Visual Rhetoric: Analogy, Metaphor, Denotation and Connotation

Rhetorical Blog

There are several different kinds of visual rhetoric that we see and use every single day. Especially with the rise of social media and mass media in general, visual rhetoric is becoming increasingly important to every discourse community.

To clarify, visual rhetoric is”a branch of rhetorical studies concerned with the persuasive use of images, whether on their own or in the company of words.” according to Thought Co. So it’s basically just normal rhetorical nonsense with pictures!

I took a look at four separate categories of visual rhetoric: Analogy, Metaphor, Denotation, and Connotation. If you have taken an English class, you have been exposed to these terms already. And while they can be grouped together and utilized simultaneously, these four are very different and can be used to help the rhetorician establish their argument.

First of all, let’s look at Analogy.

The textbook that we have been using, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, defines analogy as “a comparison, either of particulars or of relations; also, a proof developed by Aristotle wherein a rhetor compares one hypothetical example to another”

So how does this work visually?

In this first picture, we have a picture of my sisters and brother-in-law after a long flight to Seattle. I added the text “before coffee” to this picture to begin the process of making an analogy.

*you can see how much they love me in this picture*

This is what it looks like when my siblings are mad at me for taking pictures after a long flight.

Here we have them “after coffee” which completes the analogy.

Look how good they are at pretending to like me!

Advertisements use analogy all the time. For example

comparing fuel and a soft drink to make a statement about the current economic situation.
Apple is trying to make the Mac more appealing by having a more attractive model represent the brand.

Metaphors are a different breed. They are a bit more difficult to produce because as we know, metaphors are words or images that represent something totally different. Knowing your audience is crucial if you are going to pull off a visual metaphor. Often times there is no text and the audience has to go on wit alone.

My version of a metaphor is this balloon art flower.

the balloon guy was rude. It was pretty but he wasn’t nice.

How is this a metaphor? Well, I look at it this way: the fact that it was fake was very indicative of the intention behind it. Let me explain. My audience has to know the story in order to understand the metaphor. One day I went to a local eatery to have dinner. I was tired of sitting in my car to eat meals and decided to go in alone. There was a balloon artist and as I was leaving he came up to me and told me that the balloon had been left at a table and the waiter had told him to bring it to me. He wanted it to be crystal clear that he didn’t want to give me this balloon.

It’s a balloon, not a ring. *insert profound eye-roll*

The fact that it is not a real rose allows my metaphor to work.

These are also metaphors that work in visual rhetoric.

McDonald’s uses this fish as a metaphor for what you are about to eat. It kind of doesn’t want to make me eat one.
I think this is self-explanatory

Moving on to Denotation and Connotation

Denotation, like in literature, is the literal meaning of something and Connotation is the symbolic meaning of something. I am going to group these two together because often you use the same image to indicate both.

Here we have a picture of a Honda Accord that has been in an accident. The denotative properties are all there for you to see. It’s just a silver car with a messed up headlight.

This was not a fun night.

The connotation is this: this image is symbolic of a very late night, three weeks without a car while my parents were out of the country, a very frustrating collision center, and a lot of guilt for hitting a deer. It also symbolizes the small heart attack my mother had because I was on the phone with her when it happened (hands-free and I was paying attention. They deer jumped out of the tree line and right into my car. It couldn’t be avoided.)

Here are two more examples of this pairing:

Looks just like 3 hearts but is symbolic of racial equality
A jaguar but indicates a luxury brand

This kind of rhetoric is everywhere. Learning how to utilize it can be key to the success of an argument.

What kinds of visual rhetoric do you seeevery dayy? Leave me a comment below!

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