If a picture paints a thousand words …

… then why bother writing?

The world is a kaleidoscope for instant photo-gratification. Take a picture with your phone and – abracadabra – enhance it with a swipe of a digital magic wand.

Words? Well, perhaps just a few. To give it context.

It’s one of those ‘rules’ of social media – if you want to be noticed, add a picture. Or go the whole hog and make the picture your subject.

But I’ve been wondering. What if – heaven forfend – I wrote a post without a single image?

Could I write about words, sans pictures and yet cause you to see images?

I don’t mean by writing a thousand words – I make a point of never crossing that three-nought line. In fact, I thought I’d start with one word.

Rose.

Read that one word – rose – then, close your eyes for a moment and think of ‘rose’.

What did you see?

A just-unfurling, still-part-bud, dusty, crimson, velvety blossom of a rose? Did it have a bright green, juicy stem? Were its thorns, blood-red where they began? Were its leaves glossed by nature and slightly tattered by the wind?

Or was it a white rose? A blowsy lass, her mess of careless petals thrown open to all the world. A potent, fertile bloom.

No? Perhaps you saw a wild, pink rose? Sparse petals in a single layer, a delicate party frock around a yellow-stamened heart, smelling so divine that you knew her life would be short?

Ah – the rebellious one. You saw a girl. She was dancing, arms waving, freckles dotting her cute snub nose. Everyone laughing with Rose, the pretty, giggly, happy one.

Yes, my prose is a bit purple (we had a purple rose once, a bit gaudy, but gorgeous). But my point is, a rose can be so many things. One word – rose – and permutations galore.

Your imagination, my imagination, can take that word and create endless pictures. Inside our heads.

But what about big, complicated pictures, you might ask? What about those? Don’t they paint a trillion words?

I have a Picasso souvenir on my desk, given by a friend. I can move it around so I see bits of several of Picasso’s paintings – and one of them is Guernica.

Without knowing a thing about the subject, it’s obvious there is distress, horror, misery. Arms flung up in pain or despair, animals screaming in the melee, limbs underfoot – there’s really no need for words – unless you want to understand the context.

A novel the length of War and Peace could be read into the images.

But what if I try a single word again? Like war.

War.

Think about it for a moment. Conjure up an image.

I hardly know where to begin.

Drab uniforms, barbed wire. Boots wrapped in rags, sinking into the stinking mud of World War One trenches.

Sun glinting on Roman helmets as the legions march towards victory.

A monstrous cloud mushrooming over Hiroshima, leaving ghostly shadows of vanished bodies and crushed buildings far below, on what were once, a moment ago, the city’s streets.

The frostbitten hands and toes of freezing French soldiers dragging their weary bodies through the snow, away from Moscow and Napoleon’s defeat.

Blood, smoke, swords, bombs, battering rams.

Galleons, longboats, frigates.

Biplanes, jets and submarines.

It’s almost endless, the imagery we can conjure up from that one word, war.

One of the things I discovered, writing fiction, was the power of just a few, everyday words to make me feel or want something.

Tea, for example.

In the early chill of a Zambian winter morning, a tired tourist scans the riverbank, hoping for giraffe. Her cold hands cradle a mug of strong, hot Malawi tea. Steam dampens the end of her nose as she takes a deep, nutty-tasting mouthful of the dark, orange brew.

Then, I want a mug of tea. I see it, smell it, need it. (It doesn’t work with wine, or beer, which is probably a good thing – but then, perhaps I don’t describe them well.)

A yawn is the same. As soon as I start to … I’m yawning now as I type, just thinking about it.

And sadness, depression. I’ve just finished a draft of a novel written in the first person, present tense – I was never so glad to finish a piece of writing in my life. Tess of the d’Urbervilles eat your heart out, I’m afraid you’re not gloomy enough. (I’m exaggerating, but not by much.)

Novelist Anthony Powell wrote a book entitled Books Do Furnish a Room. (It’s one of ten books in his Dance to the Music of Time series which every serious reader should probably have read. I confess, I haven’t, but I do know the first books are set in the Second World … War.)

But back to words and furnishing. Pictures can certainly furnish – or at least decorate –  a blog post. They entice the eye. And as a shorthand, speedy way of conveying a message they are very, very useful.

Paintings, like Guernica can transport us on a vivid mental journey in a moment.

Together – are words and pictures always good companions? Or does each detract from the other?

Perhaps the answer lies in the quality of both – and of the design. Graphic novels are an obvious example of successful juxtaposition or integration. But for bloggers, the technology does limit our ability to design.

In the end, though, I think I believe (I’m not sure) that words can take me places pictures can’t.

Over to you. What do you think?

I’ve finished. And I need a cup of tea.

[926 words, by the way]


This entry was posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to If a picture paints a thousand words …

  1. A lovely piece and I look forward to many more now that the novel is finished. Congratulations by the way!

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    • Thanks Ron! And glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, first draft done and critiqued professionally by Ms Fildes Moss of Proof Improved so more work to do now – but brain space left over for blogging I hope! See you next week perhaps? Nice to see some spring-like signs as well as some frost, isn’t it? M

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  2. Miz B says:

    Stimulating! The rose really got me going, but I didn’t enjoy the images of war your words generated in my mind. I suppose my feeling of slight distress is a measure of the effectiveness of words. I like the way you moved from words representing physical objects and emotion (response to beauty and memory) to words representing ideas, knowledge of history, perhaps experience. The bit about Guernica had me considering both the impact and limitations of images. That part also reminded me of the flexibility of language, how the morphemes, word choice, and arrangement affect meaning. I consider Picasso an intellectual painter whose work is as much about challenging perception as it is about emotion and idea. A painter with his artistic ability can rearrange the way we see the world. However, the mechanics of using words make them much more available for expression and communication than do the techniques of painting and elements of color and form. I’m not sure a neophyte art student could bring me to tears with a painting the way a slightly-above-average student has in an arrangement of words that give me insight into an experience of life otherwise hidden from view. But I realize now I am approaching your question as a reader and/or creator rather than an observer of words vs. images in themselves. (I wonder if porpoises “write” poetry?). Yes, quite stimulating!

