Text v. Image

I've been musing about the various reactions to friends discovering that the banner image on this blog is not me and the kids (The 'Real Thing' - Journal Jan 15th) and how we privilege the spoken/written instead of the visual. Our words describe our images not the other way around.  In 'Ways of Seeing', a little book by John Berger that I have kept since my college days, Berger shows us this experiment.


This is a landscape of a cornfield with birds flying out of it.  Look at it for a moment.  Then turn the page.




As we turn the page we see this.....




 This is the last picture Van Gogh painted before he killed himself


As Berger claims, it's hard to define exactly how the words have changed the image but undoubtedly they have.  The image now illustrates the sentence.

Berger goes on, 'In this essay each little image reproduced has become part of an argument which has little or nothing to do with the painting's independent meaning.'  I'm interested in how how vulnerable our visual 'truth' and resonance becomes compared with the much stronger truth of text.

 Incidentally, it turns out that Berger was wrong about the painting.  It probably wasn't Van Gogh's last image - so what sense do we make of it now?


Steve MarshallComment