Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Problems with Closure, part 3

In my last post I pointed out that pictures are not believed to have constraints on them, and that the mind must place constraints on any sort of understanding:

Assumption #2: The Veil of Iconicity

This assumption is that pictures are “out there in the world,” not learned information, and thus not mental phenomena. McCloud shows this underlying belief by stating:

“Pictures are received information. We need no formal education to “get the message.” The message is instantaneous. Writing is perceived information. It takes time and specialized knowledge to decode the abstract symbols of language.” (p. 49)


This belief is formed because images are most often iconic, meaning that they derive their meaning through resemblance to what they reference. A picture of a person is known to refer to a person because we know what people look like in the world. Note, there are three parts to this equation: the picture of a person, people in the world, and the concept of people in our minds.

However, just because they look like what they mean, it doesn’t mean that pictures aren’t conceptual information. Through this resemblance, we forget that it actually requires a mind to understand these images, and thereby discount its contribution to understanding. Images just seem like what we experience in the world: we don’t seem to need any special understanding to know the world, so thus we don’t need special understanding to know images.

Upon closer reflection, this is somewhat of a ridiculous mistake. If I draw a picture, how can it not be connected to my mental understandings? It came out from my mind, why wouldn’t its reception need to go through my mind too!? I had to learn how to draw, doesn’t that mean I had to learn how to understand drawings too!?

Considerable studies have shown that the understanding of images is clearly not so transparent. Often, this is found in native communities like Australian or Amazon aborigines who couldn’t/can’t understand aspects of "Western” representation. In the past, this was haughtily used to justify their intelligence as "primitive" compared to Ameri-Europeans. Really, this is just a case of not having fluency in the conventionality of a graphic system (natives for the Western system(s), and Westerners for the native systems). Science is rife with these sorts of examples treating the world “objectively” while really being unable to see beyond the petri dish that oneself is standing in.

Because images look like what they represent, we gloss over the mental component for understanding them, and in turn is misplaced for sequential images. I’ll take this up in my next post.

Problems with Closure: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

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