Visual Rhetoric is regarded as the critical appraisal of visual texts which include posters, movies, paintings and many more with the procedure of both rhetoric analysis and semiotics (Chandler, 2017). The latter is regarded as an authority that focuses on signs while rhetoric is the study that looks into the format and application of figurative language. Additionally, sign theories extend to the traditional perception of rhetoric which includes the powerful effect of graphics instead of their construction. Visual analysis scholars might evaluate how an image is structured, in the linguistic or visual context, but do so while focusing on its rhetoric effect. Semiotics and sign theories, therefore, be used in interpreting how design appears as co-modified and branded language thus establishing whether the audience is influenced, how they are convinced and to what extent.
Visual rhetoric is presently considered as a subfield of graphic design, anthropology, art theory, cultural studies and communication (Ross, 2016). The main focus of sign theory is the visual processing of different forms as well as their significance, as well as how to interpret visual texts which include films and ads. Sign theory is the occurrence of creating perceptions in the form of real-world mental illustrations, instead of words and what they mean. The concept of semiotics and sign theory has been characterized as the procedure of identifying perceptions as an array of mental images. Researchers in visual rhetoric ascertain that models function less through cognition and more through embodiment, affect and emotion whereby they are processed through language and feelings before they are comprehended at a cognitive stage. The connection between sign theories and visual semiotics has been identified in the present day.
A fundamental principle of visual semiotics is, indeed, an implicit law of sign theories which means that the interpretation and meaning of visual perceptions differ along cultural inclinations. Usually, the real picture that most individuals call to their minds is influenced by linguistic and cultural aspects. For instance, when requested to think about a triangle, most individuals who live in the Western Culture will most probably visualize the equilateral triangle, where they see it as representative or exemplary of the real triangle form. Acute triangle, obtuse triangle, and right-angled triangle are instead seen as subtypes. The rationale for this perception can be traced back to into the significance of triangles both as aesthetics and geometrical constructs in traditional Greece whereby the meanings were transferred to art and Renaissance geometry where the perfection and symmetry of form were honored. The equilateral triangle, when considered as a cultural archetype, is a consequence of this practice, facilitating the aspect of group thinking through representational methods.
“The Rhetoric of the Image” by Roland Barthes can be considered as one of the starting points for sign theory and visual semiotics (Kjeldsen, 2015). According to Barthes, the term “image” comes from the word imitation thus creating the concern of how the imitation of another thing can be permeated with meaning. The level of denotation is the first within the meaning of an advert and includes pure information. The first level allows recipients to identify pasta in case they wish to purchase it. Nevertheless, the name can also work in a diverse language semiotic level, because it brings about the aspect of “Italianicity” to the entire text.
Fig 1: “The Rhetoric of the Image” by Roland Barthes.
Attached to this feature is the representation of the tomato as well as additional ingredients that can be seen in the ad, which shows the Italian cuisine as well as its supremacy- an implication that is strengthened by the subtitle “à l’italienne de luxe.” The entire structure of meanings takes place at the connotation level, which includes an essential rhetorical structure that is unconscious as argued by Barthes in this book Mythologies. The structure is referred to as a code whereby the advert acquires attention through visual representation and captions. The ostensibly straightforward semiotic analysis has been censored on certain counts which include the issue that the advert can b comprehended across diverse cultures in other ways that are not connected to the meaning dichotomies.
The objective of sig theories and visual semiotics is to study each type of visual perceptions in the form of their effects not just in the universal sign theory, but also in the general psychology of visual impressions. Visual texts including ads, cinema diagrams, and illusions have been considered as essential analytical targets. The analysis of visual images was done on specific types of signs that were supposed to be observed and not verbally read or heard. According to Saussure, the symbol is defined as a binary composition which contains a solid outline known as a signifier as well as the psychological part known as the signified. Initially, semioticians utilized a fundamental Saussurean structure for analyzing the visual texts and signs (Kruis, 2017). Their primary technique was aimed at identifying the visual symbols of a text as well as their connotative implication through a reflection of visual signs including visual forms, colors, and shapes. What makes the Peircean model striking was the insight that the emotional and sensory experience of the universe has an effect on how people comprehend and create signs which is a procedure referred to as semiosis. Graphic design includes the creation of symbols that stand for a particular thing in ways that are conventionalized or conventional. The research on signs in Piercean terminologies considerably offered access to visual semiotics provided that symbolism, iconicity, and indexicality are all regarded as modes that are induced by visual images thus leading to coded explanation.
