Teaching Visual Rhetoric

In this day and age the analysis of rhetoric is no longer confined to just the literary medium, it flows out into the visual and digital realms as well. With the emergence of visual design and digital media in composition courses, it’s getting to point where academia can no longer ignore the digital’s influence and potential for enhancing the student’s learning experience. These following articles address this issue from multiple viewpoints and offer ways of analyzing objects. A couple article specifically focus on advertising images and documentary films. However, the rest of the articles encourage composition instructors to allow their students the freedom to incorporate media/visual/design within their assignments; so as to strengthen a student’s writing and their understanding of the course material.

Barthes, Roland. “Rhetoric of the Image.” The Visual Culture Reader (2002)
Within this text, Barthes focuses on an advertising image and offers a systematic breakdown of that image into three messages: linguistic, coded iconic, and non-coded iconic. Furthermore, Barthes presents two functionalities of the image’s linguistic message: anchorage and relay. This text provides a useful breakdown of how to dissect an image, one that would be helpful for composition students.

Foss, Karen A. “Celluloid Rhetoric: The Use of Documentary Film to Teach Rhetorical Theory.” Communication Education 32 (1983)
Foss outlines documentary film’s three key components: the filmmaker’s responsibility to provide valid facts, a filmmaker’s duty to portraying reality in an artistic manner, and that the filmmaker must make the documentary persuasive. For Foss, a documentary must ultimately portray reality artistically and operate as a means for influencing public thought. Similar to Barthes’ text, this article gets the students to critically engage with documentary films, allowing them start thinking of films critically.

George, Diana. “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing.” College Composition and Communication 54.1 (2002)
George traces the role of the visual within composition studies back from the 1940s to the 2000s. She emphasizes that the connection between writing instruction and visual communication has only scratched the surface of its potential within the composition classroom. It is George’s desire to implement visual assignments into the composition curriculum in order to support students’ essay writing.

Hocks, Mary E. “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments.” College Composition and Communication 54.4 (2003)
In this text, Hocks relays the idea of composition studies shifting from having a sole focus on writing, towards that of design. Literacy is being redefined by new media, and it is the instructor’s responsibility to allow students to utilize design. Through design, students are given skills to not only produce their own media, but skills which also enhance their critical thinking.

Perez, Gilbert. “Toward a Rhetoric of Film: Identification and the Spectator.” Senses of Cinema 60 (2000)
Perez wishes to emphasize that rhetorical identification is not a personal matter, but is instead public (is always being addressed to an audience). He remarks that it is a common mistake to consider film rhetoric to only be a personal matter, i.e. a “oneness.” Through identifying the commonality of film rhetoric, the audience becomes one step closer to understanding how rhetoric utilizes action as means to get people to act together.

Westbrook, Steve. “Visual Rhetoric in a Culture of Fear.” College English 68.5 (2006)
Westbrook examines academia’s propensity for devaluing a student’s experimentation with visual rhetoric and multimedia composition. He would like to move away from the institutional mindset of rendering a student’s use of multimedia composition as illegitimate. He brings to light the danger from such a course of action: that restricting a student’s production and circulation of multimedia ultimately inhibits their writing potential.



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