Will Ladislaw shows his preference for the poetic as an art form over painting. He believes painting, which he calls a "dull conception," is limited in its ability to express that which is within a person. One cannot truly see the inner workings of a person through a portrait like one can through language. Painting, though it stimulates through seeing with the eyes, ignores the use of the other senses. Through language one can grasp a fuller representation of the subject. Ladislaw rejects painting as a surface representation with no depth, calling it "mere coloured superficies." A visual representation also gives one no sense of the voice of the subject. Ladislaw believes there is a divinity in Dorothea's voice and that one must experience that voice to gain a true representation of her character. Seeing the way she moves and breathes is crucial in order to understand her, a reason her marriage to Casaubon fails. The latter has no appreciation for Dorothea's deeper nature. Because a painting cannot represent these features, it is inadequate as a medium of portraying the human form, particularly Dorothea.
Nevertheless, even Ladislaw is forced to acknowledge the limitations on language. When he hears his artist friend Naumann talk about Dorothea, he becomes exasperated by the "grossness in his choice of the most ordinary words" (Ch. 22). Language itself is not sufficient in achieving an accurate depiction; instead, language must be used by one with a strong sense of discernment of the human soul, such as a poet. Ladislaw says to Dorothea, "You are a poem," referring to that medium's ability to depict concisely drawn portraits. He esteems her as an artistic piece worthy of the most lofty descriptions.
Language can also be limited through misinterpretation. A couple of times in his conversation alone with Dorothea, Ladislaw speaks too truthfully of the circumstance of her marriage.
His words escape before he realizes how far he has gone, almost betraying his feelings, but Dorothea interprets his words as heartfelt concern and is gratified. These types of "false suppositions" (Ch. 15) of the positive and negative kind are plentiful throughout Middlemarch. Though language may be a better medium than painting through which to display and grasp the entirety of the human character, it has its own limitations due to not only its uses by those unskilled in true discernment but also its tendency to be misinterpreted through its diffusion by the fallible human mind.