Theory of Visual Rhetoric

Authored by: Sonja K. Foss

Handbook of Visual Communication

Print publication date:  November  2004
Online publication date:  December  2004

Print ISBN: 9780805841787
eBook ISBN: 9781410611581
Adobe ISBN: 9781135636531


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Visual rhetoric is the term used to describe the study of visual imagery within the discipline of rhetoric. As a branch of knowledge, rhetoric dates back to classical Greece and is concerned with the study of the use of symbols to communicate; in the most basic sense, rhetoric is an ancient term for what now typically is called communication. Visual rhetoric is a very new area of study within this centuries-old discipline. Not until 1970 was the first formal call made to include visual images in the study of rhetoric, which until then had been conceived exclusively as verbal discourse. In that year, at the National Conference on Rhetoric, convened by the Speech Communication Association, a recommendation produced by the conference participants called for an expansion of the study of rhetoric “to include subjects which have not traditionally fallen within the critic’s purview; the non-discursive as well as the discursive, the nonverbal as well as the verbal” (Sloan et al., 1971, p. 221). The participants went on to suggest that a rhetorical perspective “may be applied to any human act, process, product, or artifact” that “may formulate, sustain, or modify attention, perceptions, attitudes, or behavior” (Sloan et al., 1971, p. 220).

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