Interactions – The Bulletin of I.A.W.I.S. No. 12, April 1994


  • Articles
    • Leo H. Hoek: Image and Word : An Exciting Relationship …
    • Martin Heusser: Notes on Penmanship and Smileys


Leo H. Hoek

Image and Word : An Exciting Relationship …*


The study of word/image relationships is now more important than ever, since the twentieth century has seen a shift in cultural paradigms from a previously almost exclusively word-oriented culture to an image culture. The most widely-known milestones on this course are surrealism, image-oriented textual genres such as illustrated magazines, comics or ‘photo novels,’ the development photo-film-television-video-cdi, popular/trivial artforms such as graffiti, posters, advertisements, propaganda, and, connected to all this, the mass-production of consumer oriented art and the desacralisation of Art with a capital A.

We now live in an era which could be described in the history of culture as the word/image transition. This cultural reversal implies a change in the psycho-socially determined process of communication: changing patterns, attitudes, media, codes and participants result in a change in the production of meaning and reception. That is why the acquisition of scientifically sound knowledge of and insight into verbo-visual communicative processes in past and present is of the utmost importance.

The objective of word & image studies is the area of verbo-visual communicative processes which take place in the artistic or literary field, and it is this which distinguishes these studies from General and Specific (Dutch, French, German, English etc.) studies of Literature.


The distinction now customarily made between the study of literature and the study of art is the result of a cultural-historically defined development, marked by the theories of ‘ut pictura poesis’ since Antiquity, ‘paragone’ in the Renaissance (cf. Fallay d’Este ed. 1992), the development of a relative autonomy in the 17th and 18th centuries (for example the establishment of Academies, first of literature and later of Fine Arts), the 18th-century revolution (Lessing) from a common rhetorical paradigm for ‘word’ and ‘image’ to a separate but no less rival practice of art and literature (as in the French 19th-century ‘transpositions d’art’ from Aloysius Bertrand to Paul Verlaine, viaGautier and Baudelaire). The autonomy of scholarly disciplines which resulted from this separation of the ‘Sister Arts’ lasted up to our day, mainly as a result of the 19th and 20th-century practice of studying ‘word’ and ‘image’ separately. Insight into the current relationship of ‘word’ and ‘image’ in the practice of art and science demands insight into the historical development of this relationship. Therefore a curriculum should contain:

a) a survey of Western Art and Literature, including theory concerning their historiography (cf. Carrier 1991 and the works of Hayden White);

b) a survey of the ways in which ‘word’ and ‘image’ have been connected with each other in history, in different periods/schools/works (for example: Scott 1988, Gamboni 1989 for the 19th century in France) as well as in the criticism of art and literature (cf. Venturi 1969, Chipp 1968, Holt 1986, Brookner 1988, Taylor 1989, Barasch 1990, Barbillon ed. 1992, Hoek 1994b).


The theoretical basis of the distinction between ‘word’ and ‘image’ has been proven to be untenable in the 1970’s as a result of semiotic and reception-esthetical insights asserting that pragmatic factors (intertext and context) and institutional ones (current interpretations of literature) control the communication process: verbo-visual communication is determined to a large extent by the outlook of readers/spectators (patterns of expectation, attitudes in reading) and by the context (institutions, museums, collections, frame, title, etc.), and not only by writers and artists or their intentions.

Trans-medial, inter-medial, mixed-medial and multi-medial cultural discourses (cf. infra) from the past and the present, regulated by complex systems of signs, can be described and explained better and in a more satisfactory way by using semiotic and empirical instruments applicable to ‘word’ and ‘image.’ With the rise of semiotics it seemed initially possible to develop a meta-language which could ‘read’ (describe and interpret) all social and in particular cultural discursive activities (taken as signifying practices), irrespective of their degree of ‘literariness’ or ‘artisticity.’ However, in practice there is (still) no generally accepted semiotics of art and literature, nor is there agreement as to its aims and means. The notion has been accepted that ‘word’ and ‘image’ are not autonomous entities but discursive practices (in which the production of meaning as well as reception are determined by the functioning in society of a text) that can both be ‘read’ using codes from different systems of signs (cf. Bal 1989, Bal & Bryson 1991, Groupe Mu 1992, Sonesson 1989).

An important part of the curriculum must therefore be dedicated to theory in the study of literature and art, with special attention to multiform approaches of ‘word’- and ‘image’-interaction as in semiotics and the theory of reception (recent examples of surveys in the studies of literature and art: Fokkema & Ibsch 1992, Van Heusden & Jongeneel 1993, Halbertsma & Zijlmans 1993, Elias 1993).


