Reading Question – 2/13

The workings of power, the force of ideology, the transmission of values, and other abstract ideas have no specific visual form, even if they work through a material social world (22).”

“An eye looking at a line drawing a round shape that nearly closes on itself will tend to see a circle under many circumstances, just not all (48).”

“For a humanistic approach, these have to be designed as rhetorical arguments produced as a result of making, a poetics of graphical form, not in the reductive or abstract logics of Boolean algebra (54).”

The interpretation of visual forms will likely vary from person to person and culture to culture. We do recognize that many of these forms will be seen in common ways though. Knowing the commonality of visual forms has led to the desire to find a formal system of interpretation. We have found that this quickly breaks down. For one group a swastika can denote “well-being,” while for another “genocide.” Despite this, Johanna Drucker goes on to say that “the systematic analysis of ‘graphical language’ remains crucial,” though it cannot be the final focus (53).

How does a novice of “graphical language” begin their understanding of how these forms create knowledge? Is it useful to approach any language in the abstract as a beginner? Do we require building blocks, phonemes and coloremes, to lay a foundation for “nuanced solutions” to interpretation? Or does this miss the reality of how we become fluent in language altogether?

2/13 Brooke Note: Graphesis (pp. 1-64)

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production


Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 1-64.


The inside flap summarizes the book explaining that “Graphesis provides an ambitious overview of the field of visual knowledge, its history and critical development, with emphasis on developing a descriptive analysis of the ways schematic graphical forms construct meaning. Drawing on fields as diverse as semiotics, gestalt psychology, cognitive studies, history of cartography and statistics, art history, and aesthetics, this unique contribution to our understanding of graphical forms of knowledge production lays the foundation for study ahead.”

The first part of the book explains that it is important to explore graphesis (the study of visual production of knowledge), because it is a large part of our culture (3). Drucker also emphasizes that she uses the humanistic perspective to inform the book. Drucker then sets the tone of the book by providing definitions for the words that are important for readers to know: information graphics, graphical user interface, visual epistemology, and languages of form. On page 20, Drucker provides eight “approaches to the systematic understanding of visual epistemology that form the core of [her] approach.” These eight approaches include knowledge and/as vision, languages of form, dynamics of form/universal principles of design, gestalt principles and tendencies, basic variable, understanding graphics and editing, processing images, and typology of graphic forms. Pages 21-55 explain these approaches in further detail with visual examples. Then, pages 56-63 provide brief descriptions and visual examples of graphical forms in information visualizations and interface designs.


  1. Knowledge production
  2. Visual
  3. Images
  4. Graphical
  5. Humanistic perspective
  6. Principles of visual communication
  7. Information visualizations
  8. Interface designs


Crane, Walter. Line and Form. Bell and Sons, 1925.

—. The Bases of Design. Bell and Sons, 1898.

Jones, Owen. The Grammar of Ornament. Day and Son, 1856.


“The marks and signs that make up an image are neither semantically consistent–that is they don’t represent meaning or value in a dependable way–nor are they graphically consistent, unless they are produced with mechanical means..Visual images are not constructed by a given set of rules…Visual images are not governed by principles in which a finite set of components is combined in accord with stable, fixed, and finite rules” (24).

“The complexity of visual means of knowledge production is matched by the sophistication of our cognitive processing. Visual knowledge is as dependent on lived, embodied, specific knowledge as any other field of human endeavor, and integrates other sense data as part of cognition. Not only do we process complex representations, but we are imbued with cultural training that allows us to understand them as knowledge, communicated and consensual, in spite of the fact that we have no ‘language’ of graphics or rules governing their use. What we have are conventions, habits of reading and thought, and graphical expressions whose properties translate into semantic value–in part through association with other forms and in part through inherent properties” (51).


I’m interested in the idea of the “book of the future” that Drucker briefly described on page 63. Where did this idea come from? Is this her own idea or did she adapt this idea from somewhere else? Will she explain this further throughout the rest of Graphesis?

Glossary Entries – 2/13

Visual epistemology “refers to ways of knowing that are presented and processed visually,” explained by Drucker (7). She notes that for the purpose of this book she will focus on representation and not cognition. She further explains that while “visual expressions of knowledge” are necessary for science disciplines, language-oriented disciplines have only scratched the surface (7).

Language of form “suggests a systematic approach to graphic expression as a means as well as an object of study,” described by Drucker (8). She goes on to state, “Most information visualizations are acts of interpretation masquerading as presentation. In other words, they are images that act as if they are just showing what is, but in actuality, they are arguments made in graphical form” (9).

Bibliography 2/12

I searched Google Scholar for Graphesis by Johanna Drucker and noticed that the book has been cited 68 times. I  read over a couple of them for Bibliography assignment.

Bowen, T., & Evans, M. M. (2015). What does knowledge look like? Drawing as a means of knowledge representation and knowledge construction. Education for Information, 31(1, 2), 53-72.

