Visual Rhetoric

The elements of communication and persuasion are embedded in texts you don’t just read but see. Images, not just words, provide us with information and change the ways we think, reason, and act. They can speak to us in powerful ways.

What is it?

The simplest definition for visual rhetoric is the use of visual images to communicate meaning.

Visual rhetoric is not just about superior design and aesthetics, it is also about how culture and meaning are reflected, communicated, and altered by images. Visual literacy involves all the processes of knowing and responding to a visual image as well as all the thought that might go into constructing or manipulating an image. In other words, visual literacy is the ability to “read” and “write” images and the meanings those images communicate.  

Questions to Ask

  1. In which cultural context (historical era, country/nation, sub-cultural group, political climate) was this image originally produced?  
  2. Is any information (such as text, or a detail of the image) highlighted or stressed to attract your attention? Why do you think this is?
  3. What cultural values does the image evoke? Does the image reinforce these values or question them?
  4. What role is played by the words that accompany the image? How do they clarify, reinforce, blur, or contradict the image’s message?
  5. What overall impression / feeling does the image create in you?
  6. What positive or negative feelings about individuals or ideas does the image intend to evoke in its viewers (what are its appeals to pathos?)? Is this at odds with the actual feelings it evoked in you?
  7. What is your impression of the creators of this image? Do they make any overt appeals to ethos?
  8. Does the image make any appeals to logos? (In addition to facts / statistics / etc., remember also reasoning based on common sense, reasoning based on cultural values, analogies, etc.)
  9. Overall, do you think that this image makes an effective argument? Why or why not?

Kaylan| 2018

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