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The Power of Visual Storytelling

Ever heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words?

My guess is that you have. If you haven’t though, the phrase simply means images, visuals, and pictures can often tell more vivid and descriptive stories than a thousand words can do alone.

Let me give you an example.

This is a painting by Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera titled, Apollo and Marsyas.

But before I tell you the story behind this painting, I just want you to look at it for a second. Look at the pain on the man’s face near the bottom. Look at the expression of the man with the wreath and the pinkish cloth. Look at what is being depicted in this image. It is horrifying.

I remember as a child seeing this painting in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. Even before I understood what I was seeing, this painting terrified me.

Now, let me tell you the story of Apollo and Marsyas.

Apollo and Marsyas

According to legend, one day a man named Marsyas challenged the mighty god of music, Apollo, to a musical contest. Marsyas had often boasted of his incredible skill on the aulos (a double-reed flute) but in his pride, he believed that he had more musical talent than even Apollo.

In the contest, Apollo played his instrument (a stringed cithara) first, followed by Marsyas who played the aulos. It was a close call, but the judges deemed Marsyas the victor of the first round. In the next round, however, Apollo accompanied his music with a lyrical song. His voice was so beautiful that Marsyas didn’t even stand a chance.

Because of his unmatched skill in the second round, Apollo won the competition and claimed the prize of the victor: the freedom to do whatever he wished with the loser.

Apollo chose to punish Marsyas for his crime by tying him to a tree and skinning him alive, perhaps to make a wine flask out of Marsyas’ skin.

The end.

The story of Marsyas and Apollo is disturbing, to say the least, but it is the painting that makes the story come to life. The painting brings out the visual pain and destruction that Marsyas received. It brings out the indifferences that Apollo feels while torturing Marsyas. It brings out terror, vulnerability, power, and the consequences of hubris.

And it highlighted all these emotions within this graphic scene without using a single word.

This is the power of visual storytelling.

How I Used This In My Project

The biggest superpower of visual storytelling is showing without telling.

In the painting by Jusepe de Ribera, de Ribera shows the pain and indifference of Marsyas and Apollo respectively.

In my marketing video project for the Houston Zoo, that is what I did as well. And while, unlike in paintings, my video is a combination of visual and verbal storytelling, showing and not telling still plays a role.

One example in which I would use videography to show and not tell is when communicating some of the zoo’s values.

Which do you think is more descriptive?

An image that says ‘The Houston Zoo is family-friendly,’ or the picture below.

It would be hard to argue that any written text could be more engaging, descriptive, or compelling as the picture of a mother helping her young daughter push a stroller much too big for her.

The former tells. The latter shows.

So whether you are creating a video like I am for the Houston Zoo, or you are going to be the next de Ribera by painting graphic and captivating paintings, remember the power of visual storytelling and use it to share your message to the world.

This post is part of the marketing videography project that I am undertaking in October. If you are interested in learning more about my project, click here.


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