On My Mind: Visual versus Textual

On My Mind - Visual Versus Textual

Some people know from early age that they want to be a writer. I didn’t. I loved reading, I loved the stories, but I never thought about becoming a writer, mainly because I wanted to be a teacher. All through my childhood my parents had always encouraged me to participate in all kinds of arts and crafts, so I had enough creative outlets, but if the idea of becoming a writer never came to me as a child, when did it happen?

Let’s go back a few years to when I was fourteen (ok, fine, more than a decade ago, one and a half), I liked both drawing and writing, though my skills were basic. My free time became more limited due to school, sports activities, musical education, and a social life. All these stories were breeding in my mind and I needed a creative outlet for it. Music wasn’t my way to express them, so it would be either pen or pencil. It was a hard pick.

Juvenile Creations

My younger sister was always drawing, for as long as I can remember (check out her Instagram for doodles, 3D Art, and photos). I saw her progress and knew that I could improve as well as long as I put in the hours. My father also had (and still has) some serious artistic skills- the houses and gardens he drew were always beautiful. In the meantime, I had won a painting competition, received compliments for some pieces that I allowed others to see, so I clearly wasn’t terrible.

I was also an avid reader. I devoured books like Harry Potter and Darren Shan. Reading those books conjured images in my head like a movie, and I loved that experience. The magic to transform words into pictures was something that fascinated me. I wondered if I could do that and I started writing. Most of my stories then were very juvenile and focused on things that trouble a teenager in high school. First loves, friendship, frenemies, academic achievement, parents, growing up. I had already graduated from princesses and knights in shining armour, but the good and the evil were still clearly separated.

That changed when I started reading more adult fiction like Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. They showed me there’s gray between the black and the white side. The heroic stories were soon replaced by flawed characters and anti-heroes, villains I felt sorry for. Death, the plots became darker, and mystery was introduced. Love wasn’t an all-conquering force anymore, but a source of obsession, jealousy and hate.

That’s when I started to think about pictures versus text. A picture could tell you a thousand words. Words can show every reader a different picture. Were the thousands words of a picture enough to tell my story? How many pictures would I have to draw before telling my whole story? Would it be possible to write a story well enough to implant the same picture into my readers’ minds?

In the end, it was Neil Gaiman who inspired me to focus on writing. After reading Good Omens I wanted to read everything he had written. His style, his ability to play with words, it inspired me to find my own words for the stories in my head and I started writing more instead of drawing.

Drawing versus Writing

There’s something I noticed between all the artists and writers that I follow on my social media: artists use streams to gain more attention, while writer give out samples of their work. Youtube, Twitch, Patreon, Wattpad, DeviantArt, personal websites: the options for exposure are near endless on the internet today. While you could say it’s the same (an unfinished drawing is a work in progress and can be considered a sample) for the creator, it’s different for the consumer.

From a consumer perspective (the person looking at the drawing or the reader of the book), looking at a (finished) picture will only take a couple of seconds. The mind will decide if the visual is aesthetically pleasing and they will either linger (possibly converting into a sale) or move on. Samples of your art or novel will help the consumer to make up their mind if they want to make that purchase.

The biggest difference is that a consumer is able to ‘consume’ the whole art product without purchase and they can’t do that with a book (legally). A reader will have to commit to a purchase before they can ‘consume’ the whole book. Only when they have finished a book, they can say if they truly liked or disliked it.

(I’m not a fan of the ‘Do Not Finish’ culture if you’re reading a bad book, but then I’m someone who takes the bad reading experience as a chance to learn as a writer.)

For an artist this might be a downside since fewer people will buy their art, but the ones who do will want to support the artist and are more likely to help through word of mouth advertising. On the other side, readers might feel they didn’t get their worth if the book fails to meet their expectations and do things like leave negative reviews which could hurt sales. I believe it’s a challenge for an artist to sell their work to a larger initial audience while a writer’s challenge is to find the right audience who might purchase faster.

There is no ‘right’ choice when we’re talking about art versus written word, especially from a creator’s perspective. We all have our talents, passions, and motivation to work hard for our craft. But both come with their own challenges.



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In art there is no shortcut to success or money. Hard work, constant learning, and new experiences will help you reach your goals.” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]

Visual Culture or Textual Culture

We, as creators of any kind, have to fight for the time of the consumer. With all the impulses from the internet, consoles, mobile phones, television, you have to be at your best if you want to get their attention and hold it long enough to convince them you are worth their time. This doesn’t stop with other creators in the same occupation (writers, visual artists, game developers), we’re all fighting for the same amount of hours a consumer can spend on entertainment.

Over the last few centuries, our culture has shifted from a textual culture with the invention of things like the printing press to a visual culture with the advent of television and eventually the internet.The early stages of the web were mostly textual as our internet lines weren’t good enough to transfer large sets of pictures. That has changed, as has other technology. YouTube and Twitch are now popular enough that people can earn millions a year by creating videos, and if you want to catch attention on the social media, posting images is the way to go.

At the same time Wikipedia is still predominantly text, blogs are on the rise and fanfics are more popular than ever before. We still use text to chat even when VOIP options are so common now. Discord allows us to use both at our convenience, perfect. Self publishing has allowed millions of writers to publish their work, and more and more people are buying these books.

It’s hard for me to say if the world as it is now has a visual or a textual culture. When looking at the entertainment section I’d say that the visual is dominant, but the information side is still textual. It wouldn’t surprise me if soon we’ll be going into an oral culture, where chat will be predominantly via VOIP, audiobook sales overcome ebook sales, and podcasts are more popular than video streams. Have you ever caught yourself listening to a movie while doing something else?

Let’s not try to predict the future, but focus on what we can do now. As creators we have to find our audience, the right audience, who are willing to purchase our products. What are the challenges you face looking for an audience, and what do you currently do to find/keep in touch with them?

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