Scott McCloud’s Triangle of Representation (Understanding Comics, 1993, 52) lends a non-linear sliding scale of representation that might be used to assign values to an image.
The Picture Plane (Abstract art)
Reality (Real life. Photographs. Cinema. Representational art)
Language (Logos. Text. Symbol. Icon)
Let’s take a page from Craig Thompson’s Blankets (2003, 14) (Image below).
On the picture plane there are a number of different elements we first take into account. These are the exaggerated proportions of the foreground figure (the father), powerful hands and dominant size dwarfing the background figure (the son). Although representational, these figures sit somewhere along the Triangle of Representation, perhaps close to the bottom though near the middle.
Then the monstrous images. These are closer to the picture plane, with distorted proportions, twisted limbs, and jagged patterns to indicate danger. Pronounced teeth, reptile eyes, dark nameless horrors. These are symbolic, signs to signify the fears of a child, a way to give the reader access to this immaterial truth. These are Forms made real.
Then, the use of language, written narration, giving the reader a sense of the space that, while more accurate to the reality we see, lacks the truth of a child’s imagined experience.
All of these elements working together assure us that what we see is not real, yet at the same time opens a doorway to this world of the imagination. A look into what a child fears, and what he will have to endure.
In this sense, is an image not more truthful than language can ever be? Although a sign of a sign of a sign, images have the ability to communicate with immediacy and without the need for learned translation of text. Images can lie, and yet, at the same time, they can tell truths with great accuracy and impact.