CALL FOR PAPER issue 07 - Wordless Images


"A picture is worth a thousand words."

The well-known adage that images are more effective than words in conveying a message is deeply rooted in history. In Treatise on Painting, Leonardo da Vinci stages a heated dispute between a poet and a painter, which ends with the statement of the absolute supremacy of the latter's art over the former's ("we will say that painting is worth more than poetry").
The autonomous character of artistic images remains universally shared, except for a few significant cases: suffice it to think of the complex relationship of mutual referentiality between word and image that constitutes René Magritte's work's distinctive feature. On the contrary, the vast sphere of "images that are not art" (Elkins, 2009) opens up a different field of exploration. It is necessary to appropriately evaluate the collaborative or, conversely, the exclusive role assumed by the two communication systems.
This dichotomy between words and images (Belardi & Menchetelli, 2006) determines the alternation of many theoretical positions: linguistic turn (Rorty, 1967), pictorial turn (Mitchell, 1992), iconic turn (Boehm, 1994), pan-linguistic intrusiveness (Anceschi, 1992) and the historical courses and recourses of iconoclastic phenomena (Pinotti & Somaini, 2016, pp. 240-243). The multiple contexts in which images dispense with words are relatively heterogeneous. However, they all share an expressive capacity that manifests itself through visual representations (interpretations) that are sometimes immediate, sometimes complex, but in any case, require or allow for reflective reading. But some territories of expression and communication remain reserved for one or another coding system.
Sometimes the reason for using a predominantly –if not exclusively–  visual language lies in the intention to overcome linguistic limitations: as an example, we need only think of the codification of the ISOTYPE system by Otto Neurath, Marie Reidemeister and Gerd Arntz in the context of the Gesellschafts-und Wirtschaftsmuseum (GeWiMu) in Wien, when a visual language based on the interaction between pictograms and accompanied by minimal textual labels –a language to which current pictographic systems are deeply indebted– achieves the goal of communicating in a non-expert context. We can found a similar purpose also in the areas of public communication related to social and health issues. Here, the visual language overcomes the incommunicability due to the lack of shared idiom, facilitating the relationship between doctor and patient or acting as an effective mediator between educator and pupil in case of learning or linguistic expression deficits.
In other situations, the deliberate use of wordless images links to an intention of communication immediacy or the performance of an informative task that minimizes verbal-visual interaction or even manages to break free from the verbal language altogether. Many infographics adhere to this criterion, sometimes because of the need for extreme synthesis and economy of signs, others because of the adoption of a communicative-narrative register, and still others to entrust the reader with the interpretation based on the comparison between configurations or graphic elements. In the same way, many riddles (a typical example of the synergy between images and words where the latter play a marginal complementary role) express themselves in the absence of letters: the solution lies in the visual comparison between two or more vignettes. In this context, some examples almost take on the value of lifestyle manuals, compendia for images that teach how to cook (Ferrara, 2019), carry out everyday tasks (Holmes, 2005), read epochal changes (Kolodny, 2015) or explore popular culture and wisdom (Civaschi & Milesi, 2012, 2014; Civaschi, 2015).
On other occasions, however, wordless images assume the role of a reflective device, and the interpretation of meanings is left to the observer, leaving open diversity of reading possibilities, as in the case of the ‘libri illeggibili’  conceived between the 1940s and the 1990s by Bruno Munari. His work becomes a reference also for the exploration of different modalities of verbal-visual interaction, such as the Supplemento al dizionario italiano (1963). In these examples, the observer becomes an active subject in the decoding and the interpreting, exploring and adding his meaning layer to the narration, such as in wordless graphic novels or silent books.
At other times, finally, wordless images are necessary because showing is often more immediate or more effective than verbally describing or because, as in assembly instructions, the operations to carry on depend on a visual relationship rather than a conceptual one.

Issue 07 of the img journal intends to collect case histories, critical studies, and iconographic-semiotic investigations that show the multiple communicative, expressive and reflexive possibilities that certain types of images possess in the absence of words.

A non-exhaustive list of possible topics is as follows.

  • Constructive, mechanical or architectural drawing
  • Infographics and DataViz
  • Technical and artistic illustration
  • Assembly manuals
  • Silent books
  • Documentary film and photograph
  • Alternative augmentative communication



Anceschi, G. (1992). L’oggetto della raffigurazione. Milano, IT: Etaslibri.
Belardi, P., & Menchetelli, V. (Eds.). (2006). Duetto. Disegnare per dire Scrivere per dire. Perugia, IT: Università degli Studi di Perugia.
Boehm, G. (1994). Die Wiederkehr der Bilder, in Boehm G. (Ed.). Was ist ein Bild? pp. 11-38. München, DE: Fink.
Civaschi, M., & Milesi, G. (2012). Shortology. Da Alien a Mark Zuckerberg, 101 ministorie per chi non ha tempo da perdere. Milano, IT: Rizzoli.
Civaschi, M., & Milesi, G. (2014). Filmology. Da Avatar a Via col vento, i capolavori del cinema per chi non ha tempo da perdere. Milano, IT: Rizzoli.
Civaschi, M. (2015). Proverbiology. I proverbi, i modi di dire italiani e non solo, per chi non ha tempo da perdere. Bologna, IT: Lupetti.
Elkins, J. (2009). La storia dell’arte e le immagini che arte non sono. In Pinotti, A., & Somaini, A. (Eds.). Teorie dell’immagine. Il dibattito contemporaneo (pp. 155-205). Milano, IT: Raffaello Cortina.
Ferrara, C. (2019, December). Manuali di cucina. Spazi narrativi e istruzioni per l’uso. Progettograficomagazine.
Holmes, N. (2005). Wordless Diagrams. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
Kolodny, O. (2015). Passato & Presente. Milano, IT: 5 Continents Editions.
Mitchell, W.J.T. (1992). The Pictorial Turn. Artforum, 30, 89-94.
Munari, B. (1963). Supplemento al dizionario italiano. Mantova, IT: Corraini.
Pinotti, A., & Somaini, A. (2016). Cultura visuale. Immagini, sguardi, media, dispositivi. Milano, IT: Einaudi.
Rorty, R.M. (Ed.). (1967). The Linguistic Turn. Essays in Philosophical Method. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


Key dates

Article submission: 30 June
Article acceptance: 31 July
Final article submission: 10 September
Publication: 31 October


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