Words Are Not Enough - How Starry Night, The Scream, and Selena Are All Valid Examples of How Pictures Show Emotion Better Than Words

Words Are Not Enough - How Starry Night, The Scream, and Selena Are All Valid Examples of How Pictures Show Emotion Better Than Words

In Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, an image is defined as “a vivid or graphic representation or description.” However, a painting can be so much more than this. In Mitchell Stephens’ essay, “‘By Means of the Visible’: A Pictures Worth,” Erasmus is quoted as saying, “Painting is much more eloquent than speech, and often penetrates more deeply into one’s heart” (473). Two online paintings that are examples of this are Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh, and The Scream by Edvard Munch. Both paintings are very well known and both evoke strong but different emotions. Paintings like these have been described with words over and over again, but they can only be fully experienced by seeing the paintings themselves. Words alone are just not sufficient enough to bring out the emotions that these works of art can, and that is why, based only on ability to evoke emotions, paintings are stronger than words.

Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night is a beautiful example of how pictures do what words cannot do. This painting depicts a night sky with huge swirling stars overlooking a small town. Someone who sees this can take any number of things from it. Some people see that the stars represent the presence of God looking over the people in the small town. Other people see chaos, like the sky is falling or the world is coming to an end. Still other people take the starry night sky just as an over exaggerated look at what the night sky looks like. No matter how one looks at it, any person can take something different from it. Moreover, words usually only have one meaning, while pictures can be taken differently by each person that views them. However, some view this as a drawback for pictures. If there are so many different possible meanings, how can we make any sense out of them? Stephens asks, “How can we develop a lexicon of images if we have no way of determining which of the many possible interpretations of an image is correct?” (484). While this is a valid point, people should not worry about what is the correct interpretation, but instead should focus on the beauty and versatility of the picture.

Another valid example of a painting that shows strong emotion is The Scream, by Edvard Munch. This painting is a bit simpler and straightforward, but its emotion is still very powerful, and many different interpretations are possible. What the viewer sees is a man standing on some sort of bridge or boardwalk. The man has his hands on his face, looking as though he is screaming. Screaming is a very strong emotion that can mean several different things. The man could be screaming in happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, or fright. Since the viewer can not see what the man is looking at, the viewer has no idea which of the emotions the painter is trying to portray. However, this is what allows the viewer to interpret the painting in his or her own opinion, because anything could be right depending on how one looks at it. Words do not have this ability. Usually there is a right or wrong answer as to what the author is trying to say through his words. Also, words just cannot show emotion so easily. In a poem or story in which a person screams, the author has to say “ahhhhhh!” or “she screamed.” It just does not have the same effect as actually seeing the emotion on someone’s face.

Another way to prove that pictures are stronger than words is by watching a movie, with some scenes muted, and some scenes audible. Seeing the movie, Selena, in this way supported the theory that pictures are stronger than words. This is because it was still apparent what was going on in the movie, even when the words that were being said could not be heard. Simply by looking at people’s eyes and expressions, it was clear what the people were feeling without knowing what they were saying. In the scene where Chris came to audition for the first time, it was evident that the girls liked him, and it was also clear that the father and brother were worried about the way he looked. The reason it was clear that the girls liked him was because they were hiding behind the wall, smiling, and giggling. Seeing these emotions made their feelings apparent without knowing what they were saying to each other.

Starry Night, The Scream, and Selena are all valid examples of how pictures show emotion better than words. Whether the picture is still or moving, it shows an emotion free to be interpreted by the viewer. Although pictures can not communicate better than words, when it comes to showing and bringing out emotion, pictures and paintings definitely have an advantage. With their ability to show a simple emotion, action, or scene, and have it represent a multitude of other possibilities, pictures have the ability to truly show any emotion, and, in the words of Erasmus, “penetrate more deeply into one’s heart” (Stephens 473).

Works Cited

“Image.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. 2002
Munch, Edvard. The Scream. 6 Oct. 2002 http://www.art.com/asp/sp-asp/_/NV--1_1822_9718/PD--10005915/SZ--3/poste...

Selena. Dir. Gregory Nava. Perf. Jennifer Lopez, Jon Seda, and Edward James Olmos. Warner Home Video, Sept. 23, 1997.

Stephens, Mitchell. ““By Mean of the Visible”: A Pictures Worth”. .” The Presence of Others. 3rd Edition. Eds. Andrea Lunsford and John Ruszkiewicz. Boston: Bedford, 2000. 473-486

Van Gogh, Vincent. Starry Night. June 1889. Museum of Mod. Art, New York. 6 Oct. 2002 http://www.art.com/asp/sp-asp/_/NV--1_12717_12718_12719/PD--10073644/SZ-...