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    • Thank you for answering the question – and taking it further. I felt as if I had wandered into something beyond me … Your example of the neophyte art student is interesting and does seem to suggest that words can do what pictures created from scratch – both of them by those with low levels of skills – cannot. I suppose photography is an exception in that a lucky snap of an emotionally moving scene can be achieved by almost anyone if in the right place at the right time. I’m not sure how deep the reaction would be devoid of context, though. But I think I was convincing myself in favour of the word by the time I had finished this short (relatively) piece. I have not come across the word ‘morphemes’ before, which serves to remind me how un-intellectual I am – I approached this on a purely instinctive/emotional level and soon realised I had stepped into a potential PhD! Do porpoises write poetry? Crikey! What is poetry, in that context I wonder? Harmonics? I shall expect to see you writing about this! Thank you again for making me feel like it was worth writing. M

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  3. Judy Barnes says:

    Yes Mary !Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts.
    I have used the image of the rose as a therapy tool in fantasy journeys.Those whose imagination is fertile can move on in leaps and bounds when others struggle with less -often because it is blocked.Then it’s also useful to illustrate the image – each lending weight and clarity to the other.
    We often comment on over explicit film footage,that the power is lost when there is nothing left to the imagination.
    Social media is useful but like so many other things,has taken over with its quick fix mentality and immediacy in our lives…..”this is me hanging out the washing” ,”now having a bad hair day “….really??It’s become all about transparency.Big Brother has overtaken Life’s Mysteries which is our loss not advancement.
    I think we touched on my series of Daydream paintings,where ethereal,pastel shades swirl around as in a thought process when you suddenly think after a half hour meander “how did I get here from where I began”…… then they begin to firm up into some shape and clarity and become solid ,positive colours;extravert and primary . I haven’t put titles on these paintings (20 in all) as I want the viewer to put their own interpretation on them.
    I was hugely upset to SEE a character from the Archers and to feel the indignation …..he did Not look like that in my mind! Cleary they had made a mistake!
    Sorry for the ramblings Mary,but I suppose that’s what you do ….make us think and react with a knee jerk.x

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    • Hi Judy and thanks for responding to this without SHOUTING – as a visual artist you might well’ve! I don’t know enough on either side of this (artifical?) debate to come down on one – I suppose because I am better at writing than the visually creative arts I have to plump for words. But I think what we are both saying is that if we use our imaginations it is more powerful than just being fed either images or words. I agree about film footage – and I think it also works for words – I always cite Alfred Hitchcock who managed to convey both terror and passion without over explicit imagery, but I think there are also some crime fiction authors who describe horrible gory scenes ( I never read any more by those authors once bitten!) when a hint or two could suffice and in fact linger longer as a horror of the mind for being open ended. And your Archers character – YES! I hate seeing the peole behind voices – in the same way that of all the films I will never see the various Hobbit-themed ones are tops – so big a part of my childhood and teen mental landscape – I don’t want other people’s images of them. Anyway – enough – I went to an art exhibition in Liverpool this last weekend and expected it to inspire me – it didn’t but I learnt a few things. Might write about it … might not. Good to hear from you, Mx

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  4. Rebekah M says:

    The first rose that came into my mind was a pink, wild rose, but then my mind wandered off to the film Mrs. Miniver.

    The war word … I stopped there to think, only to realise that your first description, the one from World War One … fit my thoughts to the point!

    In the beginning of this year, I decided to do one blog post every day. That may, or may not, have been a stupid idea. I’m up to 81. I prefer to write in the mornings, I have no plan — I take it as it comes, but admittedly, there are mornings when my mind is blank. Those are the times when I grab a photo … either as a “help”, to write about it, or plainly as decoration 🙂

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    • Wow, every day – you are brave. I stepped up to about four or five a month at one point last year but this year I’ve been trying to complete a book and pulled right back. I suppose, going back to our original conversation, the lack of feedback was partly behind it too. But now it’s stopped bothering me so much and – hey – we both have a new follower now. Good to e-meet you and find we have things in common – not just roses and war! 🙂

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      • Rebekah M says:

        I’ve done it once before … completed a ‘post-a-day’ back in 2011. But then, we were a whole bunch of people doing it. Now it’s different. It’s just me. Strangely enough, I’ve found a nice balance — both when it comes to the writing, and the followers. In the beginning, I’d added too many, and after a while it began to feel like a chore, to check the ‘WP Reader’. Now I’m careful … I want to sense that there’s some kind of connection [as in this case 😊], and now I’m looking forward to go in and read what they’ve been up to.

        I don’t work, I’m not a writer and I have a lot of free time on my hands, so it’s become a nice, little ‘routine’ to try and dream up something to write about in the mornings. I figure it can be nice to have later on … to go back and reminisce.

        Also … still, after twelve years in Canada; it’s a way to hone my English.

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  5. Pingback: Do Porpoises “Write” Poetry? | Ten Minutes With a Friend

  6. Pingback: Do Porpoises “Write” Poetry? | Wandering Hare

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