Visual Communication Conference 9, Flagstaff AZ, 1995

VISUAL COMMUNICATION THEORY: A SEARCH FOR ROOTS The study of visual communication theory is a multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional effort. People who write on this topic come from mass communication, film and cinema studies, education, art, anthropology, psychology, architecture, philosophy, linguistics, and semiotics, among other fields. Although this brings a rich melange of viewpoints, which is an asset because of the insights that come from cross-fertilization, it causes some problems academically for those who teach visual communication because of the lack of any sense of common theory. This is not to suggest that there is or should be a central or core theory that organizes the field, however, it would be easier to order a curriculum, as well as a graduate program of study, if there were some notion of at least the important theories from the various disciplines that need to be covered. This paper reviews work accomplished as part of a project to identify the roots of visual communication theory. It begins with a review of the literature from various disciplines and then reports the responses to an open-ended survey that asked visual communication educators to comment on their views of the theories that had been most useful to them in their intellectual development. The objective of the survey was to determine first if there is any sense of fundamental theories and then identify the most important contributing disciplines. In addition, the study investigates two points of possible confusion in the theoretical development of the field--1.) language as a metaphor for visual communication, and 2.) the meaning of the phrase "visual aesthetics." The language metaphor is frequently used to help explain how visual communication operates, however some scholars question whether language is an adequate model. This question simply sought to determine some since of the usefulness of the language metaphor. The visual aesthetics question sought to determine whether that term generally refers to an aesthetic or functional viewpoint. Review As an introduction to the complexities of visual communication theory, let's begin with a review of some of the major pieces of work, the scholars working in this area, and the disciplines they represent. But first, what are the sources? Important conferences includes the annual Visual Communication Conference, a summer conference that focuses on visual communication but is unaffiliated with any membership organization, the annual International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA) conference in the fall, and the Visual Communication Division sessions at the Association for Education in Journalism and Communication (AEJMC) conference in August. IVLA publishes its conference proceedings. The Speech Communication Association (SCA) also has a visual communication division. Two recent international conferences have been particularly stimulating including the IVLA international conference in Delphi Greece in 1993 and the Nordic Visual Communication Conference in Oslo in 1994. Articles are found in IVLA's Journal of Visual Literacy (previous name is Journal of Visual-Verbal Languaging) and Visual Literacy Review newsletter, AEJMC's Journalism Quarterly and the Visual Communication Division sponsored Visual Communication Quarterly which runs as an insert in the News Photographer magazine. Two other publications include Visual Sociology and Visual Anthropology. Another important publication which is now defunct was Studies in Visual Communication, which also included a

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Journal of Creative Behavior. Studying Visual Communication. Introduction to Visual Literacy. and Communication Theory .html strong focus on anthropology and cultural studies. John Berger's book. which explains how we learn to appreciate and use various aesthetic elements. which comes from the educational media discipline but includes a number of essays that relate to basic visual communication theory. Hortin's piece highlights the important work of John Debes as a pioneer in this area.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. A Primer of Visual Literacy. "Toward a Conceptual Map for Visual Literacy Constructs" that attempts to map the field of visual literacy in terms of basic concepts." Some scholars have tried to identify the interrelationships between visual and verbal information such as Roberts Braden who has developed a theory of visual/verbal symbiosis. Nikos Metallinos has also reviewed visual literacy theory relative to television processing in "Visual Literacy: Suggested Theories for the Study of Television Picture Perception. object) in their book on nonverbal communication. learning or thinking viewpoint.colorado. as this report hopes to do for the broader area of visual communication. as well. Ralph Wileman has created a 2 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . an effort that has been unsuccessful in finding a publication outlet. J ournal of Consumer Research. Arthur Asa Berger's Seeing is Believing is an introduction to visual communication from a more semiotic perspective. Paul Lester's textbook on visual communication is another important general introduction to the topic. This approach reflects the work of many IVLA scholars. "The Theoretical Foundations of Visual Learning" in