From Don Moyer’s wonderful image stream. Which is stronger, text or image?
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I’ll spare you my usual critique of the Post-Warholian aesthetic, but there is no doubt that the aesthetic has permeated our culture. The democratization of art injected into the scene pop culture and, consequently, greater, more fragmented imagery. We became a culture of repetition and allusion, a culture of echoes.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with my geneology, the allusion and repitition is here to stay. Digitally it manifests itself in link blogging platforms like tumblr and its more immediate cousin, the retweet. It has even challenged the ideas of authorship and artistic integrity, let’s take Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster as a preeminent example.
There have been a number of comparisons with revolutionary propaganda ranging from Russian to the Black Panthers. The similarities are striking, if you check the previous links, and certainly some of the fundamental ideas of both Russian and Black Panthers, specfically bringing power to the people (where “the people” are the oppressed or ignored and marginalized), were emergent in the Public consciousness during the election.
Second, there are religious allusions, at least if the Warholian echoes are assumed, it reminds me of the Andy’s Madonna/Marilyn. The head almost shimmers or glows, he is to be understood as brilliant man (literally and visually). Also, the term “hope” is an religious term, i.e. “Faith, hope, and charity,” and brings to mind an eschatological notions. Here is the man who will bring change we can count on. “Hope,” of course, has is not just a suggestion, but a command. Remember Shepard’s “Obey” posters with Andre the Giant? The tone is admittedly softer hear, the typography is cleaner and unitalicised, firm but not demanding like “yield” as opposed to “stop.” Still, it echoes his earlier work.
Lastly, a uniquely visual metaphor: Obama is not looking us in the eye, he is looking upwards and outwards. We cannot see what he can see, but he looks certain, serious, and purposeful. This is what we want in a President, a man who knows were we must go, a visionary.
The image, regardless of one’s politics, is striking and it is the juxtaposition of these visual allusions which makes the above poster iconic. Again, we see the power of visual rhetoric.
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A couple of weeks ago I wrote on the need for design, specifically in the form of visual language, to be included in our framework for rhetoric. If we take this as true, then we can apply traditionally (verbal) rhetorical principles to visual media in new ways. Let’s take an example that has been floating around the web recently, Jonathan Jarvis’ brilliantly lucid articulation of the credit crisis. (The video is about 11 minutes long, so you better have some time.)
Any homelitcs professor worth his salt won’t let you pass his course without learning this little mantra about public speaking:
- Say what you are going to say.
- Say it.
- Say what you said.
The idea, of course, is that the mind requires repetition to learn and remember. This applies to visual as much as it does auditory presentations and Jarvis is a clear example of this:
First, the characters in the story are drawn consistently. I can tell the difference between investors and home owners, investment buildings from houses. This visual consistency (consistency being a form of repetition) helps smooth out the categories so I can begin to focus on their relationship to each other.
Second, the characters location is always fixed: the investment banker is in the middle, the morgage broker is to the left, and the home owners are alway left of the broker. The actual layout is a simple map of the players, and Jarvis simple zooms in and out to highlight the relationships. The staticness of their place allows the mind to focus on the fluidity of the relationships, so that in each return to an interaction between the characters we become more comfortable with how they are related (visually “saying what you said”) which, in the case of the credit crisis, is the meat and potatoes of the idea.
Now, these methods are probably nothing new to those who work with the visual medium professionally (read: “not me”), but I wonder how much systematic thought could be done to parsing the whole range of rhetorical devices (e.g., synecdoche, metonymy, or parallelism) for visual language.