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?


Blair and Visual Arguments

In today’s reading, Blair discusses many different facets of visual arguments. Blair aims to identify the possibility of visual arguments and find concrete examples of pure visual arguments. He ends with an examination of importance of visual arguments with their pros and cons. Blair begins his essay by identify what a verbal argument entails. He uses O’Keefe’s definition of argument to set the stage, saying an argument is “communication of both (1) a linguistically explicable claim and (2) one or more overtly expressed reasons which are linguistically explicit” (O’Keefe). Blair explains that an argument must also have a person who uses the claim and an audience to whom the claim is addressed. In order for visual arguments to be possible, they must have at least some of the properties that verbal arguments have. Claims can be expressed through visual communication, such as road signs or head nods, and therefore visual arguments are entirely possible.

Blair goes on to identify concrete examples of visual arguments, my favorite of which is the Benetton clothing company ad from The New Yorker. Relying on pictures and colors alone, the ad make the argument that racism is wrong and unjustified, that we are all linked together and racism must end. That is a significant argument to make; it was done without using words at all. It is clear from Blair’s essay that visual arguments are very difficult to make, though.





The end of Blair’s essay addresses pros and cons of visual arguments. The pro is that visual arguments can evoke strong emotion and are very powerful. The con, however, is that visual arguments are one-sided and do not include any counter arguments, which any good argument should include. The pros and cons lead me to evaluate which type of argument is best. After reading the essay, I feel that a combination of verbal and visual arguments might in fact be the best way to make an argument. Much like commercials or movies, a combination of arguments allows for powerful emotion and a multi-faceted argument.

Discussion question:
Discuss the pros and cons of visual arguments. Using the pros and cons, which type of argument do you think is best, verbal or visual?