Moore and Dwyer's book of readings. thinking. Probably the most important book specifically focused on visual communication theory is Sol Worth's series of essays which appeared in his landmark book. Another important work is a book of readings called Visual Literacy edited by Moore and Dwyer. Other publications that occasionally contain articles on visual communication include Design Issues. The Morgan and Welton book. Other important conceptual investigations includes a work by Braden and Baca. Most recently Paul Messaris's book also titled Visual Literacy. See What I Mean? approaches visual communication from a communication theory perspective. and communication by Barbara Seels. learning. An important theoretical analysis of the instructional/educational technology viewpoint was developed by John Hortin in his review. Communication scholar Donis Dondis also analyzed the basic elements of images and composition in terms of syntax and visual literacy in her book. Jeffrey Johns has also attempted to develop a model of visual communication from the mass communication viewpoint. Artist Deborah Curtiss has written a book. Social Research. The visual literacy approach outlined by Hortin begins with verbal language as a fundamental model and focuses on the transactional processes by which we receive and transmit visual meaning. Rune Pettersson's Visual Information is a useful textbook that focuses more on information theory. Ways of Seeing. takes on the conventional view of visual literacy as a learned process similar to language and instead proposes that visual literacy is largely a natural process. as well as scholars like Ruesch and Kees who developed a model of three kinds of nonverbal languages (pictorial. and illustrates the problems that visual communication has establishing itself as a recognized discipline. Francis Dwyer's Strategies for Improving Visual Learning is another important early contribution in this area. Another interesting development is that Kevin Barnhurst is trying to get a Visual Communication journal started either with the support of Syracuse University and various publishers or as a merged publication (the viscomm sponsor would be the Vis Com group of ICA--International Communication Association) with Visual Sociology (parent is IVSA--International Visual Sociology Association). Visible Language. since so much of the theoretical work has been produced by scholars working from an education. Also in the Moore and Dwyer book is a review of visual literacy. action. Visual Literacy Let's begin with the area of visual literacy.Untitled http://spot. is a series of essays based on a BBC television series by the same name. Communication.

psychology. Murch's work provides a good overview of visual and auditory perceptual processing. symbolic and indexical information. and Vision). Cognition and Information Processing For an understanding of the area of visual thinking the work of Jerome Bruner. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. who approaches visual thinking from a perceptual approach and other thinkers such as 3 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . a scholar in the psychology of art. From an entirely different discipline. Some of the most important works on the optics.colorado. is also argued by Cassidy and Knowlton. communication scholar Paul Messaris's argues in his book Visual Literacy that people become visually literate through a process that is basically perceptual and innate rather than learned as is language. James J. A chapter by Nikos Metallinos reviewing the physiological dimensions of perception is included in the Moore and Dwyer book.. and communication.Untitled http://spot. C.D. and his other writings.html typology of verbal and visual image relationships." Sandra Calvert's "Television Production Feature Effects on Children's Comprehension of Time.) Moriarty argues for the primacy of visual communication in a forthcoming article. iconic. are classics in this area. In contrast to the viewpoint of Nelson and most of the IVLA scholars. Gibson's book. David Hubel (Eye. Much of the recent work on development in visual communication focuses on how children learn to perceive television images including Robert Abelman's "You Can't Get There from Here: Children's Understanding of Time-Leaps on Television. and neural dimensions of visual perception include books and articles by Richard Gregory (Eye and Brain. Anderson and Fischer's "Young Children's Comprehension of Montage. Visual vs Verbal Other scholars such as Howard Gardner argue that visual communication processes are entirely different than language-based processes and that visual thinking and learning should be kept separate from language-based models. Gavriel Salomon questions whether literacy can be transferred from medium to another arguing that different media create different ways of knowing. Piaget and Dewey are important scholars whose work includes notions of visual development and their work has been joined more recently by Flavell and Gross who focus on the cognitive dimensions. also concludes that pictures represent reality in the same way that language does. Art and Visual Perception). who is more commence known as the father of American semiotics.