We understand new concepts by drawing on what we already know, so this new knowledge is constructed by bringing together the similar and dissimilar. This visual process allows us to draw connections through many different, subjective views. Therefore, we constantly create perception, which is invaluable to thought. These multiple thoughts and perceptions provide us with multidimensional sight; thus, a good seer is a good thinker (Sousanis 81-82). [HD]
In the second half of Unflattening by Nick Sousanis, imagination is a key term used to help us see beyond what is presented when it comes to ideas, concepts, visuals, ect. Sousanis describes imagination as a way to “exceed our inevitably limited point of view to find perspectives not in existence or dimensions not yet accessible” (88). It seems that embracing imagination validates discovery, helping us see in new inventive ways.
With this in mind, what role does imagination play in our critique and understanding of visuals and is our interpretation valid?
On page 78, Sousanis writes, “Drawing is a way of seeing and thus, a way of knowing.” He claims this allows us to extend our thinking by “distributing it between conception and perception,” and argues this is a generative process by which we form ideas in search of greater understanding (79).
This makes me wonder – does someone need to have some proficiency/mastery in drawing to fully extend his or her thinking in this way – or for the process to be successfully generative? I think of myself (a self-professed poor drawer) during most of our stop-draws; I’m often consumed by the notion that the image I am looking to create is never truly reflected. When I write, however, I do experience this extension of thought. So, should we think of this experience from drawing as universal, or as just one of several formats to engage with this thought-extending process? Perhaps the woodworking or the quilter – folks who may self-profess proficiency in neither drawing nor writing – could also experience this? Is this more generally a notion realized through the creation of art?
Sousanis cites Masaki Suwa and Barbara Tversky’s idea that drawing is a means of developing a conversation with ones self, allowing us to tap into our visual system and see relationally. He claims that his relational viewpoint, or perception, is fundamental in meaning making. Sousanis writes, “in reuniting thinking and seeing, we expand our thinking and concept of what thinking is.” He ends the idea with stating, “to prepare good thinkers we need to cultivate good seers” (81).
This is a bit of an extension from my question above, but doesn’t Sousanis ignore a specific population of people in this claim? If I am blind I cannot reunite thinking and seeing – does that mean I cannot expand my concept of what thinking is? Do I not have the potential to be a “good thinker” (in this sense) because I cannot be a good seer? Or should we, again, look at this as just one of the potential avenues to cultivate expansive thinking?
Gray, J., Bounegru, L., Milan, S., & Ciuccarelli, P. (2016). Ways of Seeing Data: Toward a Critical Literacy for Data Visualizations as Research Objects and Research Devices. In Innovative Methods in Media and Communication Research (pp. 227-251). Springer International Publishing.
Gray, Bounegru, Milan, Ciuccarelli argue for a reflection on visual rhetoric methodology. They propose a heuristic framework of reflection drawing upon the following: new media studies, science and technology studies, the history and philosophy of science, and cultural studies and critical theory.
Lohse, J., Rueter, H., Biolsi, K., & Walker, N. (1990, October). Classifying visual knowledge representations: A foundation for visualization research. In Visualization, 1990. Visualization’90., Proceedings of the First IEEE Conference on (pp. 131-138). IEEE.
This piece proved to be a useful addition to Drucker’s Graphesis. Classifying research visualizations as graphs and tables, maps, diagrams, networks, and icons, the authors note that spatial information and cognitive processing effort differentiate the “homogenous clusters,” or the classifications of visual representations in research.
Van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Towards a semiotics of typography. Information design journal, 14(2), 139-155.
I based my poster off of Van Leeuwen’s piece on typography. Van Leeuwen argues that typography is no longer “a craft of the written word,” but a visual rhetoric in itself. He provides a classification system and ways in which to interpret its characteristics.
Hocks, M. E. (2003). Understanding visual rhetoric in digital writing environments. College composition and communication, 629-656.
Hocks comments on the importance of an awareness of visual rhetoric when teaching composition, but most notably, in “digital writing environments.” Hocks emphasizes the visual representation of text on the internet, and how understanding audience stance, transparency, and hibridity can help writers and students channel visual rhetoric principles when forming online documentation.
Brumberger, E. R. (2005). Visual rhetoric in the curriculum: Pedagogy for a multimodal workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 68(3), 318-333.
Brumberger comments on the lack of visual rhetoric training in business courses. By lacking visual rhetoric education, students (as professionals) are unable to utilize and mediate multimodal environments. Brumberger suggests adding courses, integrating visual communications, and contextualizing (in business settings) existing design projects to improve on this issue.
Imagination: Nick Sousanis discusses imagination as a crucial to “unflattening” our perspectives. He claims, “[i]magination lets us exceed our inevitably limited point of view to find perspectives not in existence or dimensions not yet accessible” (Sousanis 88). When referring to the function of imagination, he continues, “[i]t is the imagination, Etienne Pelaprat and Michael Cole assert, that fills in the gaps and links fragments to create stable and single images that make it possible for us to think and to act” (Sousanis 90). Hence, imagination allows us to understand life from the perspectives of others.
