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  • Marc Primo Warren


This is an article “These Art Pieces Say it Best Even Without Words” by Marc Primo Warren

Sometimes, art pieces that tell a clear narrative work better in appealing to our emotions than written content. The power of visual imagery ignites our imaginations and captures truths that many can relate to, serving as eye-openers and insights to what we might have previously missed. Whether it tells of a political statement, a way of life, or a simple yet unobserved truth, artworks with a narrative create a cultural structure that’s worth preserving for future generations to appreciate.

Throughout history, art has been comfortable to do away with words and rely on symbols, allegory, and abstract ideas to communicate important messages to audiences. 

Here are four examples of great art pieces that say it best without relying on words.

Nighthawks - Edward Hopper

One of the best artworks that came out in America at the height of World War II was Edward Hopper’s simple yet vibrant oil on canvass entitled Nighthawks. Still considered one of the most familiar American artworks, this poignant piece gives audiences a peek into the lives of urban New York City, in the Greenwich Village, as three late-night diners, a couple and a lone man, enjoy a nightcap with a bartender tending the street diner single-handedly.

One look at the painting and an instant sense of solitude quickly sinks in to meld with a seemingly ominous ambiance, portrayed by Hopper’s color palette. While it is not yet clear if the painting was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers or A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Hopper later shared that Nighthawks represents the dangers of coming across predatory elements lurking in the night.

Girl With Balloon - Banksy

Using nothing but black, red, and a city wall, street artist Banksy captivated the whole world in 2002 with his stencil mural Girl With Balloon plastered on the Waterloo Bridge and other areas in London. The graffiti showed a young girl standing stationary with a hand reaching out for a heart-shaped red balloon floating up into the air. The artwork’s design and message have been used and interpreted in various social campaigns particularly related to the 2005 West Bank barrier and the 2014 Syrian refugee crisis, and most recently the 2017 UK elections.

In late 2018, Banksy shocked art connoisseurs by taking full responsibility for shredding an original copy of the piece during a live auction after it sold for $1.4 million. Banksy then retitled the piece along with the whole stunt to Love Is In The Bin.

Shaun Tan - The Arrival

Tan’s comic book steers far from the conventional by adapting to the silent comics genre in The Arrival-- a collection of surrealist images that chronicles the journey of a man to a new land where he hopes to find a new and more prosperous life for his family.

One entry in The Arrival is entitled The Harbour, representing a busy port leading the harbor where people are aboard an arriving ship. The promise of a new city lies in the background as hopeful clouds hover above it, while two gigantic statues that represent a warm welcome (a migrant and a friendly local receiving him) await the migrants. All of the elements from the waiting crowd to the arriving ships give the audience the perception of opportunity through the hustle and bustle of a bigger city. It emanates great hope and skimming through the other entries of Tan’s masterpiece, truly, you’ll see how masterfully he painted a clear picture of a man’s innate character to strive for a better quality of life for his family.

Corporate Head - Terry Allen

In Los Angeles, California, this moving bronze sculpture appeals to the emotions of corporate America. The art piece depicts a man in a suit carrying a briefcase with his head buried into the outside walls of the Ernst & Young building, symbolizing man’s allegiance to the corporate structure by giving all of his thoughts and mentality for the best interest of the establishment’s profit.

Based on the complementing poetry from Philip Levine, Corporate Head also tells us of the ethics and values of corporate America during the Reagan-Bush administrations when most professionals were encouraged to “multiply, divide, and conquer” until they turn into “concrete” creating a social divide that is still very evident today.

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