thoughts on writing: is a picture really worth 1000 words?

There may be some truth to the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” After all, a breathtaking scene, a horrifying scene, a heart-tugging scene wield significant power on our perceptions and attitudes and dispositions, even our actions.

But to press back against this common dictum… A picture may be worth a thousand words–it may take that many words to describe perhaps. But a handful of words from the pen of the right author or poet or lyricist have the power to evoke a thousand pictures, including ones that the author or poet or lyricist has never imagined because others do not only pick up the pictures the writer was attempted to send, but also participates in creating the picture in our own minds. We know what the novel’s lead character looks like, though our friend may have a very different picture. We may envision the setting of the poem one way whereas a friend envisions it in roughly the same way, but with plenty of different touches.

I think we instinctively recognize the poverty in applying the saying “a picture is worth 1000 words” in a way that says something negative about the printed and spoken word, even though that is one of the implied lessons from the saying. This is why we always prefer the book to the movie. We had supplied everything lacking descriptively to fill in not just one picture but thousands throughout the piece. Once the pictures–those pictures supposedly worth 1000 words–are supplied as they must be in the visual medium, it limits our imaginative possibilities.

So, is a picture worth a thousand words? I would answer yes and no. On the one hand (the one with the “yes”), we affirm that God’s creation is beautiful to behold and we will not run out of words to describe it and talk about how amazing God is. On the other hand (the one with the “no”), perhaps, but only a few words are needed to pierce the hearts and minds and open them up to an infiinte number of pictures in one’s imagination.

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