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A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

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Whoever coined the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" must have had something in mind. The works of art have been used in different places to convey different messages. This perhaps explains why newspapers choose to add visual elements to their articles. These elements include political cartoons, photographs, and drawings. Addition of these elements helps take the message closer home. Perhaps no equivalent describes this phrase than the image "The Gleaners" by Jean-Francois Millet. Painted almost one and a half centuries ago, this picture speaks for itself. The era of agrarian labor is captured well in the image, and a superficial eye can observe three women working on a farm. One of these women is pausing, to break from the tiring labor, and the other two are bending. Behind this women are some farm workers who are piling grain forkfuls into a wagon; while a handful others assemble heaps of grain into towering piles. The harvesters labor under the vigilant gaze of a supervisor riding on a horse. A fleet of far-flung birds, disfiguring the sky, has pulled together with the expectation of finding remnants to feed on. Instead of harvesting, these birds are gleaning; collecting the bits and pieces left after the grain has been collected. They reach for stalks of grain, to supplement the small bunches they already have. In the meantime, one wonders how Jean managed to capture all these things in one picture. This paper is devoted to the discussion of Jean's image as an exemplary piece of artwork demonstrating the 19th century agrarian labor and particularly the aspect of inequality. As will be observed, the then society was divided between the bourgeoisies and the proletariats. Millet endeavors to portray the plight of the latter class. Worth noting is the fact that Millet's efforts were not without opposition from the rich class, who saw it as a political move. By the end of the discussion, the words that a simple picture like this can carry will be lucid.

The feudal right to glean what was left after harvesting was traditionally a preserve of the most impecunious members of society . During the painter's time, the law of Frenchmen predominantly permitted indigent agrarian members who were in particular need, either through illness or age or some pecuniary setback, to pursue the yield and gather wheat blades left by the harvester's sheaves. Millet stresses on the strenuous, monotonous aspect of the harvester's minimally paying labors, via the equivalent signs of the bending women. Millet also calculated the posture of their counterpart, who despite taking a break from gleaning, remains stooped. She appears earthbound, fastened to the earth, which she relies on for survival. The author has also created his major characters along a diagonal contour that can be thought to prolong beyond the canvas frame. A whole agrarian lower class is represented by only three anonymously clothed women. The master in the far end of the field does not look concerned with the endeavors of the women, implying the amateurish nature of the women's activities.

A delve into Millet's background indicates that he came from a dynasty of moderately affluent Norman farmers . Besides, he was an educated and broadly read man. Millet found his characters in the occupations and people of everyday world. To gain proximity with his rural protagonists, Millet settled somewhere in Barbizon village. He schooled in a local institution named after the village, which concentrated on detailed images of countryside and forest. Millet, probably their most elite affiliate, came from a peasant family and was often identified with destitute members of society. While he was drawn into painting such subjects as gleaners by sympathy for those laboring in the farms, Millet was also driven by the sense that these subjects personified an everlasting facet of humanity. In one of his letters, he wrote that seeing the peasants' labor in the farm made him feel as though observing the same recurrent labors explained in the Bible or Virgil poetry. Gleaning had, in fact, been a widespread practice in structured societies since the era of Old Testament. Prior to the mid 19th century, however, gleaners had been seen rarely



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