The old adage “One picture is worth a thousand words,” understates the case. There are so many levels of information conveyed by an image that the linear trickle of words can’t begin to approach. Not just the facts of what’s there, but the relations between them, the state of balance that leads us to expect motion or stillness, the feeling tone our processing of the image creates within us. We are always in a picture complete with weather and the psychology of other people; a complexity that no theory created with labels can touch. Looking at the videogame “Halo” with my nephew, I felt I was seeing the future that young people fear, the dramatic scenery of a long gone technological civilization that left behind demons for the survivors. The training of visual responsiveness offered by games and the “look and choose” nature of the Internet are leading us away from verbal dominance. Just in time. Power uses labels to create enmity, divisions that can be exploited and strengthened by repetition and careful choices of inflammatory pictures. The big world of cyber connectivity, and interactive challenge, could neutralize old word-based power because future generations will simply stop paying attention. The practical ways that images contribute to understanding is leading the growth of infographics with sites like EnvisionFinancials.com showing budgets and financial relationships as a 3D nested pie chart. I expect a cascade of innovative applications coming as the visual thinkers raised on sophisticated video games come of age.
Recently, I participated in an “English as Second Language” class at MICA. The discussion of self-portraits they had done clearly showed how much meaning was communicated by each image. They suggested stories, worlds changing, the passage from childhood to this transitional state of independence, attitudes, feelings, so much that is truly beyond the power of words to show so specifically. They may not have felt confident with the language, but because they were being asked to say what the picture did for them individually, it offered the opportunity to use the language creatively and find words that could reflect their own take on each image. With a range of different life experiences there was a rich variety of associations to each, and different sensibilities picked up on different qualities. The structure of the image resonates with similar structures within each of us and we were free to use the words that best show where the image took us. Jung’s statement “Image is psyche,” emphasized the correspondence between archetypes and visual structure. We can see stability or upheaval, dominance or submission. Images convey the depth of us. When we talk about them we discover how the differences in the specifics of our lives connect in the pattern beneath the surface. This particular discussion was a clear illustration of how the communication that happens in pictures transcends words and connects people around the shared understanding of it. When someone made an observation the rest of us hadn’t seen, the reaction was usually pleasure. We saw it once it was pointed out and the comment enlarged our understanding. Offering the aspects of a picture that we respond to enlarges the perspective for everyone. It’s this unifying aspect to visual communication that is most needed now and in the future. People are unnecessarily divided by labels. Our natural state is embedded in our environment and the flow of events around us.