Can any piece of media be described as a text to be discussed in academic research?

I have found several conflicting definitions online. Those that disagree seem to be working on a different definition of what constitutes a “text”, referring more to what could itself be published rather than what word would you use to describe non-written media.

  • 2
    Can you be more explicit about what you are asking? Is it only what word to use? Or are you asking a legal question? Or an ethics question? Or how to properly cite other media?
    – puppetsock
    Sep 27 '21 at 21:09
  • Check out text. Sep 27 '21 at 21:18
  • Conceivably it could be a "document"? Sep 27 '21 at 22:17

No, a painting is not a "text" but it is a "work". In particular a "creative work" and thus subject to copyright protections. The same is true of (some, at least) photographs and even graphs in a paper.

A "text" is just one kind of "work" for purposes of copyright.


In the language of library and information science, a painting is an example of a cultural object:

An artistic or architectural work, or other artifact of cultural significance. The category includes both physical objects and performance art. The Visual Resources Association (VRA) Foundation sponsors Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO), a data content standards initiative for the cultural heritage community. The primary focus of CCO includes but is not limited to paintings, sculpture, prints, manuscripts, photographs, built works, installations, and other visual media. CCO also covers many other types of cultural works, including archaeological sites and functional objects from the realm of material culture.

Reitz, J. M. Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. https://products.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_about.aspx

Other terms you could use in this context include information object and cultural heritage object.


Besides what the other contributors have mentioned, there are some academic fields in which paintings can be analyzed in a similar manner as texts. This kind of analysis is often found in material culture studies, and in art history, especially in the domain of iconographical studies (which showcases some parallels with the methods of "close reading" used in literary criticism as well as hermeneutics, not to mention philology).

For a quick example, see the Chapter "Philology and the History of Art", or "Paintings as Objects of Discourse Analysis: Two Case Studies" or "Iconography and Iconology as a Visual Method and Approach"

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