Visual Rhetoric

Visual rhetoric explores how our visual landscape is symbolically communicative, affecting its audience is a variety of different ways. All forms of rhetoric are always cultural and social-they respond to and come into being for cultural needs and practices. This is not a one-way relationship; rhetoric affects and transformation our social and cultural world as well.

Our world is a visual landscape-it affects how we organize information on a page, advertise our products, dress for work and home, express artistic sentiment, entertain one another, preserve our memories, imagine possibilities, and even organize nationalities and ethnicities on a map.

The Visual Rhetoric component of this site ideally facilitates theoretical and practical inquiry into the visual. It collects resources for students and scholars, showcases student work, and allows critical reflection about the process of creation.

The site uses a class in visual rhetoric to provide its organizational structure: class materials, student work, creative blog, course assignments, and a bibliography of additional materials and references.


  • Fonts

    The written word is often associated with its spoken counterpart, not with its visual landscape. However, once a word is written, it is visual. This has some interesting rhetorical affects, for the word still carries verbal meaning, but the visual meaning that it simultaneously conveys is sometimes complimentary, sometimes antithetical, but always rhetorical in a different way.

  • Scientific Data

    People who make scientific arguments often depend on visual representations to make or support those arguments, from statistical data to representational photography. This data often looks factual, and some would say pure. However, like all visuals, scientific visuals do a lot of rhetorical work, often supporting the myth that science is always logical. This practice tends to mask power relationships, the people involved, and the end effect.

  • Image-Text

    In 1977, Roland Barthes argued that images and texts can work to reinforce a message on multiple levels, from the easily identifiable message (buy tomato sauce) to the ideological message (the idea of Italian identity). This is not new. The image-text has long allowed people to lampoon one another's ideas in popular comics (think New Yorker) or teach people about a new product (Google Chrome's educational comic).

  • Spatial

    Maps are representations of space. They show where things are. And they show what's important for a specific purpose, and it is this claim that makes maps rhetorical. Maps can show the passage of time, the breaking up of land into national territories, the shifting allegiance from rail to highways, and even the feminization of land. Maps look so innocent in their "correct" presentation of space, which makes them such a powerful rhetorical tool.