Sign theories can further be grouped according to their texture, color, and value, where each of the aspects can possess indexical, symbolic and iconic modalities (Marais, 2018). Value is considered as the lightness or darkness of a shape, text or line. The dichotomy of lightness-darkness creates a semiotic conflict, whereby each of them assumes connotative values that are contrasting whereby lightness usually suggests culturally founding values that are positive while darkness is the different collection of the negatives. Instead of having an intrinsic significance, Saussure affirmed that the signs include valeur in differential connection to other sign features and signs. For instance, to establish the worth of a quarter in America, one has to be aware that the coin can be exchanged for a particular capacity of something thus its worth can be connected to a different value in the same structure.
Color is itself regarded as a sigh structure that is applied in visual texts in communicating feelings, atmosphere and moods and is, therefore, a permanent foundation of language gradations. Texture is known as the emotional or sensory experience that is evoked by particular visual forms. For instance, wavy lines are used in eliciting satisfying impressions while angular lines do not. In the current world, visual semiotics are used in graphic design as important analytical instruments in studying representational practices on the online platform which are progressively multimodal in that they involve audio, verbal expressive and visual modalities. Digital signs in typography and graphic design capture the interest of semiotic analysis influenced by the suggestive procedures in which specific forms of visual information are emotionally relayed.
The primary investigative entity of visual rhetoric is the visual text (Peterson, 2018). Therefore, its systematic reach can be traced from visual media, advertisements, blogs, social media, and viral videos. Visual rhetoric offers significant approaches to how the rhetoric configuration has a cognitive and emotional effect. The orientation and pedagogical impact of visual rhetoric are to illustrate the significance of visual influence in a universe that has increasingly been dominated by communication and visual perceptions. However, the field of visual rhetoric has been enlarged to include the significant appraisal of every type of visual representation where it is aimed at not only illuminating the components of visual texts but also indicate its social, ethical, ideological and political utilities. Visual rhetoric is primarily used in advertising. As a general illustration of how visual rhetoric analysis may spread out, it is essential to focus on the recent adverts for women’s lifestyle artifacts that are founded on feminity codes of diverse types.
A good example is the video advertisement by Diesel, http://www.fashiontography.net/2008/12/diesel-spring-summer-2009-ad-campaign.html.The advertisement displays a young female who is found on the backdrop getting away from something or someone with her hands stretched out. In the foreground, one can see another young woman’s face with graffiti all over. These can be considered as critical visual signs that show an interpretive trail to follow towards revealing the meaning which is probably coded. The backdrop of the female’s hands indicates perplexity, wonderment, and frustration which are emotions that are reflected in her facial illustration. The lady appears to have runway from some confinement and seems liberated while still not sure about the freedom. The uncertainty of the code of women’s liberation to which illustrations appear to lead is substantial. The bimodal feature of the text is essential in showing how the two photos can be brought together thus producing an effective rhetoric structure. Even though this is a simple breakdown of the ad, the issue is that it is plausible and possible because of the presence of a visual organization that includes a strong suggestiveness. Advertising further uses a rhetoric technique of combining visual images that are disparate. Different ideas are combined to produce new meanings as a fundamental aspect of metaphor where two spheres are connected to create a new structure of the association.
There is no culture which lacks visual, textual customs and traditions (Berger, 2017). These features are proof that visual perceptions are essential to the understanding of human beings if not verbal thinking. People survive in a visual culture, where images are stronger than spoken or emotional words. Human beings have always formed visual forms throughout their history. The variance is that the visual images that are portrayed in the present would appear to be much dominant in the field of social communication as compared to what has been happening in the past. Visual rhetoric has been identified as an essential discipline for the examination of how powerful images with semiotics can be. However, it should be understood that not all visual object in graphic design contains visual rhetoric. The aspect that converts visual objects into communicative artifacts is a sign that can communicate and be perceived as rhetoric that has three features. Images are supposed to indulge human interference, be symbolic and presented to the audience for the intention of communication.
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Chandler, D. (2017). Semiotics: the basics. Routledge.
Kjeldsen, J. E. (2015). The study of visual and multimodal argumentation. Argumentation, 29(2), 115-132.
Kruis, J. L. (2017). Shoshone as a text: A structural-semiotic analysis of reading the river as a whitewater raft guide. Body, Personhood, and Privacy: Perspectives on the Cultural Other and Human Experience, 245-265.
Marais, K. (2018). A (Bio) Semiotic Theory of Translation: The Emergence of Social-Cultural Reality. Routledge.
Peterson, M. O. (2018). Aspects of visual metaphor: an operational typology of visual rhetoric for research in advertising. International Journal of Advertising, 1-30.
Ross, J. I. (Ed.). (2016). Routledge handbook of graffiti and street art. Routledge.