Hill, Charles, A. “Reading the Visual in College Writing Classes.”
Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World. Ed. Carolyn Handa. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004. 107-130.
In this 2004 work by Charles Hill, we are presented with the challenges that visual rhetoric poses within a classroom and to an institution of learning. It is Hill’s stance that visual rhetoric should not be side-stepped in English and Composition; it should instead be seamlessly incorporated to the same degree as verbal and textual rhetorical analysis. He presents the assertion that visual literacy is marginalized and neglected to the detriment of our students, who have been and continue to be primarily exposed to information in visual form in their daily lives. He states, “It would be difficult to deny the importance of electronic and other visual media in today’s society (107).”
From where does this great divide emerge? Hill attributes it to “a widespread and traditional dislike and disparagement of mass culture, and from our fears that visual and other modes of communication will overtake, replace, or diminish the importance of print media (108-109).” Most departments reinforce the primacy of text and see media engagements as discursive spaces for time-wasting. Hill points out that not only are notions of reliance on “pure” verbal texts “increasingly problematic”, but also argues that “pure” forms of anything used for analysis no longer exist culturally (109). He does feel the need to approach a very complex task – What do we include/value as images for analysis? An important delineation that Hill makes is favoring what he terms “symbolic events” that are produced with intent over “imagistic events” that occur naturally. While both are subject to perception, symbolic events actively construct our cultural assumptions (111-112).
Fortunately, Hill doesn’t stop with effective argument for the inclusion of the visual in college writing classes; he offers practical steps towards incorporation of visual rhetoric into pedagogy. The verbal text is not to be displaced in favor of the visual in such a class (preferably for him a first year composition class), as he argues that “pedagogical efforts should be aimed toward helping students deal with combinations of picture, word, and symbol” (109). As Hill points out, “…it can help point out that images are not just ornamental supplements to written texts, but complex texts in their own right, often relying on powerful and subtle psychological processes in order to be comprehended and to be rhetorically effective (121-122).”
Some strategies offered by Hill for classroom incorporation and implementation of visual rhetoric include having students analyze images in context as cultural markers (in cultures both foreign and familiar), demonstrating to students the nature of images as rhetorically persuasive constructions, and exercises that assert the image/text link even in the most basic of compositional aspects such as page design and titles. While Hill does seems to focus mainly on the analysis of the image, he also provides us with many powerful examples of the rhetorical processes that go into the construction and production of meaning in various media from advertising to photography. We are also provided with exercises that illustrate how the co-mingling of verbal and visual hierarchies actively constructs our ideologies, expectations, communication and social relations, allowing students to hopefully make that often unfamiliar and unconstrained “conceptual leap” into visual rhetoric application in the classroom (119). In this work, strong assertions and pragmatic application merge to assert the value of visual rhetoric, moving students to “appreciate the power of images for defining and for reinforcing our cultural values and to understand the ways in which images help us define our individual roles in society (116).”