The Power of the Image

Emotion, Expression, Explanation

by András Benedek (Volume editor) Kristof Nyiri (Volume editor)
Edited Collection XV, 287 Pages
Series: Visual Learning, Volume 4

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • From Icon to Diagram
  • Trace, Writing, Diagram: Reflections on Spatiality, Intuition, Graphical Practices and Thinking
  • Diagramming: Connecting Cognitive Systems to Improve Reasoning
  • The Visually Explorative Method of János Bolyai in the Formation of Absolute Geometry
  • A Road to the Philosophy of Iconic Communication
  • Image and Text
  • Expressivity and Emotion in Visionary Rhetoric
  • Soldier and Saviour: Visual Propaganda, Serial Narrativity, and the Case of the Kid in Upper 4
  • Pictorial and Textual Communication within the Scope of Citizen Journalism in Social Media
  • Information Visualization: Infographics from a Linguistic Point of View
  • Art and Expression
  • Light from the Middle East: The Real versus Imagined in Contemporary Photography
  • Seeing Paintings As They Are: Cognitivity of Aesthetic Qualities
  • “Silence Filled with Sound”: Spatial and Visual Metaphors in Raymond Murray Schafer’s Idea of Soundscape
  • Symbolization in Child Art: Creation and Interpretation of Visual Metaphors
  • Visual Representation as Self-expression in Pedagogical Practice: Possible Explanations of Adolescents’ Symbol Drawings
  • Images and Emerging Media
  • An Eye towards the Future: A Binational Survey of Attitudes toward Google Glass
  • Computational Aesthetics for Rendering Virtual Scenes on 3D Stereoscopic Displays
  • Visual Education: Old and New Dilemmas
  • Face to Face
  • Expression and the Body
  • Pictorial Representations and the Nature of Their Subjects
  • Face to Face: Towards a New Sincerity
  • Image and Time in the Theory of Gestures
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

← viii | ix → Preface

András Benedek

The present volume is the fourth one in the Budapest book series Visual Learning, based on a sequence of yearly conferences organized by the Visual Learning Lab (VLL – http://vll.mpt.bme.hu). Established in October 2009 by the Department of Technical Education, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, the Lab is actually a research seminar with regular monthly meetings. I have given a narrative of its development in the Preface of the first volume of the Visual Learning series, and have repeated and updated that narrative in the second volume. On the present occasion let me just point out that turning to research directed at visual education was very much in the tradition of the Department where methods of atypical learning (and, since 2001 or so, in particular methods of learning based on mobile communication, “m-learning”), had for quite some time been intensively studied.

At the fourth conference in our Visual Learning conference series, held on November 15–16, 2013, altogether 31 papers were presented, with submissions having passed a blind peer-review process. The finished papers again underwent blind peer-reviewing. Ultimately, the present volume consists of twenty edited chapters, arranged into five sections.

The first section, From Icon to Diagram, begins with Sybille Krämer’s chapter on what she identifies as a crucial dichotomy in the human sciences: that between word and image, between “the discursive and iconic forms of the symbolic”. However, as she points out, this dichotomy is challenged by such “representational tools” as “writing, tables, graphs, diagrams or maps”. These arise as “a conjunction of language and image”. Krämer calls them the “diagrammatic”, and what she aims at in her paper is to “describe the role that the diagrammatic plays for thinking and understanding”. That role, she suggests, is “to allow imperceptible theoretical objects to become visible and tactile”. One of the main areas of thought Krämer focusses on is that of mathematics. And mathematics is the topic of the second chapter in the present volume. Here Valeria Giardino introduces the notion of “diagramming” to designate a specific “human capacity for connecting and coordinating different cognitive systems by means of an external tool” in the service of “making an inference”. This notion helps us to see the futility of any “sharp opposition between visual reasoning on the one ← ix | x → hand and linguistic reasoning on the other”. Indeed diagramming, as Giardino explains, is a motor ability, and can be shown to be bound up not just with the drawing of diagrams, but also with bodily gestures. We will return to the issue of gestures in the last section of this volume. Taking us yet one step further in the understanding of mathematical reasoning, the next chapter, by János Tanács, examines the heuristic technique behind nineteenth-century Hungarian mathematician János Bolyai’s discoveries pertaining to absolute geometry. That technique, Tanács suggests, was primarily a visual one, in contrast with the verbally oriented method generally attributed to Bolyai, or indeed viewed as adequate to characterize proper mathematical practice. With the fourth chapter, “A Road to the Philosophy of Iconic Communication”, by Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen, we come back (and will come back again in the next section of the volume) to the issue of language and image. Pietarinen effectively exploits Peirce’s theory of signs, making use in particular of the latter’s specific notion of an icon. This notion enables us to interpret pictoriality as a radically wider phenomenon than ordinarily understood. To recall, Peirce divided icons into the three sub-classes of images, diagrams and metaphors. Icons represent by resembling, even if not exhibiting “naïve resemblance through similarity”, while diagrams are indeed constructions in the service of creative reasoning, especially mathematical reasoning.

