Visual Rhetoric/Examples And Analysis Of Visual Literature

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When thinking about literacy, images and graphics are not usually the first things that come to a person's mind—usually, the word is used to describe written literacy, or the ability to read and write. However, literacy is a person's ability to understand and synthesize information that may come in many forms, including that from images, or the language of design. With the increase of visually-based literacy technologies such as television, videos, and the Internet, visual literacy is becoming even more of an important aspect in our every day lives.

Our group has selected five examples of visual “texts” and analyzed their use of the Aristotelian rhetorical strategies of Logos (the use of logic to support an argument), Pathos (the use of emotion to appeal to an audience), and Ethos (the use of the author's reputation or credibility to support an argument) as well as how those strategies operate in our readings of these visual texts. Each of these texts was chosen by the group based on our own interest in analyzing them.

Brinks Home Security: A Web Site[edit | edit source]


This web site is intended to convince potential customers to purchase a home security system from Brinks. It also guides subscribers to information about their current service.


The company’s logo is at the top of the page. This familiar symbol serves to authenticate the site. The blue and white color scheme of the logo is carried throughout the rest of the page providing visual continuity. Four main picture areas are prominently displayed, each with their own description and color to clearly differentiate between the main topics. The reader is drawn to these tabs. There is other information below the main tabs, including links and a brief statement. This information does not take up as much room on the screen and is nearer the bottom; both of these style elements indicate that this content is of less importance and thus give the visitor a clearer indication to focus on the four main images above.

Aristotelian Appeal: Pathos

The image in the first tab shows a man with a headset on, apparently speaking to a client. This is an example of pathos, producing in the viewer a sense of personal responsibility and reliability on the part of Brinks. In the second tab is a photograph of an inviting home with warm light streaming out of the windows. This is another emotional appeal, this time to a sense of security, the essence of the company’s message. In the last tab we see what appears to be a satisfied customer sitting down to manage her account on-line. Here is yet another example of pathos, where the visitor to the site is assured of a carefree experience when making changes to their service or paying their monthly dues.

Aristotelian Appeal: Ethos

The photograph of the Brinks lawn sign in the second main tab is very familiar, even those people who do not recognize the name. Most viewers have on more than one occasion seen a home or business that they trust display this sign. This will certainly help establish the credibility of Brinks with most people. In tab three there is conveyed a sense of history and dependability through the use of an old black and white photograph of the company. A reminder of their longevity, it suggests that for the company to be around this long it must be serving its customers well.


Below the trademark is a series of three short phrases. These can roughly be seen to correspond with the first three pictures present in the main tabs. The image of the man on the headset invokes a feeling of “Rapid Response.” . “Peace of Mind.” can be found in the Brinks lawn sign and the well lit home in the second tab. The last phrase asking you to “Trust Brinks.” is supported by the image of the old brinks building and armored car.

In the final estimation we take this site to be an effective example of using ethos and pathos, primarily through images, to provide the mind of the typical visitor with the incentive to accept the premise of the site and the services it tries to sell.

Unix History: A Graph[edit | edit source]

Graph depicting the evolution and relation of Unix-like systems2

Before we analyze this tree, some vocabulary needs to be developed:

  • Nodes are in blue and represent a specific version of Unix
  • Unix PDP-7 from the graph is an example of a root node
  • Edges are the black lines that connect two or more nodes
  • Trees are a collection of nodes and edges

This graph organizes the relationships between Unix-like operating systems into a tree. Microsoft Windows is an example of an operating system; however, Unix-like operating systems have been around since 1969 when Unix PDP-7, the root node, was developed. Since then there have been several variations which are related in subtle ways and the edges of the graph connecting the nodes represent these relationships.


The graph depicts the logical relationships and heirarchy of Unix-like operating systems.

Aristotelian Appeal: Logos

Tree graphs are a very logical way to organize this information because it is able to depict both the passage of time and the relationships between the operating systems. Many of the operating systems on the graph share source code, the recipe of software, so the relationships are fact.


One of the first thing that I noticed about the tree graph are the dates on the left. This is a very helpful layout giving the reader information on how the Unix-like operating systems are related in time. However the distance between the nodes is variable which makes it difficult to scan the graph. For that reason uniform spacing of nodes would have been more effective.