Concepts like ‘word’ and ‘image’ are subject to change in time and should be interpreted as culturally determined constructs. For instance, the object of word & image studies, within a cultural-historical context, is partly determined by the nature and state of the scholarly disciplines concerned: changes in the definition of research cause a change in the objects of research.

The biographical and historical slant so typical of the humanities in the beginning of this century brought with it a large amount of attention to the relationship between the individual artist/writer and his work (sources, influences). This approach aimed at illuminating the creative genius of the artist or writer and the measure of originality of the work. Later there was more attention for the study of periods/movements/schools, but it was clear that these concepts too are highly ambiguous: there are many problems, including the determination of the canon, making explicit the standards by which a certain artist or work of art may be considered part of a movement/school, the elasticity of the concept of periods, the simultaneous existence of different genres, schools and audiences, etc. Nowadays there is a greater consensus that an object is considered a work of Art as a result of the attribution of value by institutionally selected and professionally qualified (ideologically) interested parties, such as critics, fellow craftsmen, journalists, TV-producers, juries, advisory committees, publishers, managers of museums, conservators, gallery owners, etc., who hold positions in the cultural field. According to this theory, the status of work of ‘Art’ or ‘Literature’ is assigned to certain categories of texts not because of their intrinsic qualities, but by groups of qualified consumers who take part in debates in the cultural field. The impact of notions of art and literature on the creation of an image by the participants in the cultural field and the institutional framing of these notions turn out to determine to a large extent the consecration of the cultural product (cf. Van Rees & Dorleijn 1993).

Reconstruction and classification of historical and contemporary notions of art and literature, as well as the institutional approach of the cultural field should be an important field of attention for word & image studies. This explains the importance of components like ‘the sociology of art and literature’ (as in the works of Bourdieu 1992, 1993) and ‘esthetics’ (the philosophy of art, cf. the works of Arthur Danto, Nelson Goodman, Morris Weitz, Monroe Beardley, George Dickie, etc.; cf. Lories ed. 1988, Genette ed. 1992, Schier 1986) in the curriculum of word & image studies.


Considering the changes that concepts like ‘Art’ and ‘Literature’ are subject to, it is important that the study of word/image relationships does not limit itself to canonized works of Art and Literature but also chooses as its object of study popular forms of art: advertisements, posters, logos (cf. Scott 1993), video, film & TV, comics (cf. Fresnault-Deruelle 1993), pop-art, stamps (cf. Hoek & Scott 1993) etc.

In this context it is important to note that a valuable complement to the theoretical study of word/image relationships would be achieved by the study in both theory and practice of audio-visual instruments.


The central object of Comparative Arts-studies – for practical reasons limited to word/image relationships – should be the study of the relationships between ‘word’ and ‘image’ in verbal and/or visual texts, which means their similarities as well as their differences. A verbo-visual relationship can manifest itself between two different works of art; in that case we speak of a trans-medial relationship: a work of art vis-à-vis the connected transposition or ekphrasis (Bildgedicht), criticism of art/essay/comment vis-à-vis the artist/movement/ work commented upon, ‘double-talent’ (cf. Kranz 1981/1987, Clüver 1989, Transpositions 1986, Krieger 1992, Beebe 1964, Laurich 1983). Such a relationship can also exist within one text; word-in-image, image-in-word, or forms of art such as posters, advertisements, stamps, etc. In this case we distinguish ‘multi-medial’ texts (emblemata, illustrated books), ‘mixed-medial’ texts (posters, advertisements, comics) from ‘inter-medial’ texts (visual poetry, calligraphy, typography). This distinction is based on the presence or absence of two characteristics: distinctiveness (which means that physical separation/isolation of signs from different sign-systems is possible) and individual coherence (autosufficiency of word- and image-elements)


multimedia mixed-media intermedia
distinctiveness + +
coherence +

The main objective in the curriculum is the acquisition of insight into the theory and practice of word/image relationships (cf. Caws 1989, Kibédi Varga 1989a, Lund 1992, Mitchell 1986, Steiner 1982 and 1988, Weisstein rev. 1992). The classification of these relationships is an appropriate means of gaining insight into these relationships(cf. Kibédi Varga 1989b, Clüver 1993, Hoek 1994c).


