Visible Language Lab 2

Visible Language Lab 2

When we were let loose in the MFA I really thought about what a text could manifest as that wasn’t as obvious as the written word. We were told to run with the idea that text was anything “communicating a message”. I was particularly fascinated by the great amount of Greek vases the museum had to offer all with vibrant black and orange shades and different scenes on each. These scenes and everything ornamenting these vases, I decided, were a text I could think a lot about.


From here I set out to find similar pottery or vases from other cultures and this wasn’t very difficult. I finally settled on one to compare to the Grecian vase, this Egyptian vessel from the Ptolemaic Dynasty.


The Athenian vase was made with a clay abundant in Athens thats richness in iron contributed to the orange/ red color of the majority of the vase. They were shaped on wooden wheels, painted with the black color we see, and fired in a kiln. The Egyptian vase on the other hand is described as a “faience” which was a ceramic of blue/ green color glazed to give the surface a bright lustre.

The materials of both vases and the circumstances under which they were created affect the way text is used in both of these vases, the text in this case being the scenes on the sides of the pottery. A plaque in the exhibit with the Grecian vases described Athenian potters as “master craftsmen” who put painstaking effort into these vases. These works were then exported all over the Mediterranean. The clay vases were seen primarily as works of art that were even signed by the artists. This idea lets us look at the painting on the side of the pot as a work of art, verses a religious text (though most of them were religious) or a political or economic text. The clay material and what we know about these sorts of vases let us know this about the text. In the same vein, we have the Egyptian vase which, similarly to the Athenian one was treated and exported as a good or a work of art.

The representation of language is different on each of these artifacts and it does different things for people who used them and who look at them now as pieces of history. In the case of the Egyptian vase many of the influences going into the artwork on the vase come from many different civilizations- Persia, Greece, Egypt, and other places in the Mediterranean. This is due to the occupation of Egypt by so many different civilizations during the Late Period of Ancient Egypt, included among these being the Persian and Greek empires. The language on the vase, the different artistic effects such as griffins, images of banqueters and musicians, and floral designs, is representative of the vase and Egypt’s history. With the Grecian vase we see on the lip of the vase the signature of the artist. This, though not the text I’ve been discussing already, is a text too. “ΛALES EΠOIESEN” it says, or “Gales made it.” This signature as part of the text tells us a lot about the vase. Mostly, as I’ve said, that it was viewed more as a work of art worth signing than something used for storage of food or water. This idea would affect the “writing” process, or in this case the creation and painting of the vase because the artist would be more meticulous.

The image on the Athenian vase is described on the plaque underneath. It says:

The woman with a basket and two youths leading cows to sacrifice may be part of the Panathenaic procession in honor of the goddess Athena.

This message helps us decipher the painting which might lose its meaning if we weren’t provided with the explanation. This message relates to the media, the vase, because I’ve been asserting that the vase is solely a work of art and not a religious artifact, which isn’t true. Most of the vases’ images depicted scenes from Greek Mythology but they were treated as merchant’s goods to export and trade and sell, but were also used in funeral preparations, hence the religious image. The sepecificity of this message isn’t present in the description of the Egyptian vase, however.

Like I have discussed before, both of these artifacts were used primarily as a luxury, works of art meant to be sold, and were used to store very expensive oils or perfumes in the case of the Athenians. These would be used to annoint dead bodies mostly or in funerary situations, though this would mostly be reserved for the people wealthy enough to afford these oils and vases. With this in mind the implication that this has on class in this civilization tells us that there was a group of elites who could afford to buy these vases and oils. The use of the Egyptian vase is more ambiguous as there was a popular market for the Athenian vases, but as far as I can tell it was used mostly for aesthetics. This also goes along with the idea that only the wealthier class of people would be able to afford something so nicely made without good use for it.

Looking at these two vases and writing up this lab made me think about McLuhan’s idea that the content of a message wasn’t always the most important part of it, but sometimes the medium was a message that conveyed more interesting information. This rings true with these vases. While the image depicted on the sides are beautiful, the vessels themselves and the history surrounding them bring up more questions and give us more answers than the images ever could. These two vases in many ways are very similar. Though they come from two different civilizations they were both used in very reverent ways, they weren’t thrown around as if they were any piece of kitchenware. The images on the side were depicted in similar ways with scenes of life that were important to each culture, and these images tell us a lot about them. A big difference between the two vases is what the text tells us about the people making them and what it doesn’t tell us. We see the religious and artistic aspects of the Grecian vase while we see the Egyptian’s history of occupation by other civilizations during this period as well. We also see the Grecian vase in the context of a flourishing market of these types of vases, as this one was one of many in the museum, while the Egyptian one seems more individual like there was less of a market for them, though this could be because of the museum’s inability to feature more. While the text in these two artifacts, the scenes on the vase, are very important, we come away with more of an understanding about these cultures because of the medium itself, the vases.