De visualium rhetoricorum natura: Design, art, culture, text
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With the rise of multimedia, communication took a decidedly visual turn. And while many disciplines such as design, media studies, marketing, and art history have sought to analyze and explain visuals through various academic lenses, an emphasis on the culturally situated nature of visual language, on how visuals behave within visual discourse communities, has just begun to emerge. This field of study, visual rhetoric, collates traditional rhetoric’s abundance of persuasive resources with the systematic analysis of visual elements in order to understand how visuals persuade their audiences. But even with visual rhetoric’s growth in the past few decades, research into how visuals enact and sustain groups of people has not received adequate scholarly attention. Growing out of the increase in visual content, a realization that all visuals are contextually and culturally embedded, and the rising need to understand the rhetorical processes involved, the articles in this dissertation respond to this gap in the research by explicitly addressing how visual language functions in forming and sustaining community identity. In particular, my dissertation demonstrates how three visual discourse communities use distinct visual languages to help shape their individual group character. To do this, I employ three different visual methodological frameworks—iconology, Piercian semiotics, and social semiotics—that best explain each visual discourse community’s artifact.
In chapter two, I analyze a non-alphabetic historical register, a Sioux winter count, using iconology in order to comprehend its historicity. In chapter three, I employ Piercian semiotics to detail how text operates iconically within an advertisement and a poem. And in chapter four, I examine four minor league baseball hat logos using the social semiotic perspective to glean how professional designers visualize their intended community. These articles all focus on how the visual language distinct visual discourse communities use explains, expresses, details, and perpetuates the cultural and social beliefs of their intended audiences. As such, this dissertation adds new insights into visual rhetoric’s ability to explain how communities (audiences) use visual codes to bind themselves together.