08 November 2006
Colin Wood, Design Graphics
Colin Wood, Design Graphics

There are countless myths and legends concerned with the search for meaning. And if the journey falls a little short of expectations, and no meaning is apparent, then we seem to be content to settle for relevance. If that fails to materialise, then just being there may be as much comfort as we can muster.

"This just isn't good enough", I hear you say. Quite right too. Conveniently, such stories don't promise anything, so not delivering is not a breach of contract. The search, which was often on horseback and the medieval equivalent of a car chase, was endless. In a world when people wrote letters while travelling the world by sailing ship and expected replies, the pace of life must have been slower than we can imagine.

In most people's life-long experience, churches would have been the main repository of images; books and art galleries came later. Meaning and relevance came from the spoken word. Even songs were handed down by memory.

All of this enabled a world in which those who could use words had power over lesser mortals. Those images that did exist were exceedingly powerful and it was commonplace to spend an inordinate amount of time creating them.

Indeed, cathedrals (those great icons of religion) sometimes took centuries to complete and it is clear that such a project could suppress the desire for instant gratification. Well, I suppose that was obtained elsewhere.

And so, as usual, we wanted more.

It is probably only those with money (and therefore, the potential for leisure) who could indulge in experience as opposed to simply staying alive. These privileged classes did indulge in visual pleasures and used pictures to represent the world around them as they would wish it to be. The meaning was imposed; the relevance was borderline.

I imagine that years and even days appeared much longer then than they do today, for there must have been many times when nothing much seemed to happen. Patience was indeed a virtue, and without it one would have gone mad with frustration.

Today's cornucopia of experience is filled with images from morning to night. Pictures glide past us with and without comment. Some have their own language. Some make subtle identification (hey, that's me!). Pictures entice, intrigue, record, portray, inform, mislead and lie.

While medieval painters and stained glass artisans worried about details, sometimes we carelessly toss them around regardless of the consequences.

We are blamed for their misuse, argue about their right to exist, take legal action on their ownership and steal them.

As if there weren't enough of them to go round. Then we are encouraged to think that anyone can make fabulous pictures. It's easy! Just buy this first. Pictures move, they stay still, they persist, they flash into our consciousness, they tire us out.

They are here, there and everywhere all at once and we scarcely have time to consider their meaning.

Back before many of our readers can remember, the video clip was invented. Its arrival signalled the departure of relevance. Some pictures would have relevance if only we would keep the elements separate. Together they can mulch whatever emotional links they had to a pulp.

Of course, this is not always the case, and we can still wonder at the skill of the class act communicator. Out of all the clutter and din, quality still rises to the surface. After all, one thing we all learn is that this picture stuff is a bit trickier than it looks at first sight. Thank goodness. Otherwise we would never get a gig.

About this article

The above article is reprinted from Design Graphics 60 (July 2000), with permission.

About Colin Wood
Colin Wood founded Design World magazine in 1983 and it became one of the world's largest selling generalist design magazines. He published it for 12 years in all. From 1990 to 1993 he published a large format generalist magazine for Australia (only) entitled Design Ink. In 1993 this was relaunched internationally as Design Graphics. He also publishes the annual Art & Design Education Resource Guide for Australia and New Zealand, now in its 17th year. Next year sees the publication of the second Oz Graphix, an annual showcase of the best graphic design from top Australian studios.

About Design Graphics
Design Graphics is a magazine devoted to all aspects of digital publishing. It covers a wide range of related subjects from high end printing, through new media all the way to the web. Each issue contains inspirational work by top professionals, tips and techniques in the Studio Skills articles, feature articles, technology updates, information on the latest hardware and software, reviews, hardware comparisons and much more! Design Graphics has a loyal and enthusiastic readership, most of whom are professionally engaged in design, communication, publishing or related activities.