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Art Through Time: A Global View

Writing Compare: What Is the Relationship Between Word and Image?

Stela of Mentuwoser

Stela of Mentuwoser
Artist / Origin: Egyptian artist, Abydos possibly, Northern Upper Egypt
Region: Africa
Date: Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1954 BCE
Period: 3000 BCE – 500 BCE
Material: Painted limestone
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: 41 1/16 in. (104.3 cm.), W: 19 9/16 in. (49.7 cm.)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Edward S. Harkness/Photo by Max Yawney

Bamboo in the Wind

Bamboo in the Wind
Artist / Origin: Wu Zhen (Chinese, 1280–1354)
Region: East Asia
Date: Yuan Dynasty, 1350
Period: 1000 CE – 1400 CE
Material: Ink on paper
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 8 ft. 2 2/5 in. (250.4 cm.), W: 21 1/3 in. (54.1 cm.)
Location: Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Credit: Courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

What is the relationship between word and image?

Both Chinese and ancient Egyptian writing systems were based on visual signs. What’s more, in both traditions, images were almost always accompanied by text of some sort. These two objects demonstrate the rich dialogue that can occur between visual and textual elements placed in proximity.

Questions to Consider

  • Given that both Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters are based on images, how do we distinguish what is text and what is “art” in each of these pieces? What makes a pictograph different from a picture?
  • Compare the relationship between words and pictures in each of these pieces. Do you think the meaning of each is dependent on the other? Why or why not?
  • One of these pieces includes writing that memorializes an individual. The other includes a poem. Is your opinion of each as “art” affected by knowledge of context? Do you think artistry is inherently linked to context when it comes to writing?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2