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. Peirce's." and the numerous studies by Georgette Comuntzis-Page. Vernon (A Further Study of Visual Perception). who proposed that knowledge is categorized as enactive. is a good starting point. See What I Mean? also presumes that visual appreciation is learned. In other words. philosopher Nelson Goodman in his analysis of art. Brain.S.. His premise. The Intelligent Eye). Psychology of Perception and Physiology The perceptual approach with its roots in psychology and physiology is also where photojournalist Paul Lester begins his textbook. Development Children's developmental processes are also important areas of study that crosses over between education . Allan Paivio's work is particularly useful for his analysis of the independent but interrelated system of dual coding of verbal and visual information. (Add Broadbent?. meaning is determined by convention and thus learned." Other work includes Hochberg and Brooks' "Pictorial Recognition as an Unlearned Ability: A Study of One Child's Performance. Other important figures include Rudolf Arnheim (Visual Thinking. The Language of Art." Gardner and Jaglom's "Cracking the Codes of Television: The Child as Anthropologist. and symbolic. and M..he is also later. also has developed models of knowledge based on his tripartite schema of iconic. that visual literacy is a normal human condition. The Morgan and Welton book." and Smith. physiology. Ulric Neisser ("The Processes of Vision")..

Mind. and well-known scholars. Visual Learning. Art. Art and Aesthetics Art has also been a source for theory development in the visual communication field such as Susanne Langer's Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art. "Design Considerations of Visuals. Gombrich (The Image and the Eye). Symbols and Signs Several communication scholars have looked at the symbolic nature of communication and the symbolic interpretation of visuals such as Larry Gross ("Life vs. Robert McKim (Experiences in Visual Thinking). But even in works focused on art there is often cross-over with other disciplines. "Images and Imagery Theory" in the Moore and Dwyer book by Miller and Burton. and the work of Norwegian scholar Torben Grodal. Likewise the Dondis book analyzed the basic elements of images and composition in terms of syntax and visual literacy. Hungarian designer Gyorgy Kepes. particularly the gestalt school. mentioned earlier." looks at visual aesthetics from the standpoint of perceptual psychology. and C. and Communication.al. it identifies certain areas--visual literacy. A review of this area is undertaken in a chapter titled. A basic review of design elements and design principles is available in Thompson's chapter.Untitled http://spot. Doris Graber discusses schema theory in her analysis of political coverage and much of her analysis focuses on news visuals. Other important works on the way information is coded for storage and how it is contained in pictures include James Gibson's "The Information Available in Pictures. Visual Theory: Painting and Interpretation. Sol Worth ("Pictures Can't Say Ain't"). and Brain: A Cognitive Approach to Creativity. and Christian Metz. is a cross-over approach where cognitive psychology is used to analyze art and artistic production.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. Work that is more clearly focused on the visual aspects of cognition include the series of essays in Randhawa and Coffman's book. Perception. theoretical issues. the essays in the book of readings by Bryson et. visual thinking. that are useful in understanding visual communication." John Kennedy's "How Minds Use Pictures. who was affiliated with the Bauhaus School of design. Kennedy's piece on how minds use pictures. In addition. consider Finke's book on creativity imagery. is on visual literacy. ("The Perceived and the Named"). For example. Foundation work comes from Broadbent. 4 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . and Posner. Howard Gardner's book. but it focuses how we learn to appreciate and use various aesthetic elements. and many other writings on perception. Other work includes a review of visual symbols by Edward Sewell.. This is by no means an exhaustive survey of the literature.html E. Ideation Creative thinking is another field similar to visual communication in that it is not anchored in any one discipline. Caropreso and Miller on creative thinking and visual information in Moore and Dwyer. Similarly Ann Marie Barry's chapter. "Perceptual Aesthetics and Visual Language. visual perception--that are evolving or have evolved with their own literature base. as well as the Sheikh's book on imagery in education. Julian Hochberg is another important figure in this area with his book. Thinking." and Kosslyn's "Information Representation in Visual Images." in the Moore and Dwyer book. There are theoretical works in that area. The Curtiss book. David Marr's book titled Vision: A computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information. however.colorado. "Imagination Depends on Images. wrote and edited several important books including The Language of Vision and Sign Image Symbol. the MacInnis and Price article on imagery in information processing. H." The psychological approach to visual communication theory also looks to cognitive processing theories." and the chapter by Couch. Neisser. and many others. Wim Koole's article. Art"). W Bloomer (Principles of Visual Perception). its purpose is to review the major streams of research and identify points where there are intersections between disciplines.

