Visual Rhetoric: Whose Bailiwick?

In The Low Bridge to High Benefits by Anderson and The Sticky Embrace of Beauty by Wysocki, the authors call for composition education to include visual rhetoric. While I agree that form carries function and that learning to analyze these forms makes us better readers (and publishers), isn’t visual rhetoric the bailiwick of art class? One takeaway from these articles could be that we desperately need to restore funding for art education at all levels of education, and that perhaps art & visual rhetoric should be a required class at the college level.

Q: To what extent is visual rhetoric the domain of the comp class?

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7 comments on “Visual Rhetoric: Whose Bailiwick?

  1. I understand your doubts, but can’t experimentation with visual essays for example help students grasp form and rhetoric more completely than purely alphabetic literacies?

  2. Absolutely! No doubt about it! What I’m asking is, does the field of Composition have to be responsible for teaching it to the depth that Anderson and Wysocki seem to suggest is necessary? Should there be a college requirement for visual rhetoric, and if so, shouldn’t they teach it in the art history department? Or co-teach it with us? Maybe instead of having English departments we should have “critical thinking and rhetoric” departments with faculty in reading, writing, philosophy, and art history.

  3. After reading the Selfe and Wysocki articles, I remain skeptical. I see, understand, and agree with the point that our students need to be critical readers of visual texts, and I would consider using visual texts as objects of study in my composition class. Where I get nervous is regarding the production of visual texts in place of written texts. This is problematic for me for two main reasons: 1) Yancey argued in “Made Not Only in Words” that, in the future, the mark of the educated citizen will include screen (multimodal) literacy. Sure, but that will not replace the need for a citizenry that is also skilled in written literacy. Perhaps it may even increase the need for people who retain such a skill. My objection is the same for visual literacy, we may be facing a time when the definition of literacy is growing and changing every time we turn around, but I don’t think any new literacies are diminishing the need for skilled readers and writers. 2) Evaluation! If there is anything more subjective than assessing writing, it’s assessing a visual composition. That’s pretty! A+! Maybe I’m just better trained to see and evaluate both form and content in a written work and an artist would totally disagree with me on this, but for some reason I just think a visual composition is mostly about form and the content is perhaps more open to interpretation?? That’s fine when you’re using visual compositions as objects of study, open to interpretation, but not so fine when you have to grade them. So in answer to your question, Lothlorien, Not In My Bailiwick!!

  4. Might it be that composition–already an low-ranking noble in the feudal environment of the university–is nervous? Meaningful composition is increasingly about artful presentation (the visual rhetoric you mentioned) and less about black letters set against the white space of 8 1/2 x 11 inch pieces of paper. Composition specialists are aware that as readers flock to iPads and Kindles, they are going to have to, at the very, least make adjustments. A less measured way to put this might be: Change or die (although “shrink” is probably the more accurate word as universities have a way of allowing disciplines to die long, slow deaths.) Regardless, I think composition faculty members and scholars don’t want to go the way of Kodak camera. Our medium is not what it used to be and if we sit back and keep talking about five page academic essays written for an audience of… well… errr… no one, then students (and the dollars that follow them) will march elsewhere.

    • I have no doubt that that “change or die” phenomenon is a major source of pressure forcing the discussion. But as you point out below, it’s also an opportunity for a land grab. And in a weird way, I guess that’s what I’m suggesting too– that we rally forces with other shrinking departments to create a giant, indispensable, critical thinking/rhetorical analysis uber department.

  5. It might also be possible that Anderson and Wysocki are issuing a call to arms. Emboldened by the brave new world of writing (which is now fully upon us), perhaps compositionists and their allies (whether consciously or unconsciously) want to expand the discipline and muscle fertile land away from art and communications departments. One can imagine a future in which composition, rather than English, rules the humanities and maybe, in a more distant future, even the larger arts and sciences. Maybe the movement to embrace visual rhetoric represents a land grab of sorts. A chance to stay relevant and suck power away from art departments dragging their feet with more courses in portrait painting than digital design.

  6. Yeah, it’s not like grading a math test. I wonder how Kory feels “grading our little visual rhetoric pieces!

    And I, too, have this nagging feeling that in our rush to be of service, catering to all needs, we may find ourselves trying to be a jack of all trades and no longer master of the one trade we do well (alphabetic literacy) and whose importance will not diminish, though it may become one of many literacies students need to acquire.

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