Monday, February 7, 2011

Words vs. Images

I'm linking to a post from Echidne's blog about how images are used in news and media to sway public opinion much more effectively than words and verbal analysis. She is frustrated and concerned that images create a knee-jerk gut reaction regardless of whether it is accurate or not, and that thoughtful follow-up analyses cannot compete. That must be very frustrating for a writer like her. Echidne adds in the comments,
My own skills are not so strong in the image-creation part, especially if I can't use my voice for it. I'm also not at all certain how one fights images which mislead. Is it only possible to do it with other images which mislead in the other direction? Or what?
I agree that such imagery is used in misleading ways (ahem, the campaign to show only weird-looking photos of Hillary Clinton in '08). It's such a big problem that I'm not going to open that can of worms.

I will add, though, that there is such a thing as thoughtful analysis in the form of an image. It's called "art." And it's pretty cool. It's a shame that as the world turns more and more toward imagery, visual art is the least publicized of any art form I can think of-- literature, dance, music, film. There is no Oprah contemporary visual arts club, for instance. Or People Magazine coverage of who wore what to the Turner Prize festivities.

To address the question of whether imagery can "mislead in the other direction," i.e. why don't the good guys make this knee-jerk imagery: they often do. And it is immediately dismissed by both lefty artists and fundy conservatives as "shock art." I think no one even takes note when the Fox Newses of the world make shock art because of this "boys will be boys" permissive attitude toward the political right and the tabloid media. You know, we expect them to suck and they do.

I will also add that the number one complaint I get from the black-and-white thinkers of the world who want to know, "why can't I understaaaaaaand modern art???" is that the message in visual art isn't clear, like it is with writing. They seem to strongly prefer a written analysis to an analytical piece of visual art. Socially conservative mindsets push the idea that imagery should be a gut reaction, whether of comfort or shock, by publicly mocking modern analytical artwork any way they can, by pushing an attitude of staunch refusal to think, at all, about what any piece or modern art might mean, no matter how simple or well-explained. People are rarely deliberately obtuse without reason, and I believe the same conservatives who use imagery to great effect are also intimidated on a deep level by its power.