Another point of difficulty is that some of the relationships between the projects are more complicated then the graph would reveal. For example, GNU, a node on the right side of the graph, runs on top of Linux and makes up only part of a full operating system. In other words, the GNU and Linux nodes share a much different relationship then the other nodes on the graph. If the graph were a family tree graph it would be like adding a pet as a node. Perhaps having a variety of arrow/node styles with a key would have helped to explain the situation.

The history of WANG is defined in terms of licenses or the rules that mandate how the code and software can be used. Adding color to the nodes to explain the licenses would have added additional valuable information. For example, it would help to explain why Linux and Minix are in trees of their own.

These small improvements would offer to increase the readability of the graph and increase the amount of information it portrays without substantially increasing the size or complexity.

Forest Safety: A Promo[edit | edit source]

Advertisement warning about the dangers of forest fires


This advertisement promotes preservation of the environment and protection of wild animals. Moreover, with the accompanying words, the ad emphasizes that protecting the environment is a human responsibility, particularly for American citizens.

Aristotelian Appeal: Pathos

The author uses pathos to generate emotions in audiences in order to persuade them, particularly, emotions such as pity for the wild animals and anger for what humans have done to the environment. Both the accompanying words and the image itself generate these emotions in viewers through the facial expression of the animals. The bottom text of the image “Only you can prevent the Madness” implies that the animals do not have control over their habitats which emphasizes irresponsible actions of humans.Moreover,showing the animals being victimized emphasizes that humans are responsible for this environmental hazard. The fire in the background succeeds in emphasizing the text “Madness”. The word “Madness” is powerful and implies that this environmental hazard needs immediate attention.


The image succeeds in generating human emotions in viewers using images of animals. However, since the image is not photograph of the environmental hazards, the credibility is weak. If there was an actual photograph that showed how destroyed the current environment is, the ad could have shown more credibility. Moreover, the image is not very specific about what kinds of environmental hazards it tries to prevent. Even though there is the image of the fire which implies forest fire, it would be still difficult for the audiences to know what is exactly happening to the environment, such as consequences of the forest fire. Audiences might guess that this ad tries to prevent the destruction of the environment, but because there are only techniques that try to generate emotions, audiences can not get enough information to determine what this ad really tries to promote. Showing the animals being victimized emphasizes that humans are responsible for this environmental hazard. The fire in the background succeeds in emphasizing the text “Madness”.

Urban Music Styles: A Chart[edit | edit source]

Chart depicting the "Breakbeat" family of electronic music from http://www.ishkur.com4


This chart is designed as a breakdown of modern music. According to its author, all music can be traced back to 1970's roots. Using a unique color scheme and funky font, the author attempts to grab your attention as a way of getting your approval. The colors are in very uncommon shades switching back and forth between dull greens to bright blues. The font is not only larger than most, but the letters are in all capitals, giving the impression that each step of the chart is just as important as every other.

Aristotelian Appeal: Ethos

Using a form of the ethos persuasive strategy, the author draws us in. He presents his information by telling us that this is his opinion, but he thinks he is right because how could he be wrong with all of these facts? We also know that the author is a very popular DJ, which gives him a lot of credibility. After all, it is his job to know music. However,this knowledge had to come from some where and he does not provide his viewers with any form of bibliography so that his viewers can double check this information or develop opinions of their own.

Aristotelian Appeal: Logos

The chart starts with the most popular genre of music and spreads to more uncommon elements. The author first uses terms that many of his readers would know without having to do more research. Then as he moves through the different decades, he moves away from commonly-known music categories. By the end of this chart, odds are that you aren't going to have any idea what form of music he is talking about.

Aristotelian Appeal: Pathos

The author wants your attention and he wants it in very specific places. He gets it there by using a very specific set of colors. These colors are the ones that grab the reader's attention and hold it there. In other less important areas, the author uses dull, even unattractive colors.


As a website, the chart is fairly navigable, but in any other form the busy page might become somewhat distracting. The author chose a layout that called for musical terms that may not be common to the average viewer. Music descriptions such as Nu Skool, Booty Bass, or Acid might take away from the authors credibility or the opportunity to use a chart such as this in a formal presentation.

A viewer could also get lost trying to follow the chart from decade to decade. It is hard to tell whether the color scheme is what separates each of the genres of music or if it may be the lines that appear sporadically. Another problem the author creates for himself, is that his chart does not appear to follow any type of system. As you get further away from the original starting point, it becomes harder and harder to tell which group of music goes with another. There are several different types of lines that appear on the chart without any explanation of where they came from or what purpose they serve. The author also does not provide a key for any of his symbols forcing the reader to guess what he means by all of his lines, circles and colors.

