March 6 Big Ideas in Visual Rhetoric

March 6, 2017

Big Ideas in Visual Rhetoric

Pine Point

Simons and Shoebridge’s Welcome to Pine Point is a powerful melancholic interactive web documentary about a vanished town in Canada. By using different visual tools, Super-8 film clips, text on screen, real life people’s pictures and artifacts, along with background music, they created the feeling of lost childhood happiness in that vanished neighborhood. The web documentary is full of sadness and sorrow for the lost childhood happiness and “the creators’ ineffable nostalgia for it”. [SK]

“We established this style of visual experience where there are no ads, no page numbers… a style of magazine layout you could almost call “cinematic”. It’s a perfect balance of passive and active, of visuals and words–a story about memory than a town profile” (Simons & Shoebridge). [SK]

Bibliography Entry 2/27

Valerie V. Peterson (2001) The rhetorical criticism of visual elements: An alternative to Foss’s Schema, Southern Communication Journal, 67:1, 19-32, DOI: 10.1080/10417940109373216

I found this article when looking for sources that would continue the discussion of Sonja Foss’s Theory of Visual Rhetoric through Halle library’s esearch (it can also be found on Google Scholar.) Valerie Peterson discusses the strength of Sonja Foss’s rhetorical schema (1994). The article is a starting place that presents the first of its kind on proposing an evaluation of visual imagery from a rhetorical perspective. [JW]

Burke, K. (1966). Language as symbolic action: Essays on life, literature, and method. Berkeley: University of California Press.

This book is cited not only in Foss’s article but several articles that discuss visual rhetorics, rhetorical theory, and images. You can pick up this book at the Halle library or find critiques of Kenneth Burke’s essays on Google Scholar. The book itself includes essays on symbolism, rhetorical criticism, and how symbolic action can be understood in non-traditional ways. [JW]

Chryslee, G. J., Foss, S. K., & Ranney, A. L. (1996). The construction of claims in visual argumentation. Visual Communication Quarterly, 3(2), 9-13.

This was cited in Foss’s article and can be found on Google Scholar with limited access. It presents a case that viewers construct claims for images, assuming an audience-centered perspective on the creation of images which situates the viewer as the dominant factor in the construction of arguments of images. I find this perspective valid in some aspects of critiquing an image but further investigation should be sought out on the process. [JW]

Bateman, J. (2014). Text and image: A critical introduction to the visual/verbal divide. Routledge.

This book was found when looking for articles citing Sonja Foss on Google Scholar. A book review can be found @EMU Find Text through the Halle Library database. In his introduction, Bateman describes how text and images have been critiqued separately by scholars but no frameworks consider both image and text in their methods.[JW]

Gries, L. E. (2013). Iconographic tracking: A digital research method for visual rhetoric and circulation studies. Computers and Composition, 30(4), 332-348.

This article presents a research method for studying rhetorical circulation; how images circulate in digital spaces. Laurie Gries incorporates traditional qualitative and new digital research strategies to track the Obama Hope image which was conducted after a five-year long case study of tracking the image across genres, mediums, and contexts. In terms of visual rhetorics, circulation studies consider how images travel through geographic locations, space, and time. [JW]


Brooke Notes 2/27 (Graphesis pp 65-137)

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production.


Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 65-137.


Drucker discusses several aspects of graphical expressions, the history behind each aspect of them, and the ways in which they can be created to serve humanistic interpretation.


Short, John Rennie. Making Space: Revisioning the World, 1475-1600. Syracuse (N.Y.): Syracuse UP, 2004. Print.

Brookes, Martin. Extreme Measures the Dark Visions and Bright Ideas of Francis Galton. London: Bloomsbury, 2004. Print.

Allwein, Gerard, and Jon Barwise. Logical Reasoning with Diagrams. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.