al. The Imaginary Signifier). among others. Other work includes Lester Olson's "Portraits in Praise of a People: A Rhetorical Analysis of Norman Rockwell's Icons in Franklin D. provides an introduction to this area. Also working from a semiotic perspective Fernande Saint-Martin proposed a theory of syntactical analysis of the topography of visuals in her book. Other works include James Monaco's. Roosevelt's 'Four Freedoms' Campaign. Of course. Rhetoric and persuasion in communication studies are other sources of visual communication studies. and Sebeok. among others. Paul Messaris has written an article "Visual 'Manipulation': Visual Means of Affecting Responses to Images" that investigates these topics and is working on a book in the same area. the work mentioned earlier by Graber also makes important contributions to the understanding of how visuals contribute to the understanding of news looked at from the perspective of schema theory. In the area of graphic design. and the Moriarty and Popovich analysis of campaign visuals. Kevin Barnhurst has dissected how layout works in newspapers in his book. She has also used semiotics to analyze advertising. 5 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . as well as many other books and articles with theoretical discussions on film theory. "Visemics: A Proposal for a Marriage Between Semiotics and Visual Communication" and continued that discussion in a forthcoming article on Peirce's abductive thinking and its relationship to visual thinking. Motion makes an important contribution to the discussion of video theory. Envisioning Information and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information." interpreted visual communication in terms of basic communication theory and is responsible for the highly quoted notion that the meanings of pictures are not in the pictures. How to Read a Film. A special 3-part series of Visible Language has recently been published on critical histories of graphic design. and Jack Lule's analysis of a Gulf War Newsweek cover. and Robert Craig. Other investigations of design elements include work by Self and Groover. Edward Tufte has developed a number of insights into the graphical presentation of information in his two books. Colin Turbayne. particularly Image Music Text. is another rich source for theoretical discussions including work by Christian Metz (Film Language. Semiotics and semiology have been a source of theoretical writing on visual communication. Sound. Herb Zettl's Sight. and Trevor Whittock and in articles and papers by Stuart Kaplan and Paul Messaris. and other writings. Communication and Mass Communication Areas Communication theorists have also made contributions to visual communication theory. the analysis of sports photographs by Hagaman. Arthur Asa Berger's little book. along with broadcasting and video studies.html Visual metaphors have been discussed in a number of papers and in books by Evelyn Hatcher. the analysis of the Carter-Reagan Debate by Tiemens et. Signs in Contemporary Culture. Film and cinema studies. Wendt in "The Language of Pictures." Linda Scott's paper on visual rhetoric. photojournalism is also a source of theory discussions which appear in many works. Semiotics of Visual Language.colorado. Eco. Seeing the Newspaper. The realistic approach to visuals is often represented in the work of people concerned with photography such as Berger and his book Ways of Seeing. For other basic writings in this area.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. as well as film. Studies which investigate theoretical questions from a journalistic perspective include John Morello's work on the visual structuring of the presidential debates. but rather in what we bring to them. Moriarty proposed last year at this visual Communication Conference that semiotics ought to be given a more central role in the theory of visual communication in her paper. see the work of Peirce. In the mass communication arena. the visual information in TV news by Slattery. as does Berger. A number of works approach film images in terms of a code. among others. The work of Roland Barthes often focuses on visual images.Untitled http://spot. as has Mick and Verba.

