaginative state. Similarly, I do not necessarily agree with the reverse statement, that "picture is worth a thousand words." Both forms of expression, pictures and words, seem to me to exist on a kind of spectrum between eliciting responses that convey direct, explicit meanings and producing non-directive, more open, "imaginative" responses. While a piece of traditional fine art may be particularlly directive with what it conveys, an abstract or surrealist painting inspires all kinds of imagination and interpretation from an observer. Different kinds of literature and artwork fall somewhere on the spectrum depending on the medium. Now thinking of this spectrum, I've been feeling that Persepolis lies somewhere toward a more directive stance; the combination of pictures and words on the page is so specific to the meaning in which the author would like the reader to inherit from the text. Satrapi imagines for the reader both the imagery inspired by words and conversely the words inspired by the images. In part, the auto-biographical form of the novel also lends to it's rigidity, black and white, 'this is how it is' feel. Unfortunately I feel as though this is why the graphic novel can be considered an 'easier read' and is sometimes skimmed rather than appreciated fully for the meaning it is attempting to convey through the joining of specific images and words, which in itself produces another catagory of artistic expression.

Ironically I may or may not be interpreting the phrase as Duras intended, however, I think for me thinking about it this way has opened up way of thinking about the interplay between words and images in Satrapi's Persepolis.