(’05)A picture is always more powerful than mere words. What is your view?


(Introduction) ‘A picture speaks a thousand words’. This phrase is synonymous with the power we associate with pictures; that they can express much more than words ever can, they can affect people on a larger degree than words ever can, and that they will always be more powerful than words ever will be. While this may not be wrong, it is plainly an overstatement of how powerful pictures really are. I feel, pictures are not always more powerful than words. In some situations, they may be more powerful, but in others, words prove their worth.

(Refute 1) Some argue that picture is always more powerful. This is because, pictures are universal. Globally, people around the world, regardless of where they come from, would be able to understand the message a picture is trying to convey. On the other hand, words are dictated by language, and this limits the number of people who can understand them; a non-English speaker/learner would never be able to understand words in English unless he takes the effort to translate them into his own language. In this sense, the power of words to reach out to more people is inherently held back by its nature, causing pictures, which can reach out to all via a universal language, to be more powerful. For example, pictures are used as signage on restrooms’ doors, instruction manuals, and traffic and warning signs all over the world. Ikea, the Swedish furniture retailer, uses pictures to illustrate how to assemble their flat-box furniture, in a step-by-step manner, together. If this was not so, the cost of translating their instruction manuals for a global market would be prohibitive. Pop art, such as Che Guevera or works by Andy Warhol, can be seen worldwide, from the streets of the USA to the alleyways of a very different country, China.

(Supporting 1) However, I beg to differ. Some words are universal too. Language does not matter. The ideas/stories in these words are known to many, if not everyone, in the world. In this case, pictures are not always more powerful than words. For instance, best-selling novels like the Harry Potter series has sold more than 400 million copies and been translated into 63 languages. In another example, for more than four centuries, the world has been enthralled by the words of William Shakespeare. In ‘As You Like It’, he wrote, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.” His captivating metaphor of life as a play, and all human beings as actors, has transcended centuries and ages, and become immortalized in the English language. Shakespeare’s words are studied much more around the world today than the works of any painter. His oeuvre has made far more impact and moved more people than that of any painter or photographer.

(Refute 2) Still, some argue that picture is always more powerful. This is because, it also appeals to the emotions. Photographs, especially, are deemed by many people as a powerful form of communication, as it replicates every detail, every emotion perfectly. This often has an effect of amplifying anything the image depicts, and increases the ability to evoke emotions such as shock, happiness and depression. Such allows pictures to capture a period in time where words are just not adequate enough to express the situation fully. Some examples are: the fall of the Berlin wall, a student activist facing-off a Chinese tank in Tiananmen square, a starving African child being watched by a vulture, pictures of Japanese videographer Kenji Nagai being shot in Burma, and the Hindenburg as an inferno. The solemn yet triumphant raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima that was published in newspapers all over America the following day gave a war-weary American public renewed belief that the war could be won. The Mona Lisa, with her subtle smile, is regarded as one of the greatest works of mankind. Hence, pictures are always more powerful than words.

(Supporting 2) However, I beg to differ. Pictures tend to be limited (in depth) of what they can express; this usually leads to a picture romanticizing a scenario, without going into the depth and specifics of the idea. E.g. Painting of the storming of the Bastilles: It seems to show that the French revolution (Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!) was a sudden, catylmtic event where the people rose up and threw off their chains of oppression. In fact, the French Revolution was a brutal, drawn-out affair with infighting that led to reprisal killings against different factions of the revolution. Such superficiality of pictures mean that they may actually evoke less emotions from people compared to words, which are able to go into depth describing a scenario/event/idea.

(Supporting 3) Furthermore, words also can appeal to emotions. In fact, there have been many times where words moved people to feel and to fight, where great words have influenced people sufficiently enough for them to be translated into action. For example, In Martin King Luther Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, he said, “I have a dream, that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. “I have a dream,” he expounded, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” His dream came true, and in no small part due to the power of his words. There was no picture that could have resonated in the hearts and minds of Americans and championed the cause of racial equality as resoundingly and powerfully as his words. Others include Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their ‘Communist Manifesto’, which inspired millions of workers to rise up against capitalists; Hitler, which engendered such deep hatred in his people as to drive them to genocide; Mahatma Gandhi, which galvanized and enlightened Indians to seek change through non-violent means. As shown, words are just as powerful as pictures in affecting people’s emotions/actions, therefore, pictures are not always more powerful than words.


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