Keywords: representations of information, knowledge generators, the rationalization of a surface, the distinction of figure and ground, the delimitation of the domain of visual elements so that they function as a relational system, timekeeping, temporality, Space-Making, spatiality, administration and record keeping, trees of knowledge/tree diagram, dynamic systems, humanistic methods, and visualizing interpretation.


  1. “A basic distinction can be made between visualizations that are representations of information already known and those that are knowledge generators capable of creating new information through their use” (Drucker 65).
  2. “A timeline, with its single, linear, homogeneous directional flow, expresses a model of temporality consistent with empirical sciences. But humanistic documents embody many alternative versions of temporality. Humanists deal with the representation of temporality of documents (when they were created), in documents (narrated, represented, depicted temporality), the construction of temporality across documents (the temporality of historical events), and also the shape of temporality that emerges from documentary evidence (the shape of an era, a season, a period, or epoch). They need a way to graph a chart temporality in an approach that suits the basic principles of interpretive knowledge” (Drucker 75).
  3. “Some visualization formats, such as tables, are so generalizable and re-purposable that their structure almost disappears from view. We take their operations for granted. This graphical organization and it spatial properties carry the trace of the purpose for which a graphic was created…Thus the static arrangement of information in a tabular form suggests that it has been modeled according to a strict distinction of content types and that these columns and divisions are neither mutable nor combinatoric” (Drucker 87).
  4. “Realist approaches depend above all upon an idea that phenomena are observer-independent and can be characterized as data…Rendering observation (the act of creating a statistical, empirical, or subjective account of an image) as if it were the same as the phenomena observed collapses the critical distance between the phenomenal world and its interpretation, undoing the concept of interpretation on which humanistic knowledge production is based” (Drucker 125).


  1. Drucker states on page 71 that “the challenge is to break the literalism of representational strategies and engage with innovations in interpretive and inferential modes that augment human cognition.” Despite her break down of the principles of visualization, I still find myself asking the question “how do we do this?” When bringing these concepts into a classroom, can the concept of to go about this be broken down more simply?

Reading Question – 2/27

“The humanistic record is full of gaps and breaks, ruptures in missing documents, so that any historical reconstruction necessarily provides only partial evidence. Humanistic temporality is broken, discontinuous, partial, fragmented in its fundamental conception and model. How to find the right graphical language to communicate this knowledge in ways that are sufficiently consistent to achieve consensus while being flexible enough to inscribe the inflections that characterize subjective experience?” (Drucker 76).

This quotation is from the end of the “Timekeeping” section. There is a lot going on in the question Drucker already posed here, so let’s break it down a little. Before this quotation, Drucker explains that empirical timelines are limited because they view time as continuous; however, humanistic timelines create “alternative branchings, perspective and retrospective approaches to the understanding of events” (76). Is this question that Drucker asks even possible? If there are so many gaps in the humanistic record, then is there a graphical language that can be used to communicate this knowledge or should we use another way entirely?

Bibliography (2/26)

Bowen, T. (2017). Assessing visual literacy: a case study of developing a rubric for identifying and applying criteria to undergraduate student learning. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-15.

I found this article by searching Google Scholar for texts citing Graphesis. Bowen’s piece focuses on multi-modal literacy assessments in higher education. Bowen claims that assessments from this perspective “have not moved much beyond the traditional written texts outside art and design disciplines.” Bowen proposes a Visual Literacy Competency (VLC) rubric and offers suggestions for assignment assessment in two undergraduate communications courses. [JS]

Lorber-Kasunic, J., & Sweetapple, K. (2015). Visualising texts: a design practice approach to humanities data. In Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts Conference. DRHA.

I found this article by searching Google Scholar for texts citing Graphesis. Lorber-Kasunic and Sweetapple’s piece addresses the fact that many forms of visual representation do not reflect core concerns of humanities research because they operate using the conceptual and visual language of scientific positivism. The authors argue that metaphorical and analogical approaches to textual visualization may better serve the cause from a humanities focus. [JS]

Danesi, M. (2016). The Semiotics of Emoji: The Rise of Visual Language in the Age of the Internet. Bloomsbury Publishing.

