Artists voice: A picture paints a thousand words…or does it?

Heathland – acrylic on paper by Rebecca Gallop

I recently started the mammoth process of sorting through a lot of ‘old stuff’ that I had acquired way back when I had a studio space. It has been a long journey to get to where I am now. The studio was a huge space, and I filled it….literally, so much so, there wasn’t really any space left as such, to create. When I finally made the decision to leave, I did declutter somewhat, but some items were difficult to let go of, and so they came home with me and ended up stored for a few years. As part of moving forward, we sometimes need to look back, the debris left behind, and it has been so insightful for me to reflect, both on what I decide to ‘let go’ of and what I decide is worth of holding on to. There is also a ‘pending’ corner, those things I am not sure about, hesitant to let go of just yet, might come in useful someday… We all have those don’t we!

So, how does this relate to the title ‘a picture paints a thousand words? well, as I was sorting, I came across part of a draft essay, just one sheet of A4 paper, that had found its way into the stored stuff. Right at the bottom of the page was a hand written red pen the statement about pictures. It really stood out, probably initially due to the red pen, and we all know how that can take us back to our school days, the teachers correcting our work with the dreaded red pen. I digress…

The original quote coined by Henrik Ibsen was worded slightly differently, and focused on the idea that one single image can convey a story as effectively as a large amount of text, you can find more about this here.

My question to you is does a painting speak more than a thousand words? as a painter and writer, I feel conflicted, and thats good, gets me thinking. My paintings have recently been more abstract, even on the sphere of surreal, subconscious work, a bit like stream of consciousness writing. Do people look at my paintings, and get more from them, than if I was to write out what I was thinking? can I express in words, what my subconscious is saying? maybe I am thinking way too deeply on this, but it intrigues me. When I look back to my childhood, I wonder what came first, the artist part of me, or the writer part of me? I don’t remember the finer details, memory doesn’t necessarily work in a linear neat timeline, we manufacture it to be so, through trusting our memory or paper trails, photo’s, evidence. Does it really matter that much anyway?

My paintings do give me a voice, a more metaphorical, hidden voice, that is subjective to the viewer. I don’t explain my work or even understand it myself a lot of the time, and, I don’t feel the need to. Even giving a painting a title irks me somewhat, but isn’t that what being an artist is about? why is it necessary to have things spelt out or explained. I look back at old small pieces of my work and wonder to myself, whats that all about? so how on earth could I put it down in words? I have painted realistic paintings, tree’s, nature, that are what they are, but then even these paintings do have a personal hidden meaning to me, that the view may or may not connect with, and thats okay. I have had feedback and reflections from people who have experienced a visceral response when they first see my paintings that they find hard to put into words.

Art is always the bridge between the unconscious and conscious, a safe space to explore hidden depths, this can be through any type of art, not just painting. Does writing do this also? I think so. Both are safe spaces, and are precious to the person creating, and the person viewing. Sometimes, there are just no words, sometimes there are many. Maybe its about finding a blend between the two?

What do you think? does a picture paint a thousand words? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


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