The second section, Image and Text, begins with the chapter “Expressivity and Emotion in Visionary Rhetoric” by Petra Aczél, offering a fruitful, new interpretation for persuasive speech as she points to the visual nature of rhetorical devices, the “showing language” of rhetorical discourse. Aczél assumes that the rhetorical mode of thought is imagistic, and thus rhetorical structure and elements are formulated on the basis of vision and space. As she investigates the rhetorical tradition she endeavours to reconsider the persuasive force in terms of emotions evoked by images, operated by ethos and pathos. Emphasizing the significant contributions of non-mainstream rhetorical theorists, she casts light upon the hidden interpretive capacities of images in rhetorical influence and scholarship. But how persuasive, how compelling, can images be when divested of their rhetorical context, and brought down to earth in the form of physical pictures? Can stills convey an argument, can they convey a narrative? In the sixth chapter of the present volume, “Soldier and Saviour: Visual Propaganda, Serial Narrativity, and the Case of the Kid in Upper 4”, James J. Kimble argues that serial pictures, in contrast with solo stills, indeed can. Kimble offers a case study, with a forceful analysis, of what he describes as one of the most influential series of images of the 20th century, a series of four advertisements directed at the U.S. home front in 1942–1943. More generally, Kimble’s analysis is a fascinating ← x | xi → contribution to the continuing debate over the possibility of narrativity within still imagery. The next chapter, “Pictorial and Textual Communication within the Scope of Citizen Journalism in Social Media”, by Paweł Rybszleger, again raises the issue of what impact a “series of narrative pictures” might exert. Citizen journalism – online, participatory, “grassroots” journalism – enables one to “easily share pieces of information, pass them on and make them complete by adding new textual or pictorial elements to the existent article or news report”. Rybszleger’s thesis is that “similarly to the professional sites of newspapers and magazines, in grassroots journalism textual elements prevail in most cases”, but “pictorial elements are a crucial part of the picture–text relation”: they “intensify the message and play the main role at the emotional level of perception”. Some striking imbalances between the exploitation of picture on the one hand and text on the other are analyzed in the last chapter in this section, by Ágnes Veszelszki. She discusses information visualization in general, and the role and significance of infographics from a linguist’s point of view in particular. Infographics merge verbal information with visual ones, the nature of their role implying that visual information should be more dominant than verbal information so as to facilitate a rapid information transfer. Now what Veszelszki as a linguist finds is that linguistics, and training courses on linguistics, generally do not fully exploit the data compression and illustrative potential of infographics: a vivid reminder that in linguistics the focus on the verbal component of course still tends to remain dominant, a state of affairs, Veszelszki remarks, by today certainly not characteristic of IT, the sciences, or say economics.

The next section in our volume, section Art and Expression, opens with Trischa Goodnow’s chapter on some intriguing philosophical questions pertaining to contemporary photography. In 2012–2013, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London exhibited a collection of photographs from Middle Eastern photographers depicting images of the region, entitled Light from the Middle East. Goodnow sees these photographs as revealing “insight into not only the Middle East but also photography itself”, indeed as challenging notions of reality by presenting an imagined Middle Eastern region and cultures. The exhibition, suggests Goodnow, exposes the potential for the “rhetoric of possibility” as a method for understanding the visual image and its persuasive impact. Issues of the real and the imagined re-emerge in the following chapter, “Seeing Paintings As They Are: Cognitivity of Aesthetic Qualities”, by Monika Jovanović. As Jovanović writes by way of introduction, the question whether experiencing qualities such as “beautiful” or “sublime” or “elegant” is connected to scientific standards of objectivity – whether this is a matter of knowledge – intrigued philosophers since ← xi | xii → the beginnings of modern aesthetics. Do such qualities so to speak really exist in the object, can we know those qualities, or do we merely perceive the object as possessing them? Jovanović argues that some kind, or some kinds, of knowledge do indeed play a role here. As we might put it from the point of view of the present volume: there seems to be room and there seems to be need for self-reflective knowledge, and hence for learning, in the realm of the aesthetic, as also in the realm of the visual. Self-reflective knowledge in the musical realm is the topic of the next paper in this section. The chapter “‘Silence Filled with Sound’: Spatial and Visual Metaphors in Raymond Murray Schafer’s Idea of Soundscape”, by Ewa Schreiber, discusses music education in a new and very specific sense. In a culture dominated by visual terms we have no adequate terminology to describe sonic phenomena. The new, sound-oriented vocabulary proposed by the composer is deeply rooted in visual and spatial imagery. These images characterize also the opposite of sound – silence. There might arise the felt need of “direct metaphorical transfer from the visual to the aural domain”, but on the other hand music education clearly needs to have recourse to visual images. Thus for instance – as Schreiber, interpreting Schafer, puts it – musical notation is regarded as a spatial screen of music and is subjected to educational experiments.