I found this article by searching Google Scholar for texts citing Graphesis. Danesi’s book elaborates on the use of emojis from a meaning-making, or semiotic, perspective. The book avoids the use of technical lexicon and some notions of theoretical semiotics so that a lay audience more easily understands it. Danesi posits that the use of emoji code may indicate how writing and literacy are evolving. [JS]

Gorichanaz, T. & Latham, K.F. (2016). Document phenomenology: a framework for holistic analysis. Journal of Documentation, Vol. 72 (6), 1114 – 1133.

I found this article by searching Google Scholar for texts citing Graphesis. In this piece, Gorichanaz and Latham propose a phenomenological framework for document analysis. Key concepts of this framework include “intrinsic information, extrinsic information, abtrinsic information, and adtrinsic information,” where information and meaning are distinguished. The authors look at individual documents, but also parts of documents and documents as systems. [JS]

Brown, S. (2015). Remediating the Editor.Interdisciplinary Science Reviews40(1), 78-94.

I found this article by searching Google Scholar for texts citing Graphesis. In this article, Brown purposes that various interfaces for writing and editing influence the interface users – and by extension, the conditions of digital scholarly knowledge production. Brown believes that cultural inflections of these interfaces create “tensions endemic to socialized and networked scholarship [which] is increasingly crucial as reading and consumption merge with writing and production.” [JS]




Reading Question 2/27

Foss (2005) articulates a number of binaries within visual rhetoric:

Artifact | Perspective “[V]isual rhetoric now has two meanings within the discipline of rhetoric. It is used to mean both a visual object or artifact and a perspective on the study of visual data” (p. 143)
Deductive | Inductive “Some scholars deductively apply rhetorical theories and constructs to visual imagery to investigate questions about rhetoric…. A second approach involves an inductive investigation of visual images designed to highlight features of the images themselves” (p. 147)

These categorizations that I’ve labelled as binaries name collective groups of visually rhetorical work.


To what extent are these binaries here a subset of the theory-practice divide that occurs within rhetoric as a discipline? Is there ways in which the deductive | inductive binary also perpetuates this division? Are these processes fundamentally different? How neatly separated are these functions—need they be?


Along all these binarized lines seems to operate the fundamental hermeneutic assumption that visual rhetorical work is interpretive; are there ways to articulate a heuristic approach to visual rhetoric? Is the interpretive assumption linked to the artifact approach being focused on the product (p. 143)—and is there yet disciplinary understanding for the visual as process? Or a situation, giving time and space to the rhetorical elements and actors?

Reading Question (2/27)

After explaining a brief history and definition of visual rhetoric, Sonja Foss discusses what she considers three markers that qualify an image/object as visual rhetoric. She labels these markers as “symbolic action,” “human interaction,” and “presence of an audience” (Foss 144). Regarding audience, Foss states, “Even if the only audience for an image is its creator, some audience—and thus the implied act of communication—is present in visual rhetoric” (145). Since, as Foss seems to suggest, the rhetor creates an object for the purpose of communicating an idea to him/herself or others, the self can count as an audience, too.

Though this explanation seems straightforward, this particular marker seems quite broad to me, and I can’t help but wonder about the concept of an “implied act of communication” (Foss 145). Does this mean that the implied act of communication has to be intentional? What types of images/objects are created without the intention of communication? Further, how can we determine if/when a rhetor creates with the intention of communication? How does one determine the presence of an implied act of communication?

Big Ideas 2/23

Visualizations are concrete representations of abstract ideals, such as time or relationships.  The image does not exist on its own, but as an interpretation of a subject beyond itself.  Because of this, the visual also alludes to the connections between different aspects of the represented relationships.  Choices of color, structure, type, and other dimensions illustrate how different abstract elements combine and diverge in the outside world.  Designers, therefore, have to take this into account when designing graphics: connections between different graphical elements hold implications towards the connections of their real-life counterparts [CJR].