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“Pictures represent facts, stories represent acts, and models represent concepts.”

I really like the above quote from noted aphorist Thomas Basbøll. He expands:

Simplifying somewhat, pictures represent facts, stories represent acts, and models represent concepts. . . . Pictures are simplified representations of facts and to use this to draw a hard and fast line between pictures and stories and models is itself a simplified picture, story or model of pictures, stories and models. Sometimes a picture tells a story. Sometimes a model represents a fact. The world is a complicated place and the mind is a complicated instrument for making sense of it. Still, simple distinctions can be useful . . .

When I say that a picture represents a fact I mean that it makes an arrangement of things present in your imagination. It’s true that we sometimes also try to imagine what is “going on” in, say, a painting, but we know that this is an extrapolation from the facts it represents. There’s also usually a whole atmosphere or “mood” in a picture, which is hard to reduce to a mere state of affairs. In David Hockney’s “A Bigger Splash,” for example, the fact is a splash of water in a pool with a diving board. We don’t know exactly what made the splash but we assume it is a person. There’s a feeling about the scene that I will leave it to you to experience for yourself, but we can imagine a photograph representing roughly the same facts. . . .

When I say that a story represents an act I mean that it gets us to imagine people doing things, or things happening to people. That’s a gross simplification, to be sure. It’s possible to tell a story about a pool freezing over or ducks landing in it. Things happening to things or animals happening to them. But I think we do actually always anthropomorphize these events a little bit when we tell stories, sometimes barely perceptibly. If we didn’t, I want to argue, we wouldn’t be able to tell a story. . . .

Models are simplifications in perhaps more obvious ways. They will always represent only selected aspects of the reality they are modelling. When I say that a model represents concepts, I mean that they get us to imagine what it is possible to think about a certain population of things or people. . . .

This is related to the idea we’ve discussed from time to time, of storytelling as the working out of logical possibilities.


  1. pictures are topologies
    texts/numbers are metric (space)
    models are categories

  2. jonathan says:

    I think I disagree. Take Hockney. Much of his work embodies specific models he is trying to convey. Example is that he constructs collages of photos and other images that explore the pre-Renaissance depiction of space as having different depths related to different focal points, often indicated solely by overlap which generate impossibility over the larger space but which are locally consistent. Hockney is that intellectual about his work.

    In this case, the model is rules. The stories are each local area and how you construct the larger mental space by choosing the local story threads.

    So, you could say a picture is the representation, which is an instance and which thus contains fact. Which is why I’m not sure if I disagree.

    • Could we agree that “A Bigger Grand Canyon” is an arrangement of pictures according to a model? As I understand his project, he wasn’t trying to represent the Grand Canyon, he wasn’t presenting it to us as a fact, but as a space of possible “views”. Not the seen but the seeing.

      That is, his two pool paintings are connected (if we make the connection) by a story (of what happened between them). And the Grand Canyon canvases are connected by a model (of what makes them all possible but never simultaneously actual).

      Paintings (works of art) are never just pictures. (Actually, I’m sure some artists have attempted “purely” pictorial work. But that purity is itself more than mere depiction.) Novels are never just stories (though here, too, there’s Hemingway’s purity to consider).

      Like I say in the post, I was being deliberately simpleminded for the sake of making some distinctions. I’m happy to let Hockney escape my categories.

  3. Ron Kenett says:

    1. Pictures represent facts: So many examples where facts were manipulated in pictures. Try

    2.Stories represent acts: Action operationalisation is more that a story. See the many examples in

    3. Models represent concepts: Things are much more complex. Representing concepts involves alternative representations We used this to generalise reserach findings

    So, no, no, no….

  4. Michael Nelson says:

    Plato would say that that there is a story–a written narrative–and Story–any form of communication that represents action. Thus, models and pictures and stories may each be Models or Pictures or Stories.

    Socrates would ask “What is a story?” and gently guide us to realizing the “unity of the communication media.” All presentations are stories and pictures and models, they differ only in degree of each, and by context.

    George Box would say, “All models are pictures, but some are stories.”

  5. Mikhail Shubin says:

    This post lacks a cat fact

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