Sunday, November 26, 2006

Write good? AKMA on writing with pictures ::

AKMA's post Very Good and Write rightly focuses on focus, but (to my mind at least) carries good advice too far.

First the good advice, which I'm summarise as cave canem! Beware of the (shaggy) dogs. Everyone must agree that "just putting something out there doesn’t imply that it will contribute to getting a message across". Focus on the message to be communicated is indeed vital. When crafting words, I know I should follow his advice "don’t confuse and distract your readers with pointless, vague, superfluities" more than I do. (I am addicted to digression.) Indeed these wise words from a preacher (from the start of the following footnote) might beneficially be engraved on every screen:
We should, however, assess such indulgences with a pretty rigorous criterion of whether they contribute to communicating the greater message. (I’m looking at you, preachers who include irrelevant shaggy dog stories in your sermons.)
Yet, AKMA is not primarily writing about writing, or about speaking, rather the focus of his post is the use, in writing, of images. With this focus, I find myself less agreeable to the direction of AKMA's advice:
If what you write, or if the images you use for graphical communication, do not contribute to expressing clearly and precisely the message you’re hoping to convey — then don’t confuse and distract your readers with pointless, vague, superfluities.
What he says is true, but a partial truth. And partial truth is more dangerous, or in this case more stifling than arrant fiction. Certainly, images should not be added willy nilly, nor be pointless or superfluous. And yet the tenor of the advice is to resist strenuously the visual equivalent of a digression, to focus on images whose communication coordinates closely with the words'. How much depth and richness is lost when this advice is followed!

An image which "connects" to the text, yet connects obliquely, can so often encourage the reader (and all readers need such additional courage) to create new and added meaning of their own. While narrow and tightly controlled focus seeks to constrain readers to paths prepared in advance by the authoritative author!

So, for example, in my notes on the Genesis class' session on "Abraham's children (16 & 21)" I included in the sidebar images and text of Ishmael (see below) found from a Google search on the name. What exactly a reader makes of the implied connection between these modern Ishmaels and their ancient namesake I do not know, cannot know, but I suspect that their reading is richer for the side trip.

This Ishmael was (I believe) Technical Assistant in the Journalism Dept at Technikon Pretoria
I suspect there is a personality difference here, Barbara (and some of my colleagues) like (I suspect AKMA) prefer more ordered and orderly communication. They may be infuriated by my Ishmaelite style, but others (like me) delight in such invitations to imaginative play.


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