The last two chapters in the section Art and Expression have children’s drawings as their exciting, multi-faceted and ramified topic. The chapter by Andrea Kárpáti and Tünde Simon, “Symbolization in Child Art: Creation and Interpretation of Visual Metaphors”, accompanied by some fascinating images, calls attention to the challenge that while “interpreting children’s drawings was easy when adults served as primary sources of icons, signs and symbols routinely used in a transparent cultural environment”, by contrast, “during the last decades … visualization practices of generations drifted apart. ‘Child art’ is influenced by peers, practiced through (multi)media that adults can neither handle, nor process.” In fact, as the authors point out, “21th-century research in art education has ultimately abandoned the concept of ‘child art’ altogether and studies the visual language of children and adolescents instead”, with an important focus on symbols that are “elicited by tasks that are emotionally engaging and thus may result in the formulation of a personal message”. This is, precisely, the focus of Judit Hortoványi’s chapter, “Visual Representation as Self-expression in Pedagogical Practice: Possible Explanations of Adolescents’ Symbol Drawings”, again with some gripping images. Hortoványi describes the experiments she conducted with the “5-symbols” task, a projective art task series developed by herself. As she points out, the visual expression of adolescents is usually analyzed in a psychotherapeutic context, but one can indeed use projective drawings also in pedagogical ← xii | xiii → practice. Here visual representation can be “a way of nonverbal communication and can be a tool of self-expression”. One can analyze drawings both from the point of view of content and from a formal perspective. Importantly, one can also talk about the drawings with students: discussing a drawing can create a bridge from nonverbal to verbal communication.

The fourth section, Images and Emerging Media, begins with a cutting-edge survey and analysis by James E. Katz and Daniel Halpern on Google Glass, a device launched in 2012, but as yet little used, and in fact still little known, by the wider public. Thus it might be permitted to quote here the authors’ introductory description: “Google Glass is a lightweight wearable computer situated as a head-mounted optical display interface that appears to the user to be hovering just above the direct line of sight. Information and images appear to float near the eye’s focal point, and seemingly shift as the head moves about. Its affordances are similar to those of a rudimentary smart-phone: the ability to use natural language to take photos, record video and audio, handle e-mail and text messaging, orient via real-time, location-based navigation and make and receive phone calls.” Katz and Halpern want to understand in depth the possible interest in, and reactions to, Google Glass as embodying an “exquisitely visual technology”. Their survey was done on an international comparative basis in the U.S. and in Chile. What they found was a widespread disinclination to “wear a computer on one’s face”, and of course an aversion to the “socially awkward nature” of Google Glass. The following chapter, “Computational Aesthetics for Rendering Virtual Scenes on 3D Stereoscopic Displays”, by László Szirmay-Kalos, Pirkko Oittinen, and Balázs Teréki, lucidly explains, and beautifully illustrates, how computer graphics renders images about virtual scenes using some natural analogy, like photography, drawing, X-ray, etc. To communicate the data of the virtual world, additional data like light sources, camera settings, drawing style, etc. are needed. The setting of such parameters should maximize the information received by the user. Informational aesthetic measures (related to order and complexity) can quantify the quality of images in terms of information content. The authors propose the application of information theory for automatically finding stereo imaging parameters that provide aesthetic 3D images. The next chapter in this section, written by the author of the present Preface, is an attempt to take stock of the problems of both online learning and visual education in the age of emerging media. In the problem domain of visual learning, a number of old dilemmas still haunt us. Perhaps most significantly, engineering education at the Budapest University of Technology, as not incidentally at most similar institutions worldwide, has in the second half of the twentieth century tended to put a dominant stress ← xiii | xiv → on mathematical formalism, and neglected training in practical designing, thus also drawing, skills. My impression is that even today, with all the potentials of computer graphics, this trend has not changed. But there have arisen new dilemmas, too. It seems that the abundance of digital images is by itself not sufficient to bring about an iconic turn in the theory and practice of education. Images need a rich explanatory context, a context of images as well as of texts, in order to fully convey real knowledge. Perhaps it is no coincidence that it is in the world of adult education, a world in which the life-long experiences of the student obviously provide a kind of context, that visual teaching and learning appears to be unquestionably successful.