Within the framework of word & image studies, relationships between an individual work of art or artist and individual literary work or writer should not merely be seen as an historical (or non-historical) anecdote; their importance lies mainly in their description in terms of verbo-visual intertextuality and ‘re-writing’ (‘Tekstbearbeitung,’ inter-semiotic transposition: translation, adaptation, visual representation). In this way the importance of these relationships is lifted over that of the individual author and even over that of the individual work of art; the way in which, and the question why an artist/writer processes texts from a different medium (citation, parody, imitation), can illuminate more than just the individual work of that artist/writer, i.e. the way in which texts can function and acquire meaning in different media/genres/movements. It is therefore less important to note that Van Gogh liked to read French naturalist novels (Zola, Maupassant) than to examine how the French realist-naturalist notion of literature was extrapolated by Van Gogh to an already obsolete notion of art (the Hague School) but (thankfully) not to his (pre-expressionist) practice of art (cf. Hoek 1993).


More interesting than relationships between individual texts (‘object relationships’) are those between groups of texts in different media/forms of art (‘meta-relationships’) with as common denominator (cf. Clüver 1993):

– a genre, movement, school: literary versus pictorial impressionism;
– a theme, subject: verbal versus visual representation/description of a certain landscape, Faust in ‘word’ and ‘image,’ the French Revolution in texts (‘Déclaration des droits de l’homme,’ Hugo, Michelet) and in pictures (historical engravings, contemporary stamps);
– a notion or literature or art (cf. Hoek 1992);
compositional/syntactic structures: order of ‘reading’ in ‘word’ (articles in newspapers, mallarmean poetry) and ”image’ (posters, composition of history painting, still-lives, etc.);
verbo-visual functions: intentions and effects; education, instruction, propaganda, worship, etc.;
cultural origin: ‘primitive’ art in ‘word’ and ‘image’;
producer: the ‘double talent’;
consumer: drawings by children/children’s literature; production and reception in court culture, maecenas-ship, salons;
word-in-image: inscriptions, titles, signatures, verbal elements in pictures (cf. Woord en Beeld 1992, Brand red. 1991, Butor 1980);
image-in-word: the calligraphy of the Far East, the development of the alphabet from cuneiform script to phonetic-syllabic script, typography up to ‘desktop-publishing’), in short the consideration of writing as image (cf. Jean 1992, Christin ed. 1990, with subjects like “Les civilisations de l’écriture,” “Du manuscript à l’imprimé,” “L’écriture et l’image,” which includes the “Livre d’artiste” and illustration of books);
image-in-image as quotecopy or “mise en abyme” (cf. Genette 1992);
implicit or explicit intention: moral, propaganda, ideology, manipulation, feminism and gender-expression in ‘word’ and ‘image’ (cf. the works of Griselda Pollock, Whitney Chatwick, Mieke Bal, etc.).


Images often seem more transparent than words (pictograms), easier (browsing thru picture-books), more superficial (non-literate culture), unambiguous (photographs in passports), more direct and concise (‘one picture speaks volumes’). The question remains whether this is true. It is also doubtful whether pictures are so much more compact, rich, shocking or effective. The ‘word’ is not more objective, detached, than the ‘image,’ and neither is the image more objective and detached than the real world. ‘Word’ and ‘image’ do not compare like ‘ratio’ to ‘feeling.’ More relevant questions are for instance the questions Mieke Bal put during a panel discussion in 1993: “What does it mean to see images as text, and to focus on a specific element (rhetoric, narrativity, descriptivity, notions of art)?” and “What happens to text when you start considering it as an image?” For instance: 1) the ‘muteness’ in the book of Esther in relation to the representation of ‘blindness’ in the image by Rembrandt (cf. Bal 1990); 2) if you ‘see’ the ekphrastic poems of Marcel Proust, based on paintings by Albert Cuyp, Paulus Potter, Antonie van Dijck as ‘images of images,’ the outcome is that these paintings in the Louvre have the same function for Proust as the ‘madeleines’ have for the narrator in the Recherche: activating the ‘mémoire involontaire’ as a key to recovering Temps Perdu (cf. Hoek 1994a).


