Theoria: Portfolio Perspective
Before this course, visual rhetoric(s) was on my periphery but out of focus. My interest in digital rhetoric, computers and writing, and new media studies emphasize the visual, but in no certain rhetorical terms. I hadn’t read texts specific to the subject matter; without engagement, I didn’t know how visual rhetoric(s) influenced what I saw in these theoretical perspectives. Throughout our exploration with map making, document design, typography, iconography, infographics, data visualization, art aesthetic views, structuralist and post-structuralist ways of looking, ethics, ecologies, and rhetorical frames, I leave the class with a blink – an ability to shift my sight. In Graphesis, Johanna Drucker explains that “How we know what we know is predicated on the models of knowing that mediate our experience by providing conceptual schema or processing experience into form” (15). This class will continue to function for me as a model of careful thinking, a referent, something to connect my continuing work in visual rhetoric(s) to as an insight, a way of seeing.
Working backward from our line of sight at the beginning of the semester, we see the missing chapter we created for Alberto Cairo’s The Functional Art. Instead of crafting a chapter to fit the style and content of Cairo as turned toward rhetoric, I opted to make visual the process of data visualization with a focus on theory, method, and invention. This was an assignment I chose to revise because my visual failed to make visible the very concepts it set out to illuminate. After a change in perspective, I noticed that fell into a frame of reduction – the antithesis of visualization. Struggling to make the elements of the visualization pullout relate into a cohesive infographic, I began to take information out. Without essential information and visible connections between concepts, the infographic became irony (maybe it could have been included in a “What not to do” section). I revised the visualization to be just that – a visualization of these concepts – with more visible organization, illustrated concepts, and text to guide the reader through the visualization. This process, despite its difficulties, was a learning experience for me as I worked through (to my understanding) the meaning of the concept of heuretics, or the use of theory for the invention of new texts (Gregory Ulmer). This wasn’t a moment of clarity as much as it was the prick of punctum (Roland Barthes) – a shift in my perspective of the complexity of connections present and untraceable among elements.
“Last thing about punctum: whether or not it is triggered, it is an addition: it is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there” (Barthes 55). Creating a slidedeck for our Viz. Ignite Series presentations was a similar moment of focused reflection as I looked back at what we had discussed in class, questions and interests I had developing on the periphery, areas of illumination and shadow in my own understanding, and a frame of reference to my own academic work. Aside from enjoying the format of this style of presenting and creating the visuals for the slides, I was happy with the results of my work to make my (current) understandings and questions visualized. Like creating the Cairo chapter, this was an introspective process for me in my own work with data visualization and technical composition, my ability to better see networks and ecologies, and further situating myself in the field of rhetoric and composition as I continue on in my graduate studies.
The fovea exercises functioned as their namesake – small areas of the eye where visual activity is the highest – with a shift from the anatomical eye to metaphorical sight in the field of visual rhetorics. Creating each of the fovea not only helped me to better see connections between course concepts, but helped me to better communicate what I was crafting with my purpose for doing so – they were spaces of fostering connectivity between design and rhetoric. What I couldn’t articulate before without the terminology of visual rhetorics I could only loosely frame with reference to aesthetic, when I knew that these compositions were more than “art”, but were not reduced to a process, or too static heuristic for making such visualizations. I align these advenes (Barthes), or adventures in the exploration of theory as method with what John Muckelbauer describes as inventive inquiry, that it is
not always the case that an inventive inquiry works best when it responds to a problem by seeking its solution, or responds to the question with an answer; it may be well that my turning away from the question, we can uncover a different kind of trajectory, even a different kind of relentless directness with which to engage the problem (149-150).
These fovea were playful, which helped generate active engagement with theory and invention as I worked to create visual texts of my own (informed) design. Returning to these exercises, and revising a couple of them, permitted me a space within which to examine failures in the function of the visualizations; particularly in my Controversy Map. This was a visual that benefited from the inclusion of text to clarify not only the design of the map, but to better establish connections, organization, and the experimentation with color relationships. Seeing these fovea again, after some time with fresh eyes, allowed me to gain perspective – to distance myself from the design of the project to the effectiveness in its functionality.
When we began the semester, we (attempted to) articulate what visual rhetoric is. My account was as much what it is not as pinning down a definition. I still feel resistance to set my eyes in a singular gaze. I leave this course instead with a way of making seeing speak; as James Elkins describes in The Object Stares Back
The first thing to be said is that this informal notion of just looking will not do, since the eyes never merely accept light. Instead, there is a force to the light: it pushes its way into our eyes; and conversely, there is a force to the eyes: they push their way into the world (18).
Seeing is an action, with as much metacognition as critically reading or composing. It is a method that blends the robustness of a technical perspective for detail in noting ecologies and connections amongst elements that compose the visual with the craft of design. Seeing is an art of hybridity; a shift in perspective from theory to method and beyond the foci.
Controversy Map: original and revised
Freeform Bundle: Star Trek infographic, vintage postcard, exploded diagram recipe