The objective was to determine how broad the theoretical foundation might be and where the points of emphasis should be in the continuing evolution of visual communication theory. anthropological and social dimensions of visual information provide another area of theory development. Moriarty and Rohe have developed a culturally sensitive approach to graphic design in an article on "cultural palettes. Nonverbal Communication in Advertising. Rosskill and Carrier's book on truth in visual images. Social responsibility issues also emerge in the educational side of the field centering on questions of ideology and post structuralism interpretations as reviewed in Muffoletto's chapter in the Moore and Dwyer book. Social Sciences The cultural. his chapter on that topic in his textbook. Harper's review of the field of visual anthropology. among others. and members of the graphics division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).Untitled http://spot.html The persuasion industries of advertising and public relations are other mass communication areas that serve as a point of investigation and theory development for visual communication scholars. Anthropology has made a number of contributions in the area of visuals where photography is used as a social documentation tool. and other work by Liu.colorado. Belk. Other works include Robert Craig's "Advertising as Visual Communication. Ideology is also an important issue in works in the film arena such as Nichols' "Ideology and the Image" and Keith Kenney has also identified the ideological qualities of visual features. is a book of readings that considers a variety of nonverbal communication systems. A total of 350 surveys were mailed and 37 6 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . Goffman's work looks at mass communication images in terms of stereotyping. Critical Studies The role of imagery in cultural is investigated from a number of perspectives. The surveys were mailed to attendees of the 1994 Visual Communication conference. This body of work was often found in the now defunct publication. John Fischer's "Art Styles as Cultural Cognitive Maps. members of the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA). One of the classics articles is Benjamin's piece. The Survey The next step in this project was to develop a short survey inviting open ended responses by visual communication scholars to three questions relating to visual communication theory. Stewart's book. Some of these works include. Some important work in that area includes Laura Mulvey's classic work on "visual pleasure." McNally and Wolfe's work on the role Images in the social production of meaning.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Mass communication scholars are particularly interested in social responsibility theories and these are discussed in Paul Lester's book of readings." among others." Piette's review of the theory of anthropological photography. "Moriarty and Sayre also analyzed responses to imagery in a television commercial from a postmodern viewpoint." Yeaman provides a postmodern analysis of visuals including the implications of work by Derrida and other cultural criticism scholars in his chapter in the Moore and Dwyer book. Pollay and Moriarty. and Rollwagen's analysis of theory in ethnographic filmmaking. Feminist scholars also look at imagery and gender studies. and Linda Scott has analyzed the postmodern dimensions of advertising. including visuals. Images That Injure." David Mick's work on advertising semiotics. and a growing body of literature in journalism on digital manipulation and privacy. Sidney Hecker and David W. Studies in Visual Communication and more recently in the journal Visual Anthropology. and their effects. There is also a journal titled Visual Sociology and a group called the International Visual Sociology Association.

