¿Words or Images?

   © Guillermo Labarca

Tv series and films have edged out books; photos and videos are indispensable material in any journalist report; arguments are not any more persuasive but the images and gestures of who is speaking that convey the message; book readers in trains, the underground or buses have almost disappeared and been replaced by game players with their smart phones. Paraphrasing what once we said that “there is not beauty without words” we should say today there is no art without images, as there is no politic messages, complaints, critics or a better life suggestions without resorting to photographs, videos, drawings, art installations or performances.

Why is that? Why do images play such an important rôle? In the first place, because it is possible thanks to technology, anybody can produce images, it is not necessary anymore to master drawing, paint or photography, it is not even necessary to be inspired or to have something to say. Secondly, it is easier to “read” an image than a text, to watch an installment than to follow an argument, made even easier by the fact that not being able to decode the content of an image does not leave you with the unpleasant feeling of inferiority that does a text of impossible comprehension.

But perhaps the most relevant fact is that images lie in a different way than the texts. A statement in a politic speech or in an interview is supposed to be true, that there is an adjustment and match with facts eventually verifiable, therefore is true. Even in works of fiction there’s a requirement for the tale to be plausible, what is the closest to true that a story may be. The disenchantment with words comes from the fact that people have verified that many politicians, reporters, professionals that work with words such as lawyers, economists, writers, critics, sociologists, etc. have dismissed the facts from their discourses leaving us with a great mistrust.

Whereas images lie in a different way, but their lies do not matter, because we know what they are and we don't demand that they match with any reality, which is so important with words. We know that they are constructions, meaning that their starting point lies in themselves and not in a previous reality. We know too that photos are manipulated in the dark room or with Photoshop, even photos that illustrate reports or news are selected, framed, partially unfocused in order to get wanted effects; drawings and paintings are composed by the artist that takes the license he or she wants; art installments refer in a symbolic or metaphoric way to a reality emphasizing those dimensions that artists desire to perceive and communicate. We know all this, therefore we don't mistrust.

¿Are we at the end of a culture based on words, prevailing since we have been ruled by some “sacred book” to move to a culture based on the image? It is hard to say, but indeed we would like that the words became true again.