Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

I think I might have opened a can of worms I totally can't handle by bringing up graffiti, but, alas, it's still something to think about. Re: Cyrus questions about Die Dame I think I will work on tomorrow, hopefully in conjunction with a post about the results of the contest on Miss Mia.

I'm not going to attempt to say anything about what graffiti is or is not in general terms anymore, because there is so much that ranges every bit of any spectrum that can ever exist. But, I think it is safe to say that graffiti IS typography, just as much as any other written word is. At the same time, it seems to be self-conscious (or rather, the artist is self-conscious) about the medium, and therefore the Schrift itself tends to fall into categories just as much as mass advertisements, books, etc. I'm going to stop writing and starting quoting, because what other people say is probably more useful at this point. First, Dittmar on typography/graffiti:

"Nicht nur die Bedeutung der Worte selbst wird also mitgeteilt, sondern durch die Angestaltung der Schriftzeichen wird auch auf weitere Bedeutungen reflektiert. Die Schrift spiegelt dabei den Sinn, der abhängig vom jeweiligen zeitlichen, dringlichen oder personalen Kontext ist."

To this I respond by saying that the same is true for all typeface. Graffiti might resemble pictures more closely than a book's typeface, but any type is chosen for a certain purpose. Part of what makes graffiti so interesting is the interplay between images and words. I suppose the same is true for any visual media.

In his book Wo der Buchstabe das Wort Führt, typographer Kurt Weidemann addresses graffiti in a different way, in the context of a discussion on "Das nachalphabetische Zeitalter," or, the post-alphabet age. On graffiti:

"Graffiti-Sprayer erfinden Zeichnen. Aber die besagen keine Wort mehr. Das Nachalphabet, das auf Zügen und Bahnhöfen, Wänden und Mauern, Über- und Unterführungen manchen Ärger und manche Schönheit offenbart, demonstriert den Ausdrucksbedarf der Wortlosen."

I'm not sure if I buy that graffiti-ers are "wortlos," but I like a point he makes about pictures vs. words later in the chapter in a caption to a picture of one of those emergency escape directionals in the seat-back pocket of an airplane:

"Mit der Weltweite des Verkehrs und des Handels in großem Umfang haben Schrift und Sprache ihre nationalen Grenzen und Kommunikationsschwierigkeiten aufgezeigt. Die Sprache der Bilder verschafft unmittelbares Verständnis und is auch für eine Gefahrensituation- harmloser als Worte es sein können. Das Bild hat nicht die Autorität des Wortes. [my italics]"

I can't decide how I feel about this! I definitely agree that a word can express something concrete, but how concrete is it? More so than pictures? In the context of the card in the seat-back pocket, pictures definitely serve to soften a potentially alarming idea, but does that idea apply to all things?

I've also noticed that in Germany road signs and things use pictures a lot more than in the US, z.B. road work signs here are all graphic instead of our huge orange ones that just say ROAD WORK. Maybe this is just another example of the Weltweite des Verkehrs Weidemann is talking about.

I think I need to think more about all this graffiti stuff (and read Herr Dr. Prof. Shahan's article) before trying to say any more. I seem to be winding myself into a confused knot.

Speaking of typography (when do I speak of anything else?), check out this clip of an interview with Erik Spiekermann. I keep hoping to run into him somewhere in Berlin, but this is unlikely.

I also went to the Deutsche Kinemathek museum today. It was pretty fun, especially the several-room shrine to Marlene Dietrich. The Germans wouldn't have it any other way.

1 comment:

  1. check out Marshal Mcluhan (+Quienten Fiore's) "The Medium is the Massage".

    I'd take issue with Weidemann's argument too. Without having read it, it sounds like a rather top-down kind of analysis.

    To his second quote, he seems assume that visual literacy (i.e., reading pictures) is an innate skill, that doesn't need to be learned. Do you buy that? It is a slippery slope from there to talking about how "natural" (and then exotic) non-western scripts are. Then: Boom! Bring on the colonialist rhetoric.