The hegemony of the ‘word’ is inescapable as long as non-verbal discourse is to be captured in verbal meta-language in the interest of discussion, analysis and interpretation. It is therefore of the utmost importance to distinguish verbal meta-language from verbal or visual subject-language. From the fact that natural language performs a double role (unlike the language of art) it should not be inferred a priori that the study of literary theory or history is more important than the theory and history of art. The mutual illumination of the ‘Sister Arts’ requires a complementary approach and not a new ‘paragone.’
[Translated by Marrije Schaake and Peter de Voogd]

Amsterdam, December 1993

[*] This is a slightly modified version of a paper written for the Department of Comparative Art Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

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Pierre Fresnault-Deruelle, 1993 L’Eloquence des images, Parijs: PUF.
Dario Gamboni, 1989 La Plume et le pinceau. Odilon Redon et la littérature, Parijs: Minuit.
Gérard Genette, 1992 “Le regard d’Olympia,” in: Mimesis et Semiosis. Littérature et représentation. Miscellanées offertes à Henri Mitterand, sous la direction de Philippe Hamon & Jean-Pierre Leduc-Adine, Parijs: Nathan, pp. 475-484.
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Martin Heusser

The Consummation of Penmanship: Georg Bocskay and Joris Hofnagel’s Mira calligraphiae monumenta

Written 1561-62 for the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand I by Georg Bocskay and illustrated with miniatures some thirty years later by Joris Hofnagel, this dazzlingly beautiful calligraphic manuscript was lost until the 19th century. After appearing in a private collection in 1887, it changed ownership several times and was finally bought by the Paul Getty Museum in 1986. In 1992, the Mira calligraphiae monumenta were published as a facsimile reprint by the J. Paul Getty Museum.

As Lee Hendrix states in his introduction to the monumenta, the art of Western illuminated manuscripts is based largely on the dynamic relationship between word and image. Manuscripts – more than typeset writing which superseded them after the invention of the printing press – possessed a very strong visual element. Particularly in calligraphy, writing retained this predominantly pictorial dimension. From the point of view of materials, the frequently used gold and silver imparted not only a splendor and intensity of color to the writing, they also provided a haptic experience. The calligraphers’ letters were not only less uniform than those used by the typesetters, they also allowed for much greater creative freedom, often blurring the line between word and picture. Flourishes, squiggles, twirls and curlicues reached out over the lines, over the word-boundaries, into the margins or into the space between paragraphs, turning simple words into the most artful patterns or aesthetic playgrounds for the eye.

Of particular interest are the first 129 folios of the monumenta, which form a thoughtful and astute visual discourse on the word/image relationship by two of the most talented artists of their time. On these pages, the splendor of the written word and the striking realism of the illustrations try to outdo each other: the addition of Hofnagel’s illustrations turned the monumenta into a regular paragone.

Bibliography: Bocskay, Georg. Mira calligraphiae monumenta : a sixteenth-century calligraphic manuscript inscribed by Georg Bocskay and illuminated by Joris Hofnagel. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1992.

Painting with Punctuation: “Smileys” in Electronic Mail

Somewhat more on the light side – really little more than a curiosity – is a recent verbal/visual creation of the electronic age. The exchange of electronic mail, or e-mail, takes place in a visually well-determined environment leaving little or no room for non-verbal expression: that of a computer screen filled with letters, characters and punctuation marks. Pictures cannot usually be represented that way – unless one uses the characters themselves for drawing.

One rather ingenious method of overcoming the word/image barrier is the emoticon or smiley, as it is more commonly referred to. In its simplest form, a smiley consists of a colon, followed by a hyphen and a closing parenthesis, without any blank spaces in between. The combination of these three punctuation marks forms a smiling face, lying on its right side:


:-)This Ur-smiley represents a considerable enlargement of the traditional means of electronic communication, because it allows its user to introduce into his or her conversation non-verbal forms of communication generally reserved to facial expression: innuendo, irony, sarcasm, humor. In addition to the basic smiley, a great and ever-increasing number of variations appears on electronic networks, ranging from the winking happy smiley


,-)to the skeptical smiley


:-/or the crying smiley


;-(Many smileys, like the basic ones we have just seen, are easy to understand. Quite a few others are rather more arcane, forming an idiom known only to the initi-ated and requiring greater familiarity with the new arenas of information exchange such as the internet. Both, the adept, as well as the casual user, will find a thorough introduction to the world of smileys in Seth Godin’s delightful compilation, The Smiley Dictionary, published by Peachpit Press (Berkeley) in 1993.

The “Noah Webster” of Smileys – listing no fewer than 650 smileys – is David W. Sanderson’s Smileys (Text by Dale Dougherty) from Reilly & Associates, Inc. (Sebastopol, California).