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What Is Visual Rhetoric?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Visual rhetoric is an area of study and practice in rhetoric based on the ability of images not only to have an aesthetic effect but also to convey meaning. Rhetoric is traditionally based in the use of words, either in speech or in writing, to convey meaning of some form, as in exhibition or argument. The field of visual rhetoric seeks to explore the various ways in which images can work toward the same ends. An image of a politician in a campaign ad, for instance, may show him reading a story to children. This communicates, without the use of words, that the politician cares about children and the community.

In addition to the use of images, visual rhetoric emphasizes the importance of the layout and appearance of elements in a given presentation. Typography, for instance, is an important part of visual rhetoric; a text presented in a comic book font will probably not be taken as seriously as a text presented in a more rigid and uniform font. The arrangement of various elements on a page is also very important, as placement determines what people will see and when they will see it. This can be very important to the overall perception of a given text or presentation.

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Usually, visual rhetoric serves primarily to emphasize and clarify more traditional rhetorical techniques. A picture of a politician that showcases some good quality may, for instance, accompany a paragraph about his various good qualities. The information contained in the text is supported by the image, and the text sharpens and clarifies the meaning conveyed by the image. In some cases, though, images can largely stand alone with little or no support from text. This is particularly true when they feature or are contextually related to well-known places or people, as little or no additional clarification may be necessary.

The importance of visual rhetoric in modern culture cannot be understated given the sheer amount of information that most people encounter over the course of a day. People tend not to invest time into reading or examining something unless they are presented with a good reason to do so. A page of plain text tends not to grab anyone's attention. Techniques in visual rhetoric, then, are used to draw attention to particular pieces of information. In some cases, images and designs based on visual rhetoric techniques are used to convey information without words, thereby allowing people to receive a message passively or with minimal time or energy.

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