Saturday, December 02, 2006


The illustrator Fred Ludekens said "drawing is thinking." Here are some wonderful examples of what makes visual thinking better than verbal thinking:

copyright The New Yorker

Images can convey complex thoughts with more immediacy, universality and ambiguity than words can offer.

For example, William Steig's drawing above of the blissful young lovers in the cottage makes a wicked statement about the darker, proprietary side of bliss by chaining the flower in the front yard:

As another example, the Foote Cone & Belding drawing below shows that creativity and logic are two sides of the same phenomenon by placing them on opposite sides of a moebius strip-- which only has one side.

copyright Foote, Cone & Belding

Next, the symbols chosen by the brilliant Saul Steinberg-- Uncle Sam facing off against a fatted Thanksgiving turkey in the bull ring, presided over by the statue of liberty and Santa Claus-- juxtapose categories rich with meaning in ways that words with definitions just can't.

copyright The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

How many sentences would it take to explain such thoughts in words? Good visual ideas dance where words cannot go. More importantly, how many related ideas would you miss along the way if you were led to a conclusion by linear sentences, rather than by rolling these images around in your mind?

Some sequential artists and graphic novelists seem to think that intelligent drawings are merely drawings accompanied by word balloons containing intelligent words. For me, this view surrenders the real strength and potency of the visual medium.


lotusgreen said...

that second one, the steig, reminds me so much of one of your love stories where the couple lived in this tiny little house and he dressed her up in hula things and photographed her naked.

David Apatoff said...

Lotusgreen, the thing I like best about that Steig drawing (which may be hard to see at this size) is that the scene looks all sweet and saccharine, with the dewy eyed young lovers looking out of their perfect little cottage, but in the corner (drawn in Steig's wispy little line) is something that completely changes the meaning of the drawing: we can understand why their dog might be chained down, but who chains down their flower??? Suddenly this too-perfect vignette seems a little sinister. They seems narrow and possessive and proprietary. Steig reminds us that people in love have a vested interest in preserving the status quo (which has some good points and some bad points). After looking at that flower, doesn't that cute couple start to look a little vapid? The symbol of that chained flower throws off all kinds of unexpected sparks.

Irene Gallo said...

I think I've had the conversation in that first drawing....Too mnay times, in fact! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Actually, everything is tied down in the lovers picture (bird in cage, tree with fence, dog, flower...)including the lovers themselves, framed and frozen. Ah, what a life... pcp

love the mobius

David Apatoff said...

You are right, pcp. I hadn't thought about it before, but maybe that's one reason why this drawing sneaks up on you so cleverly. Everyone understands why a bird is caged. Birds fly away. Everyone understands why a dog is chained. Dogs run away. Everyone understands why the flower is.... whoa!!! Maybe it's because idyllic, domesticated love has an element of fear and possessiveness and control.

Anonymous said...

The American Dream surely must include marriage. What better way to afford things? Combining two incomes!

They're smiling, but are they happy? When their lives are about accumulation?

Anonymous said...

Could some kind soul explain at least a little bit the last one to an intregued but yet ignorant in American history matters?

The other ones are really great drawings, really. Pearls of achievement in this medium.