Using an Emoji in a Caption of a Painting

I recently started to use an emoji of a book in the captions of my paintings for my art project at the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies at the University of Toronto, titled “Word and Image Relationships at the CRRS Library.”

Traditionally, we see images and captions as counterparts, where the image provides a certain view, and the caption provides information about this view or the artwork itself. If you look above, you see that the first line of the caption indicates the artist, the name of the artwork, its year of production, artistic technique, and current location. This is a conventional form of a caption. In principle, the role of the caption is to contextualize the image through minimal information; however, it can also be a space for creativity and play. Let’s answer two questions to better understand this possibility.  

What is the role of an emoji of a book in the caption above? First, as you can see, the emoji is of an open book; neither of a close one, nor of a pile of books. It is important because the painting is made on a printed scan of a double spread, on a “recorded glimpse” of an open book. Thus, the emoji shows the “canvas” of the painting, although in this project, I paint on double spreads that include at least one image, and in this emoji, there is only text.

Second, the emoji starts a new line in the caption. On its right, there is an entry of a bibliographical list, which we usually find at the end of a scholarly work. Here, we can interpret the emoji of the book as a visual affirmation that the bibliographical entry is indeed about a book, even if it is written in a caption of an image. By denoting both the physical base of the painting (a book), and the use of a specific book, the emoji raises the awareness of the choice to paint on books, on the one hand, and to paint on a particular book, on the other. Introspectively, it also points out the use of an emoji to do so.    

What is the effect of using an emoji in a caption of an image? In addition to the meanings the emoji may suggest, if it is colourful, for example, its presence seems to add “life” to the caption, just as colourful illustrations do in textbooks. This, in turn, increases the ability of the caption to pull the viewers’ attention toward itself. Does this affect the attraction of the image? Among other factors, it depends on the kind of emoji we use (book, heart, moon), and where we locate it in the caption (beginning, middle, end). To ensure that the emoji adds value to our work, we need to approach the latter holistically; to recognize that, beyond any categories, each of its elements is the preparation and the result of the other at the same time.

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