Understanding: Regarding understanding, Sousanis explores it as the creation of meaning through the process of making connections between ideas, concepts, items, etc. Sousanis states, “[u]nderstanding, like seeing, is grasping this always in relation to that. Even as we hold and stitch distinct viewpoints together, the space between them doesn’t collapse—it’s not a process of closing, of being finished. Rather, each new engagement generates another vantage point from which to continue the process again” (150). This notion further expands and evolves the role of understanding. [MAP]
Sousanis, Nick. Unflattening. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.
perspective, imagination, self-awareness, viewpoint, seeing, constraints
Our imagination fills the gaps in our understanding. Our understanding of new things relies on what we know. Awareness of what we know allows us to venture into the unknown. The unknown is sought to feed our imagination.
Aiken, Nancy E. The Biological Origins of Art. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.
Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Moore, Alan. Watchmen. Illustrations and lettering by Dave Gibbons. Colorist John Higgins. New York: DC Comics, 1987.
“When ideas are written in stone with the certainty that we got it right, we risk following without reflection” (110).
“Through repetition over time, we become proficient. Forming habits is essential so we do not have to relearn every activity continually” (111).
“To set ourselves free, we can’t simply cut our bonds. For to remove them (if we could) would only set us adrift, detached from the very things that make us who we are” (134).
What is the significance of restraints in relationship to developing an identity?
Abbott, Edwin Abbott. Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions. London: Seeley, 1884. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1952.
On the surface, Flatland is a quaint story about A. Square, resident of the two-dimensional Flatland, exploring different lands of different dimensions. The book, moreover, is an analysis on the effects of different perspectives within different spaces, and how those perspectives conform or disconnect to the worldview of others. [CR]
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Campbell explores the commonality between different themes throughout many different mythologies. The main theme is the hero’s journey, or the main character’s development from inexperienced youth to wise master. How this journey is portrayed is analyzed through the difference perspectives. [CR]
Gravett, Paul. Graphics Novels: Everything You Need to Know. New York: Collins Design, 2005.
Gravett analyzes the effectiveness of the medium of graphic novels through his exploration of thirty of the most prolific ones. Through those examples, the author discusses different themes, influences from outside of the United States, and even how to view graphic novels. [CR]
Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
As the title of the book implies, Latour introduces the concept of Actor-Network-Theory, where objects participate in the construction of social objectives. Latour argues for this viewpoint as opposed to the one where the social is just a collection of viewpoints applied to certain situations. [CR]
Shlain, Leonard. Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light. New York: Morrow, 1991.
Although art and physics may seem diametrically opposed, Shlain explores in his book that they are more connected than people will acknowledge. He analyzes the development of both throughout history, revealing how art has often predicted the trajectory of the development of physics. [CR]
Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- Sequential Art
The primacy of words over images has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the two are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making? Written and drawn entirely as comics, Unflattening is an experiment in visual thinking. Nick Sousanis defies conventional forms of scholarly discourse to offer readers both a stunning work of graphic art and a serious inquiry into the ways humans construct knowledge.
Unflattening is an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint. Weaving together diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology, it uses the collage-like capacity of comics to show that perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points. While its vibrant, constantly morphing images occasionally serve as illustrations of text, they more often connect in nonlinear fashion to other visual references throughout the book. They become allusions, allegories, and motifs, pitting realism against abstraction and making us aware that more meets the eye than is presented on the page.
In its graphic innovations and restless shape-shifting, Unflattening is meant to counteract the type of narrow, rigid thinking that Sousanis calls “flatness.” Just as the two-dimensional inhabitants of Edwin A. Abbott’s novella Flatland could not fathom the concept of “upwards,” Sousanis says, we are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind. Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge, Unflattening teaches us how to access modes of understanding beyond what we normally apprehend.
Harvard University Press [http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674744431]
Ball, D.M. & Kuhlman, M.B. (2010). The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is a Way of Thinking. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
De Bono, E. (1970). Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. New York: Harper and Row.
Jensen, D. (2004). Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.
- “A changed approach is precisely the goal for the journey ahead: to discover new ways of seeing, to open spaces for possibilities, and to find ‘fresh methods’ for animating and awakening” (27).
- “Unflattening is a simultaneous engagement of multiple vantage points from which to engender new ways of seeing” (32).
- “In relying on text as the primary means of formulating understanding, what stands outside its linear structure is dismissed, labeled irrational – no more conceivable than the notion of ‘upwards’ to a flatlander. The visual provides expression where words fail. What have we been missing? And what can be made visible when we work in a form that is not only about, but is also the thing itself” (59).
- Sousanis suggests seeing things from a myriad of different perspectives, but the book has no mention of ethics [at least yet]. Would views considered to be unethical, or harmful, also be worthy of consideration from his viewpoint?
- Sousanis explains that comics allow us to process images both sequentially and simultaneously. Are there any other formats that also invite this type of thinking? Could you think of shots within a film this way?
So my stop-draw was made specifically with the class in mind, so I changed it. Let’s see how it goes.
In Unflattening, Sousanis discusses the interplay between text and image, especially with regards to comics. It reminded me of how often it is in the comic book industry for writers to dictate what is drawn, and for artists to dictate what is written.
Stop-draw prompt- the first person who responds to this post comes up with a caption for the picture below. The next person draws a picture based on the first person’s caption. The person after that makes a caption for that picture, etc…