Reading Question 3/13

“And third, there are those who insist that the most important site at which the meaning of an image is made is not its author, or indeed its production itself, but its audiences, who bring their own ways of seeing and other knowledges to bear on an image and in the process make their own meanings from it” (Rose 23).


In this section, Rose discusses the ways of seeing and the sites, “at which the meanings of an image are made” (16). Although she does not directly discuss ethos in this section by calling it such, she does address the credibility of the author/creator of a particular image. With her perspective of meaning making in mind, how does this theory of knowledge production translate to quantitative images (graphs and charts)? For example, if different individuals released two graphs and each image represented the same set of quantifiable information differently, what would be the author’s role in the image reception? What if one author was Neil deGrasse Tyson and the other was a graduate student in physics? In this case, would the authors still not contribute as much meaning to the image as the audiences themselves? [LW]

Brooke Notes – Sonja Foss, “Theory of Visual Rhetoric” – 2/27

Foss, Sonja. “Theory of Visual Rhetoric.” Handbook of Visual Communication: Theory, Methods, and Media, edited by Ken Smith, Sandra Moriarty, Gretchen Barbatis, and Keith Kenney, Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005, pp. 141-52. 

Summary: Foss provides a brief history of visual rhetoric’s place within the larger collection of rhetorical theory. She argues that visual rhetoric has two meanings–communicative artifacts, and the scholarly perspective used to study the communicative artifacts. She goes on to argue that visually rhetorical artifacts must showcase symbolic action, human intervention, and an authentic audience, while the visual rhetoric perspective seeks to understand an artifacts nature, function, and evaluation. Ultimately, Foss argues for a more inclusive understanding of rhetorical theory that not only recognizes verbal discourse, but visual discourse as well.

Keywords: visual rhetoric, images, symbolic action, human intervention, audience, perspective, communication, nature, function, evaluation, deductive, inductive


  1. “Although a natural affinity appears to exist between rhetoric and visual symbols, the inclusion of visual imagery in rhetorical study has not been the seamless process that the above narrative suggests” (142).
  2. “That the study of visual images continued and, indeed, now flourishes in rhetorical studies is because of a number of factors. Primary among them is the pervasiveness of the visual image and its impact on contemporary culture… To restrict the study of symbol use only to verbal discourse means studying a minuscule portion of the symbols that affect individuals daily” (142).
  3. “The study of visual imagery from a rhetorical perspective also has grown with the emerging recognition that visual images provide access to a range of human experiences not always available through the study of discourse” (143).
  4. “As a result of nascent efforts to explore visual phenomena rhetorically, the term visual rhetoric now has two meanings in the discipline of rhetoric. It is used to mean both a visual object or artifact and a perspective on the study of the visual data. In the first sense, visual rhetoric is as product individuals create as they use visual symbols for the purpose of communicating. In the second, it is a perspective scholars apply that focuses on the symbolic processes by which images perform communication” (143).
  5. “Not every visual object is visual rhetoric. What turns a visual object into a communicative artifact–a symbol that communicates and can be studied as rhetoric–is the presence of three characteristics… The images must be symbolic, involve human intervention, and be presented to an audience for the purpose of communicating with that audience” (144).
  6. “Visual rhetoric as a theoretical perspective–or what might be called a rhetorical perspective on visual imagery to distinguish it form the other sense of visual rhetoric–is a critical-analytical tool or a way of approaching and analyzing visual data that highlights the communicative dimensions of images” (145).
  7. “A rhetorical perspective on visual imagery is also characterized by specific attention to one or more of three aspects of visual images–their nature, function, and evaluation” (146).
  8. “Description of the nature of the visual rhetoric involves attention to two components–presented elements [design choices] and suggested elements [interpretations based on design choices]”  (146).
  9. Function, as it is used in this perspective, is not synonymous with purpose, which involves an effect that is intended or desired by the creator of the image” (146).
  10. “Whatever criteria are used, scholars who adopt a rhetorical perspective on images and choose to focus on evaluation are interested in improving the quality of the rhetorical environment by discriminating among images” (147).
  11. “Scholars who apply a rhetorical perspective to visual imagery deductively use visual imagery to illustrate, explain, or investigate rhetorical constructs and theories formulated from the study of discourse” (147).
  12. “A second approach to the application of a rhetorical perspective on visual imagery is the investigation of the features of visual images to generate rhetorical theory that takes into account the distinct characteristics of the visual symbol. Scholars who pursue this round begin with an exploration go visual images and operate inductively, generating rhetorical theories that are articulate about visual symbols” (149).
  13. “Visual rhetoric, as communication data to be studied and as an approach to those data, suggests the need to expand understanding of the multifarious ways in which symbols inform and define human experience and constitutes a call to expand rhetorical theory, making it more inclusive in its encompassing of visual as well as verbal symbols” (151).


  1. This chapter was published in 2005. Have visual rhetoric scholars engaged Foss’s call for uptake in the past decade? Do we now have a more inclusive collection of rhetorical theory that not only recognizes but prioritizes visual communication?
  2.  In WRTG 540, we’ve talked about the importance of text production, not just interpretation. That is, a visual rhetoric class cannot only showcase Foss’s understanding of the visual rhetoric perspective, but must also include the generation of communicative artifacts. How do other rhet/comp programs make peace with this balance–particularly programs that emphasize visual rhetorics?

Further Reading:

  1. Foss, S.K. (1994). A rhetorical schema for the evaluation of visual imagery. Communication Studies45, 213-224.
  2. Burke, K. (1966). Language as symbolic actionL Essays on life, literature, and method. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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?

Reading Questions: 2/6

“By focusing on the human shaping of material, and on the ties of material to human practices, we might be in better positions to ask after the consequences not only of how we use water but also of how we use paper, ink, and pixels to shape—for better or worse—the actions of others.” (Wysocki 59)

 (Barry 180)

Wysocki discusses the ways in which humans shape materials, and how we are often confined by the cultural implications of certain technologies. Barry, on the other hand, often discusses how materials and words shape us, and she gives several examples of poems, images, and colors that create and shape our memories and dreams.

Where, then, is the true intersection of modality, materiality, and our own imagination? Do the materials we use shape us? Or do we shape the modes and materials we use? [LW]