This is an image from one of the remaining Mayan Codices, possibly it is familiar?
The Mayans used ideograms [although this is a debatable description as the term grapheme or morpheme may be more accurate]to document their history/religion/science/prophecies/agricultural cycles/culture etc. The scribes who produced these works were said to be communing with the Gods often using an imagined spiritual realm as the frame of reference. The point is that this is an almost lost visual language, it is specific to a culture and therefore highly problematic for us to decipher but it is image based. How can this be if we aspire to work with a language that is universal? Perhaps visual language is inextricably linked with spoken language is inextricably linked with era or epoch?


Bryony Quinn said...

this is sort of a response to geoff's comments relating to the mayan codices and his reference to chris ware in relation to ideagrams etc. and also just trying to get my head round semiotics and what it means in this persuit of a visual, universal language.

ware makes all these linguistical and illustrative decisions when it comes to communicating his mood and tone of his comics, his choice of detail is integral to the visual 'rebus' of information in each frame. and just like you could have a hundred ways of saying one sentence, there are hundreds of ways of combining images or icons to make an understandable and coherent sentence in his [or our] work, that in the end all read the same.

the point im trying to make and should have added to the debate is that we cannot make a universal visual language. it has already been made. and just like words take on new meanings as time goes on, for example 'technology' a few million years ago was a wheel, now its it the iphone or whatever. but both of these images have no relation without context. you could probably use a wheel as an image to depict technology but, just like the rebus, its the job of the illustrator [designer, whatever] to illustrate and the reader to interpret all the other visual bits of information and translate that as the meaning.

we all have that visual language inbeded and we all have our own ways of reading it, even if semiotics dictate we won't all come to the same conclusion. and its the same with the written word or typography -

"shapes of letters convey levels of meaning that go beyond the literal content of the words themselves"
[deyan sudjic]

i think it just depends on who's reading.

Zora Sunrise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zora Sunrise said...

Imogen Kirk-Reynolds said...

Not surprisingly images are more visually descriptive than words. A single word can not compare to a single image, as one image is by far visually richer in content. Different people have different ways of thinking. Upon hearing a word such as 'dog' some people will simply visualise the text 'dog', some will visualise the image of a dog, some will visualise a remembered scene including a dog, and others may just focus on the phonetic sound of the word.

A singular word such as 'hysterical' can leave one with a very distinct and direct understanding of what is being described. Unlike an image of for example a hysteric woman, this is more open to misinterpretation, people may believe her angst look of hysteria to in fact be one of panic, fear, anger, frustration, or desperation.

To describe a direct precise image through the use of the written or spoken word one needs several sentences, if not paragraphs of description. The same description could be told through the use of imagery, this would only be one image, but it would probably contain lots of visual language within it.

I think we should just except that words are better for conveying/describing some messages, for example leaving my comment here, and images are better at conveying other messages, for example people in a photograph.

if one does not have the right references then one can misinterpret both text and imagery. One example of this being:

'The Greeks' sustained interest in the Egyptian hieroglyphs was in fact the consequence of a misconception. Misreading their cryptic and fragmented sources, they came to believe that hieroglyphs bore no relationship to ordinary language but were the pictorial and allegorical expression of sacred knowledge.'
The Golden Game, Thames and Hudson, 1988, by: Stanislas Klossowski De Rola

One last comment words are less visually restraining. This can be useful in story telling, as the writer only describes what he wants and the rest is left to the personal imagination of the reader. This can leave the reader with a more exciting and energetic visualisation of the described world rather than the rather more restrained and possible dull world that one has to take into consideration as a film/image maker. In a film nearly nothing is left to the imagination and all visual imagery is put on a plate for one to except as the only visual interpretation of the script/ story. This can cause difficulty in that all visual imagery has to be considered when creating a film.

Stephanie Kirchem said...

i completely agree with the above posts. we already have a complex and intricate visual language that serves us well but trying to make it universal would be criminal. it would completely stifle creativity reminiscent of george orwell's "1984" where we may be forced to repeat symbols to get our point accross or even to make a simple statement.

also what would happen as things evolved? how would new icons develop? would they develop or would someone decide? there would have to be someone deciding exactly what we see making our lives even more censored than they already are.

variety and ambiguity are what makes life interesting.

in the seminar someone (sorry i didnt see who it was) recounted a tale of how he had mistakenly thought a hand towel dispenser was a hand dryer- if this mistake had not been made then he probably would not have mildly amused himself at the time of the incident neither would he have made people laugh as he retold the story. i probably havent explained as well as i could have done, and you may well misunderstand what i have said but that doesnt matter it will just create more dialogue and make life more interesting.