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Elements of Visual Rhetoric

Page history last edited by Abigail Heiniger 7 years, 5 months ago

Go to Fairy Tales in Visual Media


Elements of Visual Rhetoric:

Visual thinking is a term used to describe the convergence of aesthetic language and critical thinking (analyzing images).



  • Color can function in a vast range of ways. Color theory began with Isaac Newton's Optiks (1704), which looks at the physical nature of color. Today, color theory also encompasses the psychological, emotional, and symbolic nature of color. Color can function to set the tone or create mood in an image.  
    • Warm colors
      • Warm colors suggest warmth, light, and excitement. 
    • Cool colors
      • Cool colors suggest cold, and a calm or depressed mood.  
    • Use of light and shadow  
      • Chiaroscuro is the dramatic use of light and shadow. 
  • LINE

  • Lines are points that move through space. They implicitly or explicitly move the viewer's eye in a specific direction. This movement can function to create a sense of depth and space. Lines may also have an emotional or psychological effect on the viewer. They can create feelings of stability or drama.  
    • Internal, implied lines
    • Lines of sight
    • Explicit lines
    • Angles 

  • Real space is three-dimensional: it has height, depth, and width. In art, space may be real (a three-dimensional art-object such as a sculpture in the round) or it may be an illusion created with lines and colors on a two-dimensional plane. Both line and color may be used to manipulate space in an art object. The manipulation of space in an art object can have an emotional or psychological effect upon the viewer.  
    • Sculpture in-the-round is a three-dimensional art object
    • Paintings (two-dimensional) can create the illusion of three dimensional space. 

  • The human body is important for creating meaning in the visual arts. The context of the body (where it is) and the positioning of the body are rhetorically charged. Human viewers relate to visual representations of the human figure (both realistic and abstract or symbolic renderings of the human body), it has the power to create sympathy (or empathy) in the viewer. 

      • The clothing on the human body tells a story (it can identify gender, nationality, class...).  
    • ACTION

      • The human body may tell stories through movement. These stories maybe explicit, such as the action of characters in a film, or it may be symbolic, such as the movement of dancers on a stage

  • Context is everything that surrounds an art object. This includes physical place setting (where the sculpture is displayed or a painting is hanging), historical setting (the time in which it was created, the time in which it is currently being viewed...), the sociopolitical situation, and the individual life-story of the artist.    

  • The argument or message of an artwork is the overarching meaning of the work for the viewer or the cultural work in which the artwork engages. (Among other things) this argument or message is created through the combined rhetorical devices listed here.



Other Resources for formal analysis:



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