Visual Rhetoric/Rhetorical Vectors
Why, in a world where everyone is so determined to be different, do vectors offer a bridge across the active and intentional need to see objects in uniquely different ways? But most importantly: what is the bridge? Vectors are “forces generated by the shapes and configurations of visual objects. A vector is characterized by its magnitude, direction, and base of attack. Visual vectors are seen as oriented in both directions unless a special base determines the origin of the vector’s attack and thereby its direction" (Arnheim 218). Without vectors, the commonality that brings critics and casual observers, alike, together to agree on the aesthetic value of an image would not exist.
Let us first look at what it is that vectors do. Vectors are used to "visually realize different ways in which objects and their relations can be represented" (Kress and van Leeuwen 56). Vectors act as visual cues to the observer of an image that perform like road signs to connect two separate objects that give the viewer direction as to where to look and what to look at next in a temporal capacity, or artifact. The importance lays in the connection that is conveyed by the use of a vector or vectors because they not only act as visual cues in paintings, but are found in everyday images and scenes. We experience and interpret vectors in our everyday lives whether through photos, diagrams, architecture, or advertisements. Vectors tell us visually what we would normally say verbally.
Vectors are connectors that we use in order to tell or interpret a story. When used in a narrative or narrative process, vectors act as a set of visual symbols or characteristics brought together in order to persuade or draw attention to certain aspects of a piece. Narrative representation or process is one way to determine why it is that vectors are rhetorical. When one thinks of a painting that is highly influential, almost immediately he or she is drawn to a certain point in the image that is of interest. This main focus in direction must be present for rhetorical vectors, and essentially images, to effectively communicate with the viewer. Direction is established by a given object in the image or simply by a layout of the action. There are many different elements that go into making a vector and therefore may be “formed by bodies or limbs or tools ‘in action’, but there are many other ways to turn represented elements into diagonal lines of action. A road running diagonally across the picture space, for instance, is also a vector and the car driving on it an ‘Actor’ in the process of ‘driving’. In abstract images such as diagrams, narrative processes are realized by graphic elements…” (Kress and van Leeuwen 59) Kress and Van Leeuwen discuss the concept of ‘Actor’ and ‘Goal’ as an important aspect in the narrative interpretation process. Vectors must initiate from single or multiple sources, often this main source is the ‘Actor’ in which the direction of an image originates. The ‘Goal’ is what the vector is drawing attention to, or the intended outcome, whether it’s the viewer, another point in the image, or within upon itself.
Vectors also help us realize different types of relationships that are represented in images. These three relationships are:
- Unidirectional transactional action
- Bidirectional transactional action
- Non-transactional action
In the first, Unidirectional transactional action, a vector is formed that connects an 'Actor' and a 'Goal'. This vector is normally moving from the body of the 'Actor' and is directed toward the 'Goal'. For instance, if a human being were pointing at an orange in a picture, a vector would be coming from the pointing hand a the orange, showing us that our focus should move from the hand toward the orange. In the second relationship, Bidirectional transactional action, a vector is shot between two subjects that are connected. For instance, if two humans are looking at each other, a double-headed vector would be moving between the two of them pointing at each other. A relationship is being formed between the two with the aid of the vector which is linking them. In the final relationship type, a Non-transactional action, a vector emanates from an 'Actor', but does not point at another participant. For instance, this could be a human being looking off into the distance to something outside of the image. We cannot assume the subject, or 'Actor', is looking at anything, so the vector emanating from his person is not linked to another participant, making the relationship formed by the vector non-transactional. (Kress and van Leeuwen 74)
How are vectors used?
There are two ways in which vectors can be used whether in the form of direct address or drawing attention to an "imagined act" (Kress and van Leeuwen 117). More often we interpret vectors as a form of direct address rather than constituting an imagined act because vectors in the form of a direct address draw our attention and are more apparent, oftentimes, to viewers than searching for meaning in an image by themselves. For example, older military recruitment posters feature
a strong, determined, and influential-looking individual that points directly at the audience as if to give the impression that it is viewer that should become part of the values advertised in the poster. This type of direct address forces the viewer to become interactive with the image. Immediately after viewing the image, there is a certain relationship established between the 'Actor' in the image and the audience ,especially in the military advertisement, because the vector is directed at the viewer at an eye level, forcing the audience to acknowledge their relationship.
Vectors in everyday life
Vectors are not only limited to two-dimensional images; they are around us in everyday life. Buildings or sculptures may use vectors to draw one's eyes to a specific location. Many other three-dimensional objects or even humans use vectors on a daily basis as a form of non-verbal communication. For instance, try this experiment. Go stand in a busy area and just look up in a direction towards nothing particular. Passersby will look toward where your eyes are pointing. This is because your focus on nothing at all is shooting a vector from your eyes in a specific direction. Vectors will prompt others to look that way as well. Vectors help to facilitate logical progression of an image, creating a relationship between the 'Actor' and 'Goal' in order to portray messages and connections to an audience.
Arnheim, Rudolph. Art and Visual Perception. Berkeley: California Press, 1974.
Kress, Gunther, and Theo van Leeuwen. Reading Images: The Grammer of Visual Design. 2nd. London: Routledge, 2006.