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The power of image

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday’s Viewpoint provided a fascinating juxtaposition. “Exhibit indeed.” (Sept.8) asked the Snite to stop exploiting powerful imagery for entertainment, whereas “Fanatacism over IKEA font change” accused those protesting a change in IKEA’s catalog font as frivolous and misguided. I encourage you to judge both on their own merit.

However, I would like to point out that these articles, though seemingly unrelated (and certainly of different gravity), are part of a much larger discussion over the power of the image in our increasingly visual society.

More than any generation before us, we are constant consumers of image. We absorb thousands of advertisements, images, words and by extension thoughts every day when we open our laptops, turn on the TV or even just drive down the street. In this environment of overwhelming imagery density, design and art become very powerful as a means of distilling this massive cloud to its bare essentials. Photography, particularly photojournalism, graphic design, logos (and even, yes, a catalog font choice) are becoming increasingly powerful in shaping how we perceive groups of people, companies and brands, and even political candidates.

It would be a hard case to claim that Barack Obama won the election thanks to his marvelous use of the Gotham typeface, but his campaign’s tight and consistent control over image and brand certainly helped build a sense of what it meant to be an Obama supporter. This is an immense power, and bears the weight of a great responsibility.

As I said, I encourage you to see “Thin” if you haven’t and judge for yourself. If nothing else, I guarantee that the experience will be an education in the power of art and image, as well as a troubling exploration of the moral responsibility which that power bears.

While I would never claim that IKEA faces a decision of similar moral importance when they choose how to use their own image, I would encourage a careful reader not to dismiss such debates as frivolous out of hand.

Joe McLean


off campus

Sept. 8