colorado. Is the verbal language model an adequate or useful metaphor for describing how visual communication works? 3.Untitled http://spot. philosophy. their department. those areas with one mention were visual literacy. aesthetics. Those respondents with two areas of focus mentioned mass communication/graphic design twice and another two said photography/graphics. For one thing.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. The questions were: 1. TV/broadcasting. however. political science. their background and what they teach. advertising. and practice it? 2. In other words. Table 1 summarizes the background of the respondents in terms of their disciplines. Other categories with three mentions included instructional technology. education (5) visual communication (5). This is an attempt to identify the various disciplines contributing scholars to the field of visual communication. and fine arts. and one each mentioned a concentration on film studies. what are the roots of the field of visual communication as you teach. this admittedly is a low response but there are a number of reasons for that response.html usable responses were received--15 were returned as undeliverable and 10 people responded that they were not "theoretical" and didn't know how to answer the questions. it may be an accomplishment that 37 people cared enough about the topic of visual communication theory to develop little essays in response to these rather challenging questions. there was some duplication in the membership lists. The most commonly reported identification was with mass communication (15). What are the key theories or theoretical foundations that structure your work in visual communication? In other words. anthropology. etc. Areas with two mentions included communication. Findings The survey included three open-ended questions plus a 3-part background question that asked about their professional education and experience. and the courses they taught. graphic design (10). Another ten identified themselves as double focused.) mean to you? Respondents' Orientation First let's look at the people who responded in terms of their orientation--i. analyze. literature. and feminism *Please note in coding this information that people were allowed to self identify themselves so the terminology used in this report reflects their own identification and the discriminations they drew. and visual communication. Other combinations 7 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM .e. are on there to keep up with the division activities even though they may not be practicing visual communication scholars. two as educational technology. art education. photography (7). and film (4). media aesthetics. PR. speech. I suspect many people tossed the survey rather than acknowledging their disinterest in theory. The most important factor in analyzing the response rate. psychology. comes from those few people who either called or sent the survey back with a note that they were unable to respond because they didn't teach theory. television. Only seven of the 37 identified themselves as being single focused--three identified their focus as mass communication. Furthermore many people on the mailing lists--particularly the AEJMC VisComm division list. that may be true for a large number of the people on both the AEJMC and IVLA lists. In fact. In truth. From a survey methodology perspective. What does the phrase "visual aesthetics" (or film aesthetics.

While most were working in related areas. mass communication. Of the 20.colorado. The interesting finding is that the other 20 respondents identified themselves with three or more disciplines. A general area summarized here as meaning theories (semiotics/semiology. their responses were listed and then grouped to determine some indication of relative emphasis based on frequency of mention. sociology. asked respondents to identify the key theories or theoretical foundations that structure their work. the largest number of mentions were found in the psychology category (49). This breaks down into gestalt approaches (9).html mentioned once include: mass comm/literature education technology/visual literacy graphic design/mass communication mass communication/television advertising/mass communication communication theory/speech. and chaos/complex systems. In the analysis. ideation.Untitled http://spot. visual communication emerged in this study as an area with a body of theory of its own and was third in emphasis with 14 mentions. Cinema/film studies were noted seven times. symbolism. cognitive/info processing (22). semantics) was second with 15 mentions. When the categories are collapsed. ethnography. there were some interesting eclectic mixtures: journalism/education/PR film/vis com/anthro/philosophy mass comm/advertising/film/psych/literature/educ fine arts/psych/business/advertising/educ journalism/photo/graphic design/pol sci This review confirms the notion that people teaching in the area of visual communication come from a variety of disciplines and teach a variety of topics. linguistics. and cultural/critical theories were noted eight times. A total of 16 theoretical areas were mentioned as providing grounding for visual communication study. behavioral sciences. and the heart of the survey. Education related theories such as learning and development were next with four mentions. philosophy. and perceptual psychology (15). Table 2 summarizes the responses. It should be noted that what is being designated here as the set of visual communication theories may also be related to other areas such as education for visual literacy and psychology for visual perception. Communication theory and literary studies including postmodern theories followed with six mentions. At the end of the list are those theoretical areas mentioned once or twice: historical.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. 8 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . one person mentioned six areas and three listed five. Contrary to the views of some respondents. Aesthetics. Key Theories The first content question.