Overall, the chart is presented in a very eye catching format. The boldness and choice of words might make a viewer want to take a closer look at how the world of music is all interconnected. However, this is where the curiosity ends and confusion begins. How do you know what each musical term means or whether Tribal and Gangsta are part of the same beat or generation? And if so, what exactly do those terms mean? The author makes an admirable attempt at providing good information, but unfortunately gets lost in his own work.

The Disturbed Tree: Art[edit | edit source]

File:The Disturbed Tree by Bakenius.jpg
"The Disturbed Tree" by Leo "Bakenus" de Wijs. <>5

“The Disturbed Tree” by Leo de Wijs on, is a digital image of a tree breaking through a concrete surface. De Wijs, whose username is bakenus on the website, created the image using Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter.


By depicting a scene of a tree breaking through an artificial surface with a background of greenery and light, the image appears to be saying that the natural world will overcome the artificial constructions that human beings build.

Aristotelian Appeal: Pathos

De Wijs employs pathos through the composition of the piece itself; the unsaturated colors and the use of softly blended line-work create a misty effect that contributes to a calm emotional quality. If de Wijs had employed a different compositional technique, such as sharper lines or a higher-contrasting color pallet, the piece might have appeared violent or expressed anger. Instead, the emotional quality of the piece is calming and soothing, suggesting that the portrayed scene of nature overcoming human creations is nothing to be feared.

Aristotelian Appeal: Logos

De Wijs employs logos in two different ways. First, the image itself is relatively realistic. He makes no special effort to exaggerate or over-saturate the colors to an extent that might make the piece explicitly farcical or "cartoon" style image.

Additionally, de Wijs creates a sort of logical paradox through his decision to use an entirely "artificial" medium to make a comment about the strength and resilience of nature over artificial constructions. The image appears to have been created with more conventional or traditional medium such as oil pastels or paints, but is in reality a completely digital image. This paradox, while it doesn't necessarily logically support the argument, adds significance to the work as a whole by forcing the viewer to think about what this stylistic choice might mean. Its unclear if it is meant to undermine and weaken the argument, or strengthen it by illustrating how a natural-looking scene can "come through" a digital or artificial medium—much like how the tree is seen coming through the artificial concrete. The paradox has the effect of forcing the audience to think more deeply about the relationship between the natural and artificial both as depicted in the picture and as aspects of the composition itself.

Aristotelian Appeal: Ethos

After looking at De Wijs' posted gallery, it appears that "The Disturbed Tree" is unique in style compared to his other work, but that he has dealt with a similar type of topic before. Another animation with a similar conflict between the natural world and the artificial world is an animation he calls "Growing Pains,"6 which depicts a tree struggling to grow while an advanced civilization grows up around it. De Wijs appears to have a significant reputation for working with ideas of this nature.


While De Wijs's use of pathos through his soft line-work and muted colors is by far the most clearly identifiable Aristotelian appeal, his use of logos through creating a relatively realistic image as well as the logical paradox involving his use of digital medium to comment on the strength of nature are also important aspects of the piece.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Each of the pieces we have analyzed appears to contain an argument or claim about the product or idea that it is depicting. This supports the notion that every piece of visual literature has an argument. We have found that well-formed arguments in visual form effectively use at least one Aristotelian argumentative technique. By analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of a piece's Aristotelian appeals one may determine the effectiveness of that image’s arguments.

Works Cited[edit | edit source]

1Brinks Home Security [Internet homepage]. c2006 [Cited 2006 Feb 8]. Available from:

2Jean-Baptiste. Unix History. Wikipedia [community encyclopedia]. c2005 [cited 2006 Feb 8]. Available from:

3Montana Homesteads. This Shameful Waste Weakens America.Just do not use the internet anymore and get a reliable source to get your information from

Online advertisement.

4Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music [Internet homepage]. c2000-06 [Cited 2006 Feb 10]. Available from:

5Leo de Wijs [digital artist, username “bakenius” on]. “The Disturbed Tree” [digital art on the Internet art community]. c2005-06 [cited 2006 February 8]. Available from:

6 Leo de Wijs [digital artist, animator]. "Growing Pains" [unpublished digital animation.] c2005-2006 [cited 2006 February 19]. Available from: