Tracing back the visual language of comics
UCSD Psychologist and comics enthusiast Neil Cohn believes cartoons have a sophisticated language all their own and a heritage that goes back to cave art.
The drive to tell stories with pictures certainly has deep roots. Stone age paintings in places such as the Chauvet cave in France seem to show scenes of galloping horses and pouncing lions, using techniques that would be familiar to graphic artists today. More advanced picture narratives appeared in works such as the Bayeux tapestry and Paupers’ Bibles. In some indigenous Australian cultures, sand drawings are used as a regular part of discourse; in fact, drawing is so entwined with speech in the language of these cultures that you can’t be considered fluent if you don’t know the appropriate pictures.
Cohn carefully dismantles the language of comics in his new book The Visual Language of Comics. He is passionate about the way his ideas about visual language could influence art education. He points out that children naturally absorb language through imitation and mimicry. But that’s not how we are taught art, where individuality is championed. “Our culture is suppressing the biological desires for imitation.” The result is that we never learn a fluent visual vocabulary, except a few simple symbols, such as stick men.
A better approach, he says, would be to tap into children’s innate language instinct by actively encouraging them to mimic others’ drawing. He speaks from experience: from the age of eight, he obsessively copied figures from Disney until he was fluent in every aspect of Mickey Mouse’s world. “I was obsessed,” he says. “By third grade I was teaching my class to draw them.”
Fascinating look at the possible cultural evolution of, and modern need for, a visual vocabulary.
This reminds me of a post from a long while back: France’s cave paintings may have been humanity’s first films!
This becomes infinitely more entertaining if you do what I did and turn each panel into the last part of a love song lyric:
"Girl, you make my heart go _______"
Source: Laughing Squid
As usual, the science of this orchid story is a little more complicated than made out (check out this post and the great comments to learn why). It’s just as likely that self-pollinating orchids spontaneously mutated and were able to migrate away from their bee lovers. Coevolution is a wondrous thing, but it’s also a bit of messy, and always rather mysterious.