" the verbal model is NOT useful. in part because the perceptive pathways to acknowledging visual information are different--"peripherally" rather than "centrally" is how the ELM model might express it. Visuals encompass so many dimensions simultaneously that I believe we need to use concepts directly related to the visual. This list was compiled by looking for names in the answers to all three questions. On this question there was more unanimity with 17 people saying no and four saying either "no but useful. Visual communication is DIFFERENT from verbal communication. Sergei Eisenstein. If you mean redundancy." Another noted that obviously verbal language is inadequate but we use it because of the lack of another model. One person said. The analogy can never be fully demonstrated Language seems to work best in a linear fashion. because it's preposterous (literally) to use non-visual material (language) as the model for visual material The verbal language model is grossly inadequate for describing how visual communication works because the sequential process of the left brain limits simultaneous visual comprehension..Ultimately.. "I would be 9 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . a number of respondents did note the people whose work they use. If you mean "grammar. Gibson. and Sol Worth--were mentioned twice. Verbal language is the worst model of all for visual communication. Language Metaphor The second question investigated the support for analyzing visual communication using verbal language as a model. and even photography work at the level of music." On the positive side.. then yes. Paul Messaris." "vocabulary." In the middle were four people who said yes and no. logical. Visual communication utilizes mainly the right brain to process visual mosaic landscapes The verbal realm is linear.html Another way to analyze these theories is in terms of the scholars producing the work. Table 3 summarizes those mentions. another three said "yes but.colorado. . however.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. People process visualizations differently than they process verbal data.J. Another six--Rudolph Arnheim. Good film. The comments were interesting because the respondents who were critical of the verbal metaphor were also quite verbal in making their points: No. One didn't understand the question." "syntax. and another six didn't provide any answer. emotion. J. I think visual communication is more fundamental than that. The interesting finding is that 56 names were mentioned but few were mentioned more than once. more intuitive. the visual is more holistically oriented. I don't think a verbal language model works because it is a symbolic system that grew out of high order abstraction. video. "We desperately need to develop a visual information processing model. The need for work in this area came through in several comments. Its codes and conventions must be learned.. We need to recognize that from the outset and develop different models.Untitled http://spot. And another respondent concluded by saying.. and sensuality which are non-verbal and non-cognitive. more harmful than helpful. The theory question did not ask for specific references to leading theorists. one person said yes. David Marr. Concepts like "grammar" and "syntax" are perhaps helpful in initial categorization but not in explaining how anything works. Herb Zettl and Christian Metz were mentioned three times.

. Another six explained the concept by trying to marry the two.. graphics.a means for codifying those qualities which a particular culture agrees to be beautiful . and architecture.Zettl has developed basic principles of television aesthetics from his knowledge of art.. Aesthetics gives us a unified approach to art which reveals a cross-pollination of perceptual and aesthetic insights in the form and content of creative works. film....." Visual Aesthetics The point of this question was to determine if there is any general sense of definition for this term. in the work of Zettl and other writers on visual production. an understanding of how and why we 10 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . It means either 1. some comments indicated the respondents were aware of both aspects of the term's use and they were able to marry these themes.edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey..We need to know the ways that visuals are effective to the perceiver.colorado." Ann Marie Barry's work on "perceptual aesthetics" is an attempt to bring these two concepts together. the comments are interesting as they illustrate how the respondents grappled with this question. it takes on a functional quality and is used to describe how the visual codes and conventions work. First from the artistic viewpoint: Aesthetics may be broadly defined as an appreciation of the beautiful. the artistic dimension. Once again. The practice of visual aesthetics promotes a generalized heightening of attention ..the aesthetic guidelines would be based more on the effectiveness of the visual communication of the message than in fine arts Some respondents explained that they use the term "visual aesthetics" to mean the artistic dimension and then went on to disclaim its application on the functional side: "Aesthetics" to me. Since there are such radically different streams of meaning embedded in the phrase "visual aesthetics. However...html very interested to know if others also find this metaphor awkward. Then consider the comments explaining the functional approach to visual aesthetics. and more narrowly defined as a philosophy of art. The word "effective" sometimes is used in these discussions of "media aesthetics" or "film aesthetics.In other words. Four responses were impossible to analyze in terms of these distinctions and another eight didn't answer.. . photography.." this survey sought to determine if the respondents are using this term with any consistency. refers to the level of pleasure.means to be able to see and appreciate the beauty or qualities inherent in either natural phenomena or man created or designed production in art. illustration. not with visual meaning in a more general sense Finally.. The reason for possible confusion is that the word aesthetics usually implies some notion of beauty or pleasingness..) theories of visual organization The term pertains to the artistic elements which direct the production of visual messages. The largest number of responses (14) were focused on the artistic dimension rather than the functional dimension (5). rather than to effectiveness For me the word "aesthetics" has to do primarily with art or with visual pleasure.) beauty or 2.Untitled http://spot. although her work is more focused on the functional side of cognitive processing.

