Pictures don’t always communicate clearly

Weltchronik Fulda Aa88 016r detailYou may have heard the saying; “a picture paints a thousand words”

I don’t know how well that translates into other languages but the idea is that pictures can communicate a lot of information clearly and quickly.

Used effectively pictures are incredibly helpful. Unfortunately, pictures can also miscommunicate.

In “Two monks illustrate the Old Testement”  blogger Mallory Ortberg takes a fun look at the works of 13th century illustrator Rudolf von Ems, and imagines conversation between two monks:

MONK #2: remember, the Tower of Babel is a sign of man’s deadly hubris and overweening pride
they tried to reach Heaven itself
so don’t hold back
make it at least one and one half stories high
MONK #1: gotcha

Ortberg’s humour may, or may not, connect with all readers of this blog.

Some may prefer more modern styles of illustration such as Bible for Minecragtersin The Unofficial Bible for Minecrafters (click the link or cover for a preview on Amazon or watch the movie below). I’m not sure what future generations will make of it but right now Minecraft is still a top seller in many countries.

Games designers are waking up to the need to adapt to different ‘markets’ and are often going beyond translating the text and replacing the term ‘localisation’ with ‘culturalisation’.

While there is always room to go further, some within the missions community are already recognising the need for culturalisation. eg the Story of Jesus booklet is based on the Action Bible. Publishers David C Cook state:SoJapp

“The Gospel message is told differently in every nation. If you need and want our assistance, we can help create a customized The Story of Jesus Christ booklet for your use in your country. Just tell us which images and text from our 744-page Action Bible will best communicate the Gospel in your unique culture, and we’ll help produce a new booklet version for your free distribution!” –

In partnership with Youth for Christ International the booklet is also available as an app in 49 languages

Meanwhile, on,  Michelle Petersen explains some of the challenges of Avoiding Visual Miscommunication: Choosing Illustrations for Translated Scripture . For anyone thinking more deeply about the use of images in cross cultural communication it’s well worth a read. You might even learn what this picture so clearly illustrates to the intended audience…
Arranta illustration


2 thoughts on “Pictures don’t always communicate clearly

  1. My favorite Francis Schaeffer quote: “Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.”

    In this case, we have to consider the “thought-forms” or maybe a better word is “worldview” of our audience. My favorite image that gets completely misunderstood by my oral tradition friends can be viewed here:
    Notice the huge feet, the tiny boat, and the extremely large fish…some realistic looking and some that look like stick-fish.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s