A few months ago I came across an interesting book recommended to me by my old writing professor called Reality Hunger. In it David Shields explores the fringe realm of artistic genre. He begins by establishing a standard definition for “art.”He explains that what we call art may be broken down into a basic communication of ideas. Of course, this makes sense: even in the Darwin days of man we would paint murals in the caves–pictures of fire, buffalo, sun, water, all symbols. One day the caveman touches the fire and finds it to be hot, and so he creates an elaborate gesture to demonstrate to his people that fire is hot; he paints on walls, and he makes up words for fire, and water, and food, so that he may contribute to his species and we may stay fed and unburnt. Today it is no different. Jay-Z tells us all of his neigh-hundred problems, to educate us, so that we may learn and progress. Likewise, the poet Ice Cube elaborates on the joys of neglecting sub-machine gun use on a particular day, so that we, too, may try it for ourselves and find that, yes, I didn’t have to use my AK, it is a good day. Like all adaptations, there is this hunger within every one of us–a certain drive—to communicate, and any form of this communication of ideas–from Picasso’s Guernica to this very sentence that I am typing–is then “art.”
So what does that mean for words and images? Well if our standard for “art” and “communication” are synonymous and we equate them to expression, then it is not a stretch to say that words and images are not so different in the first place–in that they are both serving to get an idea across (in much the same way).
Consider, for instance, the wealth of fonts. If you were reading this in Times New Roman, you might feel differently about it–more professional maybe (maybe slightly aroused, I don’t know your life)–than if it was in Cosmic Sans; you would have a different reaction to the text–the communication would change. Let’s keep going with this: what is the paragraph was in bubble letters, and what if the letters contorted into some sort of picture, something like what this artist did: http://donovanolson.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/sharklogo.png. Is that a word or an image? What if we took it a step further into the bizarre world of Webdings, which is literally a symbols font. What would that be, words or images?
Likewise, often an author will use an image to represent an idea, or as a symbol for a theme. The apple for instance, is often taken as the symbol for knowledge. The manner of using this symbol in text is as follows: the writer thinks of the image of an apple and considers the word themes associated with it, he or she then writes the word “apple,” which evokes an image of an apple in the readers mind, which then transitions itself again into a montage of words associated with the image. So in one swift motion we’ve jumped from an image, to words, to a word, to an image, and multiplied back again.
My point is that words and images are not so different. McCloud’s piece wonderfully demonstrates how the two mediums may cooperate together, however the essay applies itself on the standard that words and images are two distinctive forms of communication to begin with. Personally, I believe the line is not that clear. I believe that there is an imagery to words, and a word sensation to images. It is all about how well your message is conveyed to the audience.