Tens of thousands of years before the invention of Photoshop, ink, or even paper, humans with whom you or I would have seemingly little in common cautiously entered what we now call Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche valley in Southern France. The picture above shows one of the hundreds of cave paintings from Chauvet—horses running with bison and rhinos. Radiocarbon dating estimates the origin of some of the oldest images around 30,000 B.C. with paintings developing over the next 5,000 years.
The Chauvet paintings demonstrate a remarkable understanding of compositional technique. Line, spacing, relationship, color, etc. I imagine the artist observing the ritual of animal migration and finding something fascinating, something important about the events. He or she took some “interest” in the animals. Enough, in fact, to create the painting.
The artist could not recreate the occurrence exactly as it happened. Even if he had the modern convenience of an iPhone camera, he still had to choose which part of the event to frame, how much to film, where to zoom, etc. He could only share the massive event by oral, aural, or visual “imaging.”
He had to recreate reality. Or not. Let’s discuss…
Whether you think a man-boy in a onesie sipping cocoa is a good mascot for ObamaCare or not, the ad has a fundamental flaw that can’t be ignored.
Conservatives are bashing the ad for its absurdity. Liberals are defending it for being sweet and funny. But here’s the problem: No one is talking about getting health insure. They’re talking about “Pajama Boy.”
No matter how clever, interesting, or sweet you think your message is, don’t forget about the ultimate goal: To get people to adopt your position. Does this ad accomplish that goal?
Pictures are powerful. Single images have defined generations and persuaded thousands of people to action. Yet even in the formal study of rhetoric there is comparatively little to say about visual persuasion.
Meanwhile pictures are getting bigger. Sometimes literally, in the case of social media and digital communities, but also in the sense of their importance. We see hundreds of persuasive images a day. Some we notice, most we don’t. A select few capture our attention and may even convince us to do something—buy a bike, exercise, donate to a cause, etc.
If we are to be better rhetors, we need to have at least a basic understanding of the principles of visual communication and persuasion.