Foss and Visual Rhetoric

In “A Theory of Visual Rhetoric”, Foss discusses visual rhetoric and how visual imagery can affect behaviors, attitudes, or perceptions. Foss explains that many rhetoricians find it difficult to apply meaning and influence to visual imagery because the study of rhetoric has historically been almost exclusive to discourse. Visual rhetoric itself has two meanings within the discipline of rhetoric. One meaning is about the visual images themselves. The other meaning is an approach taken by rhetorical scholars as they study visual rhetoric. I personally find theory very dry and boring, so the second meaning on visual rhetoric was not my cup of tea at all. There are two approaches to studying visual rhetoric. One uses a deductive application of rhetoric on visual images as a way to study visual images in the existing realm of theory taken from the study of discourse. The other approach uses an inductive application of rhetoric in order to create new theories that apply to the unique characteristics of visual symbols. I found the second approach to be the better approach. Visual images and discourse are formed in different ways and have different characteristics, so using visual images in the context of discourse just does not make sense to me. I think it’s more fitting develop new theories to apply to a newer discipline of rhetoric: visual rhetoric.
The part of the article I like the most was when Foss discussed the three essential markers that must exist for a visual image to become visual rhetoric. The three markers are symbolic action, human intervention, and the presence of an audience. In order for an image to qualify as visual rhetoric the image must be symbolic. Foss uses a stop sign as an example, because the color and shape are completely arbitrary, but they serve a symbolic meaning for communication. Human intervention means that human action must be involved in the process of either creation or interpretation of a visual image for the image to be visual rhetoric. Last, an audience must be present so there is an act of communication involved in the visual image.




Which approach to visual rhetoric do you think is more appropriate and effective: a deductive application or an inductive application?


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