Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Bridge between Art and Language

"In the beginning was the image. Then came five millennia dominated by the written word. The iconic symbol is now returning."
- Leonard Shlain, "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

For better or for worse, I've become obssesed with visual connections between images and written languages. Specifically the western "Indo-European" family of alphabets, which includes everything from English to Latin to Ancinet Greek. In comparing images to one another and identifying those that tend to "stick in one's head", I eventually realized that a common ancestor to these images is the written alphabet. There are like characteristics which are undeniable, such as easily-readable silhouettes, profiles, crisp edges and symmetry. Landscape-proportioned images encourage one's eye to move across the picture from left to right, which we do unconsciously - it is simply how we read.

Aside from this alphabet family, there are several other ancient storytelling mediums - using images - that bear the exact same characteristics. Grecian urns or "Kraters" and Egyptian hieroglyphs are excellent examples. Even stained-glass windows offer similarities. This is a powerful triad - story-image-language - manifested in the unconscious dream world, where realistic imagery is carried by the vehicle of the story.

This can be a touch problematic for the image-maker who will have a notably more difficult time evoking stories than the story teller has evoking images. While the bridge connecting imagery to language is concrete, it is a bridge designed for one-way travel.

Nevertheless, it can be safely argued that most art forms are at their strongest when the role of storytelling is undertaken. As Alberto Manguel stated in his indelible "The City of Words", "Language is our common denominator".


  1. Great David! I am now "following" you! I also linked this page to mine. Check it out:

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Holy Liftin' Lady! I only saw this comment just now! I'm so sorry for my negligence! Thanks for the following and have a wonderful time in B.C.!