This image represents visual rhetoric because it is demonstrating through the image that by cutting down trees we are killing our source of oxygen.

Visual Rhetoric: Breaking it Down




Casey Ferguson

When hearing the term visual rhetoric, the first thought that comes to mind is propaganda posters or visuals. The concept of political cartoons is to scare or persuade or brainwash you to think a certain way. While this concept relates to visual rhetoric, the concept of visual rhetoric is much more complex than posters or images. How can we break down visual rhetoric to develop a deeper understanding?

Representational Visuals v. Analyzing Visuals

The Eyman reading Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice debates the true definition of visual rhetoric. The first definition of the term would be the idea of representational visuals. This would include representational images much like the propaganda example mentioned before. or even an image that inflicts influence on the masses. The opposition states that,

“it could include the study of the visual aspect of pretty much anything created by human hands— a building, a toaster, a written document, an article of clothing— making the study of “visual rhetoric” overlap greatly with the study of design” (Hills and Helmers 2004).

This dives deeper into the “visual” aspect in that it now broadens the idea. This leads to an understanding that visual rhetoric is everywhere. Most visuals we interact with have purpose and meaning to persuade us to think one thing or another.


Bouncing off of the previous idea this then led me to the idea of aesthetics with visual rhetoric. The idea of architectural structures as visual rhetoric struck me. I have always thought about the purpose of the Vessel and Oculus station in New York City are supposed to be. I remember thinking the Oculus Station structure looked like a skeleton of some sort. Only to later find out it was intended to look like a skeleton of a whale. Why? No clue. But the point is that there is always an intended purpose when it comes to visual aspects of life.

The reading connects digital rhetoric and visual rhetoric by saying that,

“Modern information technologies construct meaning as simultaneously verbal, visual, and interactive hybrids, digital rhetoric simply assumes the use of visual rhetoric as well as other modalities” (Hocks 2003).

This to me leads to the idea of visual rhetoric and aesthetics. In working on our websites this semester I have developed a greater understanding of the importance of visual fluency. Color, images, fonts, and placement of text, are all important in making a website visually pleasing. The creator’s decisions intend to influence an audience or even multiple audiences.

How I feel

Without visual rhetoric, it would be difficult to fully execute digital rhetoric. Visual rhetoric is extremely important. By nature, humans are drawn to what is visually appealing to us.

When creating my website I took a lot of time in making sure my visuals appeal to my intended audience. If I didn’t approach it with this in mind my site would not have the functionality or purpose that I intended for it and my users.

In terms of the definition of “visual rhetoric,” I am confused. I feel that both equally create this definition of the term. I think the concept itself is vast and complex because anything could be visual rhetoric. Limiting it is taking away from the purpose of it which is to make us think and develop an understanding of the why or what.


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