Multifarious: The Sound of Weeping — How Visual Art Communicates

digital comics museum. Baffling mysteries 005

The Sound of Weeping

Art is often thought about in very different terms to other sorts of communication, which is a loss. For example, even in comics criticism, people (us, others) often forget to directly mention the images which make up the telling of the story. The art will have had an impact on the atmosphere and the character interactions, etc, and we’ll mention what we understand about the scene but forget to actively notice that the art is doing this, actually doing this, with line weight, shadow, colour, composition, etc — in more ways than just “the man points at the shark, telling us that he is pointing it out to the passengers.”

We’ll be able to write that a scene feels tense or an alley looks quiet, but we aren’t necessarily prepared to disengage from the art enough that we can notice and verbalise WHY and HOW.

An extremely important thing is to remember that all art has been done. A human, exactly like you, has stuck colours and shapes together to trick themselves and others into thinking that they’re looking at people, objects, happenings. All art is just somebody trying to tell you things. ceci n'est pas une pipe Ceci nest pas une pipe. This is a sentence visible in the painting La Trahison des Images, or in English, The Treachery of Images. Rene Magritte, aged thirty, painted this painting (above). Why? Ceci nest pas une pipe means “this isn’t a pipe.”

It’s a statement that’s true and not true, both at the same time. It’s obviously a painting of a pipe; “what’s that?” you say, and hold it up, and your pal says “a pipe” and you’re like “yup.” But it’s a painting of a pipe: not a literal pipe. It is a representation of a pipe.

It’s ~not une pipe, it’s a piece of art. You couldn’t put tobacco in the bowl, light it, and smoke it, because what we’re looking at is just paint (in fact what you and I are looking at is just pixels — ceci nest pas une Magritte). Magritte’s work is saying hey, hey, remember: I’m not recreating. I’m creating. This art that I have worked on is not secondary to whatever dimensional object it appears to resemble

Questions: Did Magritte paint La Trahison des Images looking at a pipe? How does a viewer recognise it as “being a pipe?” Did he paint what he remembered a pipe must generally look like? Is it “not” a particular pipe, or is it “not all pipes?”

Moving on to atmospheric representation: Picasso’s Weeping Woman is obviously not a straight-up representation of a woman who is weeping. People aren’t green and all smashed up. Why paint it this way?

Weeping Woman 1937 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973 It’s easy to think that this is a confusing picture; that Picasso chose a very strange or outlandish style. It seems obtuse and aggressive, and many viewers will shrug off the possibility of understanding these choices. It’s easy to think of Picasso as, you know. Sort of (say it hushed) pretentious.

Compare it to film and things become much more commonplace. Can you think of a film in which the director chooses to represent emotional beats by muddying the colours, using choppy cuts, unsteady movements, or any number of otherwise “patchwork” visuals? This happens in television regularly too — probably any given procedural will have at least one “drugged person running from a murderer” montage per season (for a similar example, see the Criminal Minds promo below).

A film I’ve referred to before on this site is 2009’s Beck. The singing voice of main character Koyuki is never heard; the director chose to remove vocal sound from these portions of film, and substitute montages of sunsets and seascapes to illustrate that his voice is divine on the level of untouchable natural wonders. If it’s easy to understand why a filmmaker would make that decision, why is it harder to think that way about art? You can decide that it’s not. Questions: How does Weeping Woman express the sound of weeping? Could you make some suggestions just by looking at a jpg of the painting? Have a go. If you can visit the picture, look the texture of the paint, or how much evidence you can see of Picasso’s brushstrokes. How is Koyuki’s heavenly voice represented in Beck‘s source manga? How does a line-based, mostly black and white sequential layout express blissful sound? Beck? — Claire

Links, Links, Links!

Sarah McIntyre weighs up the pros and cons of a new “adult cover” for a re-release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Her fourth point segueing into her fifth suddenly made me appreciate that adult-cover editions of really good books might actually be a good idea — maybe a cover that says something uncomfortable, with nuance and/or aggressive reinterpretation, is a reminder of how much a children’s book can actually say. — Claire

Was graffiti the “great art of the New York subway” as Norman Mailer called it, or pernicious vandalism? Chris Summers reflects on the golden age of subway graffiti in New York, forty years later. If you’re asking me? Art. Spontaneous, democratic, fleeting — what’s hanging in galleries and museums is a relic, a memory of an already spent moment. — Megan

California photographer Gregg Segel is taking pictures of people lying in the garbage they generate in one week. Kind of gross, you know, but aren’t you a little bit interested? There are bits of half-eaten food and stained containers, and the amount of waste is jarring, of course — that’s the point — but I’m struck by the intimacy of the photographs, especially of families. Some subjects seem uncomfortable, others serene. — Megan

Aaaand finally, it’s a junk turtle, by Ono Gaf.  (Who needs ninjas?) Junk Turtle! by Ono Gaf

Series Navigation<< Multifarious: Why The Wicked + The Divine Doesn’t Deserve its Own Movie. ASAP or Otherwise.Multifarious: How to Comic >>
Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at and give me lots of money