and yet only two of the respondents acknowledged formal academic study in that area..edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. Psychology was the highest rated theoretical area. People who teach visual communication are housed in different homes and that makes it difficult to bring together scholars and researchers who are working on similar questions. which most of the respondents felt needed to be emphasized. visual perception. It's probably wishful thinking for most of us who are affiliated with entrenched academic disciplines. Conclusion The objective of this project was to determine the breadth of the theoretical foundation of visual communication and where the points of emphasis should be in the continuing evolution of visual communication theory." it seems clear from both the review of the literature and the responses to the first question. Regarding the two theoretical issues: it seems clear that most scholars responding to these surveys were frustrated by the verbal language metaphor which drives much of the work in visual communication." In fact. the tension between theory and practice is one of the assets of the area (discipline?) of visual communication.. but there is a central core of work that could provide a foundation for a more generally recognized discipline of visual communication. one that also crosses over all the borders and divisions of our various disciplines. but I regret THE TERM visual aesthetics. While a central theory may be too much to hope for.. but this study was not significant enough for them to acknowledge it in this survey as part of their orientation. but on the other hand it acknowledges the functional side of codes and conventions that either "work" effectively or "don't work. On one hand. The question about visual aesthetics illustrates the nature of the mixed metaphors that drive this field. 11 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . Envision a department or college of visual communication. visual thinking. intention and expression of art and the practice of communication These comments demonstrate the confusion that the term carries and the need for some attention to more careful analysis of such basic theories as aesthetics relative to the more functional qualities of effectiveness. Granted education graduate students study educational psychology and communication students may get an introduction to information processing in their courses.. but an enlightened approach to this area would be through a cross-discipline program that brings all these viewpoints together. Which isn't what Zettl had in mind at all. but what it represents to us as a field.Untitled http://spot. The only consensus here is that there is confusion. not only about what the phrase means. there is still a need for the development of a more widely accepted model that better addresses the unique characteristics of visual communication. In my opinion the term encourages the artistic at the expense of the communicative.colorado. In spite of the views of one of the respondents who said. Such work clusters in the areas of visual literacy. and signs and symbols. that there is an evolving body of visual communication theory and literature that crosses a variety disciplines. With more attention to this developing body of literature.forging a connection between the philosophy. An apparent anomaly in these responses comes from the high ratings for the various theories derived from the psychology area when compared with the academic background of the respondents. it refers to an aesthetic philosophy. I LIKE visual images that look good (are aesthetically pleasing). Different disciplines approach these topics from different backgrounds. . "There are no key theories in visual communication.html see is also a means for creating and appreciating art as well. visual communication would have more visibility and recognition as an academic field worthy of scholarly respect.

of this field of study: From personal experience I can only conclude that visual thinking and visual statement making entail an extraordinarily high form of mentation not fully grasped or appreciated. clickhere to return to Professor Moriarty's home page click here to return to the visual communication research page 12 of 12 10/29/2010 2:25 PM . let me refer to an insight from one respondent who is also struggling to identify the theoretical roots...edu/~moriarts/vctheorysurvey. alas.colorado. as well as the importance.html In closing..Untitled http://spot.

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