Does A Picture Paint A 1,000 Words?

Zouch, November 19, 2013.

If you’re not in the mood to know the news of the day, do pay a visit to the “Icons Times.” It’s a “newspaper” in the form of, well, colorful icons.  In its archives, you’ll find an image of a sexy, stiletto pump, with a knife point sticking out of the welt of the shoe.

The graphic of “Icon Times.”

The accompanying headline, taken from The New York Times, reads: “First Woman is Chosen to Lead the Secret Service.”

James Bond buffs will instantly recognize the inspiration behind it.

It comes from a character in “From Russian with Love” (1963): colonel Rosa Klebb, a high-ranking member of the dreaded Russian counter-intelligence agency, SMERSH, who wears a flat-soled leather moccasin that carries a retractable blade.

To the rest of us, it probably will mean not a smidgen more than that which is obvious.

Pictorial depiction of media stories has no future. Pictorial communication, however, using “emoji,” is another story, altogether.

If you’re not a digerati, or are of a certain vintage, or not an iPhone owner, you’re not likely to have even heard the word—but it’s fast evolving into a lingua franca of the Millennials.

A peanut-size ideogram, it’s a tech-version of a pictogram, made of codes that serves as a proxy for an emotion, a gesture, or an object (both animate and inanimate).

It’s easy to confuse an emoji with an “emoticon,” which is a far less complex symbol, used only to convey a mood and created only using punctuation marks, numbers, and letters.

Wait. The language, though only in its infancy, has already produced a masterpiece. Fred Benenson’s “Emoji Dick” is an epic translation of Herman Melville’s classic, “Moby Dick,” into emoji.

Not to be frowned upon, it’s now been inducted into the Library of Congress’ catalog. A crowdsourced project, funded by Kickstarter, it was the work of a battalion of 800 Amazon Mechanical Turks.

Emoji is as Japanese as sushi and ramen and Toyota are.

Around the turn of the 20th century, in Japan, e-mail exchanges were gaining momentum and the pager rage was picking up. One of the pitfalls of connecting facelessly, it was realized, was that it was seldom easy to gauge the tone of a message.

When a sender shot off a note, was he or she intending to be flippant, flirty, ferocious, fiery, or finicky? The emoji supplied what was missing from it—feelings, tone of voice, body language. They made chats and texts rather sentient.

There are as many emoji today, as there are squares in a box of Chex cereal.

There are visages, frozen in myriads of expressions to creatures from the animal kingdom to flora to machines to food to faces of clocks to zodiac signs to weather phenomena: panda, rooster, penguin, hibiscus, megaphone, hour-glass, fax, kimono, lipstick, sushi, hamburger, donut, ramen, barber, trolleybus, toilet, tent, house, alien, you name it.

Emoji One
A sentence, written using an emoji.

If stylish typography can be art, then, surely, emoji, which are, after all, wee pictures, can be the building blocks of bigger pictures. This is the logic propelling this newest of art forms.

A concept design for “The New Yorker” by Fred Benenson.

As part of its annual contest, earlier this year, when The New Yorker sought reader submissions for the cover design of its anniversary issue, featuring its mascot, the dandy, Eustace Tilley, Benenson decided to send his, painted with his medium. Born was a winner: “Mr. Eustace Emoji.”

To bestow legitimacy to the fad, if it is that, Forced Meme Productions, a Brooklyn-based creative collective, is hosting the first-ever emoji art exhibition, which will run at the New York City Eyebeam Art and Technology Center from December 12th to 14th.

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