Rarely do we see images without accompanying words, written or spoken. Images in books, newspapers, magazines, ads, television and the internet are often mediated by verbal language, that influences the way we see the images and think about them. In museums and galleries as well, the convention is to say something about the visual material and its maker through a label or a pair of earphones. There is a trend in museums to display artists’ quotes on the wall, that presumably reflect something important; this is in addition to elaborate verbal descriptions and explanations about the artists and their work.
Robert Mapplethorpe, Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurri, 1988
Pictures and posters that we put at home (including magnets on the fridge) are perhaps the most nonverbal images available. In many cases, they are not surrounded by words that cause us to reiterate a text that was already expressed, while we observe and absorb the images. On the other hand, sometimes the domestic visuals are there exactly for the stories they evoke. We remember how we got them; where we found, bought or printed them, and what they and their verbalization mean to us. This is what we tell others who visit our homes for real, or just in our imagination.
Leonardo da Vinci, The Female External Genitalia and Five Views of the Fetus in the Womb (detail), c. 1510-12. Windsor Castle
Mapplethorpe was my hero when I was a teenager; I had postcards with his photographs above my bed, where I used to lay down my head. Every time I went to sleep I saw those muscles, those boys, a woman, a smile. And this is, of course, Leonardo who is my number one. I printed it from the internet, on campus, and the frame is from a Salvation Army store. On that sheet, he claims that the fetus doesn’t have a voice, because this would entail respiration and consequently drowning. But today we know that the fetus does breathe or gets oxygen through the umbilical cord. And this is van Gogh, isn’t it lovely? Look how the woman hugs the man. I’m wondering what she’s telling him or he’s telling her. It’s the first page of a two-page letter van Gogh sent to his friend Émile Bernard who was a painter and writer. He sent it from Arles, in 1888.
Vincent van Gogh, Letter to Emile Bernard, 1888. Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York