“A picture tells a thousand words” – but does it? Without text to explain, can we really understand what an image means? How do words and images convey significance?
This is at the heart of many modern art movements from Dada to Pop Art, even to Street Art (further reading: What is Street Art? Is All Street Art graffiti?). Mixing word and image was seen as something transgressive in the early 20th century – a threat to the academic illusionism of the 19th century, and previous traditions.
Yet, most very early religious art quite happily combined text and image, surely it was natural that the two would reunite?
Rene Magritte loved to experiment with the two realms. His famous piece, “The Treachery of Images” shows a humble pipe above the words ‘Ceci n’est pas un pipe’, this may look like a pipe – but it’s just a representation, paint on a bit of canvas.
Andy Warhol trained as a graphic artist so knew the connection between word and image: and used it brilliantly to subvert the ever-present world of advertising, newspapers and consumer products. His readymades force us to question the words and images that surround us.
Street art grew out of words – tagging and typography, but has found itself becoming more and more image-reliant. Banksy’s play on word and image is sharp, witty and immediate. His work never needs explanation.
The Faile collective take their inspiration from the decayed advertising and flyposting on city walls – to make an uncanny mix-up of image and word
Tracy Emin, by contrast, uses long phrases, she even sends letters as part of her practice, or scrawls asides next to her sketches, or embroiders names and exclamations onto textile works.
Eine began his practice as a street artist, but has evolved to become one of the foremost typographers of the moment. He takes letters and makes words full of meaning, but never loses sight of the geometric beauty of each letter – the circles, diagonals and trapped space.
(Just like these ones you’re reading now, lots of black shapes on a screen…..)