Words and Pictures

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“Nearly everything we are taught is false except how to read.” So says poet Jim Harrison, who apparently has an ax to grind.

“A picture paints a thousand words.” So says Frederick R. Barnard, in Printer’s Ink, a national trade magazine for advertising.

Barnard also had an ax to grind, but then that magazine went out of business.

Ancient peoples wrote in pictures painted on rocks, a form of expression which is real and lasting. Later people learned to chisel words into rocks.

Then came paper and ink.

Now it’s bits and screens, perhaps not as enduring as rock or paper.

Temple Grandin says language gets in the way of visual thinking, that words tend to cloud some ways of thinking. What does this all mean in the age of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, which all feed into short attention span, and in a world where success is determined by “Likes?”

In journalism school we were taught to write short. The “Five  Ws and the H” first. Everything else can be cut from the bottom. An editor once told me the end of the world could be written in 10 column inches.

It’s also struck me that poetry is a form of condensing words into a picture.

As both a photographer and writer I see that pictures get way more “likes” than the words. I’ve been conducting an unscientific study, which I think is unbiased since nobody’s paying to view or to read. The photos win hands-down, 5-1 or better.

There also have been instances when I have posted something to read and someone has “liked” it so fast I know there’s no way they could have actually read it.

If you write a book, however, longer is often believed to be better. But will anyone read it? Or will they skip through it looking for the pictures, those you’ve painted with words? Or go right to the ending?

In this new age of expression it’s up to those who create to figure out how best to get their ideas out there. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from poets.

Like those who painted rock walls before us, we have no other choice. We can blame electronic media but then did the ancients blame rock walls?

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3 Responses to “Words and Pictures”

  1. Kurt Brindley ✍ ✄ ✍ Says:

    Interesting. Thought provoking. Science tells us the internet is changing our brain structure and making it harder and harder to read anything longer than a tweet. I’m just as guilty … it has to very captivating very fast (as this post apparently is) for me to slow my WP Reader scrolling down slow enough to read the long stuff.

    Great post.

  2. tlcbroyles Says:

    Great stuff, Hal. And… yes. Reminds me, too, that I need to get back to poetry, and some other kinds of pictures. Lots of love to you and yours.

  3. Steve O Says:

    // Temple Grandin says language gets in the way of visual thinking, that words tend to cloud some ways of thinking. //

    Along those same lines, one (of the many) themes of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael is that we all innately know right from wrong, but as soon as we try to codify it in written law, everyone starts trying to find grey areas around the fringes.

    Can’t remember the last novel I read where I didn’t walk away thinking the editor should have cut every third chapter.

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