Winter 2006

Swing to the right… creatively speaking [extract]

Left to Right/The Cultural Shift from Words to Pictures

By David Crow
Ava Publishing, £24.95

Many art and design educators look to the idea of the lateralisation of brain function (crudely put, that the left side of the brain engages in linguistic activity, science and so on, while the right side is mainly occupied with feelings, symbols and images) as offering some direct explanation for the way artists and designers think and work. In truth, such ideas are relatively insignificant. While they do have some foundation in neuropsychological studies, there is no such thing as a ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained person’ (unless they have had a sizeable lobotomy). Such ideas are more representative of an inclination in us all to reduce the complex issues of visual communication and expression to something familiar and easily understood. Yet, utilising the left / right brain idea to make the much broader argument that our society as a whole is shifting from a text- to an image-based culture is just what David Crow sets out to do.

Crow maintains that the advent of new medias, such as television, computer and the mobile phone, alongside the visual pictograms and symbols of pioneers such as Otto Neurath and C. K. Bliss, have initiated a major shift from text to image in mass communication. Crow’s study begins with an analysis of television’s early challenge to the authority of the word. His brief history outlines the impact television had on encouraging an associated growth of pictures in magazines and advertising. This makes for a promising start, with Crow offering a critical context that strives to chart the broader reception of television and its then perceived threat to literature. The historic control exerted by various authorities over the regulation and definition of written language provides one of the more interesting themes that permeates the whole book . . .