Image as argument

By John Jones

The title page of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan

source: Wikimedia CommonsThe title page of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan

The arguments found in images are related to textual arguments in that each is presented through the selection and arrangement of disparate elements for some purpose. Though those purposes can range from persuasion to aesthetic pleasure, the fact that they are purposive places them in the realm of rhetoric.

Though photographs and realistic painting are arguments by this definition—they are composed, in that the image’s angle is chosen by the painter or cropped by the photographer and the composition and elements present in each are determined by their authors—this argumentative purpose is more apparent in other media, like collage, or double-exposure photographs, for these methods emphasize their own composed structure through the arrangement of the disparate or fantastical elements that they consist of.

Another category of visual argument is that of the "visual confection." In Visual Explanations (1997) Edward Tufte argues that the confection is different from the examples listed above—photos, collage, etc.—in that confections are fantastical visual structures designed to illustrate written arguments. In this description, diagrams, flowcharts, and iconic images that are created to specifically support written arguments can be called visual confections. One example of a confection is the title page from Thomas Hobbes‘ Leviathan. Tufte argues that this image, which is arranged to illustrate the argument of the book, fits the category because it is explicitly connected to the author’s textual arguments.

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