Worth More Than a Thousand Words

By Jo Morten Weider

A picture is, as they say, worth a thousand words. Wikipedia explains this idiom in 967 words (I used word count in Google Docs). Here are 36 of them:

“It refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image or that an image of a subject conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a description does.”

Text and art have been intertwined for centuries. But things really took off when surrealist artist René Magritte famously wrote: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” (“This is not a pipe.“) across his painting in 1929. The use of text played a central role in understanding the work. Since then, clever wordplays, political activism, subversion of advertising, and appropriation have become common characteristics of text art.

So how much is a picture picturing (almost) a thousand words worth? As these examples of purely text based artworks show, alot.


Christopher Wool
“Apocalypse Now”, 1988
Sold for $26,485,000 in 2013


On Kawara
“May 1, 1987″, May 1,1987
Sold for $4,197,000 in 2014


Richard Prince
“Spiritual America”, 1983
Sold for $ 3,973,000 in 2014


Ed Ruscha
“I Don´t Want No Retro Spective”, 1979
Sold for $3,961,000 in 2008


Glenn Ligon
“Untitled (Second Verse)“, 1990
Sold for $ 2,629,000 in 2014


Richard Prince
“Driving Me Crazy”, 1988
Sold for $ 2,629,000 in 2014


John Baldessari
John Baldessari “Painting for Kubler”, 1968
Sold for $1,874,500 in 2009

Mel Bochner
Mel Bochner “Liar”, 2007
Sold for $50,000 in 2017

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