I found this book by searching Google Scholar for the works that cited Graphesis. People believe that complex and abstract concepts should be in writing or spoken language but authors have done a study on individuals’ drawings and noticed that visuals explain abstract concepts better. “Drawing is a form of knowledge production that can be used to support learning and further understanding complex or abstract concepts through the production of shared graphic objects and symbols”. [SK]

Drucker, J. (2001). Digital ontologies: The ideality of form in/and code storage: Or: Can graphesis challenge mathesis? Leonardo, 34(2), 141-145. doi:10.1162/002409401750184708

I found this article very interesting as they said digital media achieve authority in American culture because of its function in mathematics. “Since the history of images within Western culture is fraught with charges of deception and illusion, the question arises whether the ontological condition of the digital image, its very existence and identity, challenges this tradition. Or, by contrast, does the material instantiation of images, in their display or output, challenge the truth claims of the mathematically based digital file?”[SK]

Burdick, A. (2015). Meta!meta!meta!: A speculative design brief for the digital humanities. Visible Language, 49(3), 13

Burdick suggests a design approach to combine core concepts from critical theory with “design’s speculative inventiveness” and named it to three Meta processes approach (Meta of critical interpretation, the Meta of speculative reflexive design and the Meta of subject-computer-interface) to begins core humanities concepts with future digital humanities tools. [SK]

Lehman, Barbara. (2015). Visual Literacy and Education: Seeing the World Meets Critical Thinking. UCLA: Education 0249. Retrieved from

This article stressed on the demand of being visually literate in the culture dominated by images and called it a media culture. Lehman suggests a foundational approach to teaching the basics of visual literacy and she emphasizes on “seeing” as an active not passive activity. [SK]

Bowen, T. Introduction: Visual Literacy and Creative Engagements across the Global Village.

It is just 4 pages of an introduction of a book that I found in my Google Scholar research for Graphesis. Tracy Bowen says that visual literacy must be global but visual literacy is both contextual and political.  She states that “ an individual’s visual literacy is informed by the cultural codes, inclusion, exclusions and biases that we have come to live by”. [SK]

Glossary Entries – 2/13

Information graphics: Most broadly, Drucker defines information graphics as “visualizations based on abstractions of statistical data” because, despite the final graphic form, information graphics originate from quantitative data sets (7). She further argues that these graphics are always interpretative since there is no innate correlation between visual form and graphic expression (7). [NW]
Graphical user interface (GUI): Drucker defines a graphical user interface as “the dominant feature of screens in all shapes and sizes” (8). These interfaces allow us to interact with information graphics of all sorts. Interface design shapes the way we construct knowledge, as well as our everyday behavior. [NW]

Visual Rhetoric Project Proposal

Visual Rhetoric Proposal

Cover Analysisà Cover Design (?)


The cliché goes “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  With regards to books, however, most people do.  Covers are generally the audience’s first introduction to the book.  The rhetorical purpose of a book cover is to convince people to pick up the book.  Whether an elaborate scene or a minimalist presentation of just the title, if the cover does not entice the reader into picking up the book, then it is unsuccessful as a cover.  I want to examine different covers in order to analyze the messages that come across from them, and how those will or won’t appeal to potential readers.


First, I want to research what has already been studied about book covers.  My research will focus mainly on how publishers make decisions about cover arts, how is that different for different genres and different audiences, and what message do they hope to get across.  Why do most children’s books and graphic novels have vivid pictures on their covers, whereas many young adult novels have icons instead of characters?  Are there other reasons why publishers change the covers of a book other than taking advantage of a movie/television adaptation?  What are the different effects of cartoonish covers and photorealistic ones?  How much say doe the author have in the covers?


Then, I want to analyze the covers of popular books.  Either I will choose one category of books (Young adult or children’s or adult or …), or compare and contrast between different categories.  Either way, I will develop a coding system based on certain factors on the cover: number of characters, action vs. static, contrast, cartoony vs photorealistic, etc…Afterword, I will analyze the effect that the book has on both my understanding of what the book’s about and my interest in the book.  For the latter, I will read the blurbs on the back or inside and see if it lines up with my analysis.


Finally, using the information I learned about the creation of covers, I hope to conceptualize covers for my own stories.  I will explain why I made certain rhetorical decisions with regards to audience, genre, contrast, etc…  I may even design one or more of my own to present to the class for the presentation.

Stop-Write 1

“A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)” (Barthes 27).

Working with this definition, for you, what is the punctum of this photograph, if any? Studium?

Glossary 2/6

Affordances: Wysocki actually makes a point of not defining affordances so statically (as she (foot)notes), but writes “ Such images can appear to be moments pulled out of sequential time because we can apparently see what is in the image all at once, given the angles of vision afforded by our human eyes and, importantly, given the particularly designed compositions of many such objects” (48). This gets at the capacity of this visual mode, but keeps the term located within the communication context instead of within the mode as a whole. Wysocki acknowledges that affordances have been discussed as fixed properties, but also that this is a slippery term. She writes, “I have tried with purpose in this paper to use terms like ‘constraint’ and even ‘convention’ that (I hope) are less fixed in our language practices, to hold onto the messiness of how we live with things that both resist and work with us and to hold on…” (60). [TP]

Social Practices/Contexts: Wysocki discusses how the constraints or affordances of visual compositions are located within their social or historical contexts. “[T]o ask after the constraints as we teach or compose can help us understand how material choices in producing communications articulate to social practices we may not otherwise wish to reproduce” (56). She connects the choices made within teaching and composing contexts to these broader social environments that are then reproduced within those contexts. [TP]