"A picture has been said to be something between a thing and a thought" (Paper)

Simon Bell

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This paper discusses a written assignment in which art and design students were asked to research and supply an image as a visual conclusion to a short essay. The essay had to be written in a very strict and unyielding format; it had to argue one of two viewpoints on offer prompted by an image which was already supplied and which introduced the task. Thus the essay was in a sequence of supplied introductory image, text to be written, concluding image to be found. The concluding image had to match the shape and size of the introductory image. It also had to match its colour, content and compositional register. Given the discipline of the students, many were surprisingly unsuccessful in this part of the task, and simply used images which matched the literal content of the introductory image and their essays. Even this literal matching was at times inaccurate and insensitive. The successful attempts used the text – whose shortness meant that essay conventions were severely strained – as an eristic bridge between the two images. This meant that the successful essays exploited the rhetorical potential of format and tenets of iconology, Gombrich’s ‘invisible world of ideas’. In successful essays, the concluding image also acted as a check on the short text’s coherence, because the importance of its content over exhibitionist techniques was always emphasized yet its shortness often made such techniques essential. This gave some essays an exquisite poise as readings oscillated between the three elements and meanings stayed nimble. The apparent grounding of the arguments in an image was in fact the signal for their flight.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • register
  • rhetoric
  • iconology
  • alternatives


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