Pictures Worth a Thousand Words?

Is a picture worth more than 1000 words?  Do words carry more impact than a picture? Perhaps it depends on the words, and the picture, but the question is an intriguing one.

I recently watched a movie called Words&Pictures with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche that brought this question up in an interesting way, as both Owen and Binoche play teachers at a private high school where a “war” arises between the Honors English students (lead by Owen’s English teacher and struggling author) and the Honors Art students (championed by Binoche’s artist and art teacher). There are installations of both words and of pictures set up by each side making a case for each. There is also ultimately a challenge where the artist presents one painting that the author will then meet with a thousand words in challenge. Which wins? Sadly the movie is really just average and has a rather lame rom-com type scenario where the two verbally spar and then fall in love, then there is a conflict. Blah blah blah as Binoche’s character says at one point, but the concept of  a war between words and pictures was a good one.

Since my majors in college were English and Speech Communication, you can imagine my tendency to rule in favor of words being the most powerful. However, I can concede the overwhelming power of a photograph, a drawing or a painting. We writers frequently use pictures as jumping off points for our writing and we certainly can come up with at least 1000 words, good and probably not so good, or more stemming from our reaction to that inspiration. Many artists, too, find inspiration in the great works of literature or other powerful words. While I liked the idea of a challenge pitting words against pictures, it would be impossible to rule in favor of one over the other. All art has power to affect and inspire, in ways we seldom ever could realize.

Having recently fallen for the art of poetry, I think it a lovely combination of both words and pictures. Plutarch said:

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.

How perfect is his description? I find poems often evoke a stronger more immediate response, like seeing a painting in a museum might, than a longer work such as a novel might. I, of course, love a novel, but the elegance and power of a poem seem most like viewing a picture. Both seem to let the reader/viewer fill in what is left to imagine. What do they make you feel? It’s a beautiful thing.

What about you? Do you think a picture is worth a thousand words? Is that preposterous, words obviously win that war? Or does it just depend? What words and pictures do you think of that make you lean one way or the other?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

Have a great week!

~CJS

6 responses to “Pictures Worth a Thousand Words?

  1. This is a hard one, I love both, The power of words and the impact of a picture. If I didn’t want to be a writer so bad, I think I would have chosen the path of photography for my career choice.

    It is kind of funny that this is your post today, you should head over to my blog post that I posted this morning… The irony of the two, I think will give you a chuckle.

  2. Haha that is pretty ironic – well I shall have to accept your challenge – especially since I haven’t written a new post for my blog in weeks. Shamefully overdue. Thanks!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. I think it’s both, although, in all honesty, actions speak louder than pictures or paintings, don’t you think?
    And let’s not forget music…Bach, Beethoven, Mozart…no words, no pictures, just sounds that stir the soul.
    Although, I REALLY do love poetry. It brings back feelings and sensations, but pictures bring back memories. So, I don’t think it’s a question of which one, but which one you prefer.

    • Very true, actions do speak louder than words. 🙂 Film and theatre get the best of all worlds: pictures, and words. “Oh Captain, my Captain” is a great line. “Oh Captain, My Captain”, said by a shy young prep school kid to his teacher whist stepping up onto his desk, followed by other kids in the class— powerful image and words. Then add in music!!! Perfect. .

  4. Hmm…pictures, words, pictures, words. Dammit, I can’t decide. I’ll just do both!

  5. Joe I will allow that – I think none of us can pick one over the other. 🙂

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