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Pictures Can't Say 'Ain't'
By: Jerry Northup
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The cursor is blinking at me. So what’s taking so long? All it takes is hitting the keys in sequence to create a document. Standard punctuation is a given. Sentences may string together aimlessly, but it’s just words on a page. How hard can that be? And why does it often take so long for a writer to type out a simple paragraph or two?
This is not something an artist in the visual medium has to contend with. (And yes, I just closed a sentence with a preposition. You got a problem with that?) Like an accomplished violinist, visual artists are ceded the latitude to craft pieces that others simply don’t see themselves able or even capable of creating. Their talent is readily acknowledged in most circles. Not so with the written word. Anyone who can read sees himself or herself as someone who can write.
Now I’ve got a problem with that.
In his book, The Search for the Perfect Language, advanced semiotics author Umberto Eco references a 1975 article written by Sol Worth titled, “Pictures Can’t Say ‘Ain’t.'” In that piece, Worth argued that an image cannot assert the non-existence of what it represents. Eco notes that it’s possible to think of a code-containing graphic that could convey dual meanings, but this graphic would still depend on the semantic universe of the verbal [written] language [to do so].
Linguistic jargon, to be sure, but here’s one translation: “Every picture tells a story, but really only one side of it.” So, I contend the words on the printed page and the online page are just as important as the layout, images, and overall composition in any communication vehicle. There is a proprietary skill that belongs to the professional writers who spend years practicing their craft, learning how to paint pictures with words.
Ain’t that the truth.

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About the Author
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Gerald Northup has written professionally in the fields of advertising, marketing, social media, and corporate communications since the early ’90s. For a look at his blog posts and social media articles, as well as TV, radio, print, and website samples from his online portfolio, visit gnorthup1979.wix.com/44words.

Jerry is also a talented guitarist, an avid tennis player, and a lifelong student of linguistics.

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