This volume’s last section, Face to Face, opens with the chapter “Expression and the Body”, by Ian W. King. Discussions of expression, points out King, are usually language-centred. Now while language is of course not unimportant, the significance of the non-verbal, stresses the author, is too frequently overlooked. Drawing especially on the ideas of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, it is bodily expressions King here explores. As he suggests, “our bodies, our facility for movement, together with the clothes we wear, provide rich potential in understanding the nature of expression”. It is the movements of our limbs, our facial expressions, and our general appearance, with our clothing playing a quite essential part, that convey much of our feelings, and indeed of our thoughts. Merleau-Ponty, and Merleau-Ponty’s ideas as further developed by Rudolf Arnheim, figure prominently in the next chapter in this section, “Pictorial Representation and the Nature of Their Subjects”, by Zsuzsanna Kondor. An important inspiration for Kondor is also Wilfrid Sellars, in particular his notion of abstract concepts/entities. The question Kondor formulates introducing her paper is: “how emotion and consciousness make an appearance in pictorial representations and what kind of skills these representations require”. She recalls and discusses the controversy towards the end of the nineteenth century – a controversy in which William James played a seminal part – as to whether it is the feeling of an emotion, or rather the visceral and muscular expressions of it, that come first. Kondor specifically draws attention to the relevance of the notion of embodiment – to the idea that not only perception, but also, indeed, depiction are based on bodily skills. By contrast, as she points out, in the case of brain imaging “both consciousness and emotions are not depicted in pictures, but rather constructed by statistical apparatus that create visible evidence for hypotheses”. The following chapter, the nineteenth in this volume, “Face to Face: Towards a New Sincerity”, by Daniel L. Golden, comes back to the non-verbal communication system of human beings, in particular to facial expressions. In the case of facial ← xiv | xv → expressions, as Golden puts it, the information about a certain emotion of the sender is transmitted to the receiver through an image which is subject to visual perception and cognitive explanation, and it is the latter that “makes possible the communication process to be continued, as the emotional message properly appropriated by the receiver may produce a response (a gesture of solidarity or an emotion or an action), transforming him into a new sender in turn and so on”. Now today, with near-ubiquitous broadband online communication, facial expressions have gained a new significance. We have come to live, Golden writes, “in a global village of gaze”. Facial expressions are a prominent topic in the last, twentieth, chapter, “Time and Image in the Theory of Gestures”, by Kristóf Nyíri. Nyíri, too, takes the side of the psychological position according to which “it is the whole body, the entire motor system, including facial expressions and bodily gestures, that underlies not just emotions, but also abstract thought. Meaning, both emotional and cognitive, should be conceived of as primordially grounded, and ultimately embodied, in the motor dimension.” As Nyíri shows, this psychological perspective was conducive to inspiring the late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century interest in the language of gestures, an interest that is today once more vivid. – Let me, at this point, thank Kristóf Nyíri in his capacity as my co-editor. I am indebted to him for seeing the volume through the press.


We think primarily in images, and only secondarily in words, while both the image and the word are preceded by the bodily, the visceral, the muscular. This holds even for mathematical thinking. It is the entire motor system, including facial expressions and bodily gestures, that underlies not just emotions but also abstract thought. Communication, too, is a primordially visual task, spoken and written language only gradually supplementing and even supplanting the pictorial. Writing liberates, but also enslaves; after centuries of a dominantly verbal culture, today the ease of producing and accessing digital images amounts to a homecoming of the visual, with the almost limitless online availability of our textual heritage completing the educational revolution of the 21st century.


XV, 287
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2014 (September)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XVI, 287 pp., 33 coloured fig., 32 b/w fig., 3 tables

Biographical notes

András Benedek (Volume editor) Kristof Nyiri (Volume editor)

András Benedek is Professor and Head at the Department of Technical Education, Budapest University of Technology and Economics. He has published several papers on human resource development issues. Kristóf Nyíri is Professor of Philosophy at the same Department. His main fields of research are the philosophy of images and the philosophy of time.


Title: The Power of the Image