Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 39 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Images in context


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 39 seconds

I have been thinking about this week’s #clmooc 5-image story. Feel free to ignore the text in italics, they’re tangential thoughts (the 5-image story idea is one I would love to try in my classes… And I have lots of images ti make stories with, but cannot share them as part of #clmooc because they include other people, so will try to dig up photos without ppl)

Anyway, was thinking that people often talk about images and music as if they are universal languages, when they really are not… Something that came up in the comments on Kim’s blog that I was just visiting. Can we tell stories with images without providing narrative contexts?

So here are a couple of stories (about images, not with images). When I was a teen, I had a black & white photo poster up on my wall with a man’s hand and a tiny baby’s hand inside it (i still love these kinds of images; couldn’t find a CC one to share now, though, and for some reason never took one of my husband’s hand and my daughter’s! The ones I took of my hand and hers aren’t as artistic as I would like).

Anyway, so a Christian friend of my mom’s walks into my room one day, sees that photo and says, “oh, it’s like God’s hand!”

God’s hand image From:

At the time, I had never seen this image/painting, but now I have, I can see where she is coming from. Except it makes no sense in a Muslim context, because even though the Quran mentions God’s (metaphorical) hand, Islamic art would never present God in an embodied manner. Generally, representing embodiments of even people/animals are not present in Islamic art (i don’t know the background of that, but I always assumed it was to avoid the idea of people worshipping statues/images as pagans historically used to). But the thing is, presenting God Himself (and i do wish there were a gender neutral way to reference God) in human form is a huuuuge no-no in Islam. So something like that might not go down too well…

Another interesting contextual thing that came to mind is a painting I once saw with friends. Of course, we generally don’t expect the message of art (esp. Abstract art) to have universal meaning. We know it is open to interpretation. So in this case we were all looking at an image, and we had two supposedly different interpretations, but that were similar in essence:
Hope (which turned out to be the title of the piece)
Doomsday (my interpretation)

Now here’s why they’re similar. The image had some abstract looking form of destruction, with a small white/blue ball like rising up in the midst of flames of orange and red. You can imagine the hope part.

The doomsday part, from my view, was about the Islamic belief that in the midst of all the destruction, “good” people would be safe. And so they’d have “hope” in the midst of all that.

Anyway, not sure where I am going with this… Except to say that I know media literacy is partly about how we interpret what we see, and so no one, I think, truly believes that all images have universal meaning, even though I made that claim earlier. What I really meant, maybe, is that we all consciously know that images make sense in context, but that in our casual exchanges sometimes pretend otherwise. Within particular contexts, some images might have widespread agreed-upon meanings related to their symbolism, etc…

But then the beauty of the clmooc make for the week is this: whoever posts 5 images to tell a story knows (almost with certainty) that others seeing those images are likely to “read” a different story into it. And that’s part of the fun, right?

Text isn’t really that different. Very often, I write poetry on my blog with double and triple meaning. My poem “open and shut” was about open access & OER, but also about certain people in my life who are “shut” in various ways. And even more direct text, written with the intent to pass on a message, will get interpreted differently based on our own lens of meaning-making. Check out this post by Scott Johnson about education, for example, and see what you read into it…


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