A picture is worth a thousand words.
There’s truth in this old adage, but like most things made of words (or oils, watercolors or any other visual-art medium, including computer graphics), it’s open to interpretation. When I taught English composition and literature at the University of Kansas years ago, some of my students took the adage to mean that pictures were more valuable than words. In the students’ eyes, words were practically worthless. This situation did not make teaching writing and literature any easier.
But how far would Picasso’s works have gone had it not been for all those worthless words spent on reviews lauding his talent and explaining why his artworks were worthwhile? Chances are the works would have languished in obscurity, selling at flea markets for a pittance.
Words carry weight, as any good poem will demonstrate. Well written, they can provide layers of meaning that continue to surprise every time a reader comes back to them.
Of course, I’m not making the claim that all writing offers such richness. Not every painting or photograph conveys unfathomable depths of material for interpretation. Nor does every essay, news story, print ad or commercial merit a literary critic’s attention (although such study might make an English professor’s career).
Words and pictures can both stand alone, but they’re often more powerful together. Many commercial designers and illustrators find it both enjoyable and stimulating to work with writers. Their collaboration on the making of ads, brochures and other projects can help create a better product.
Too often, copywriters and commercial artists operate in vacuum, and their work only comes together when the project nears completion. It’s much more effective if they work together from the outset. When the two minds and visions have room to explore together, the outcome is almost always more effective at doing its selling job.
Of course, the artist and the writer have to respect each other, even if they don’t always agree on a direction. What they have to do is expend the extra effort necessary to reach compromises. Chances are, even the compromise will be better than what they would otherwise create working separately.