Elements of Visual Texts

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Visual Literacy

Just as there are techniques and a vocabulary for techniques to analyse the written word, so equivalent techniques and terminology exist to analyse and compose visual texts. You must be able to:

a. Recognise and interpret these techniques in visual texts of various kinds

b. Analyse and evaluate the effect of such techniques for a variety of purposes

c. Use these elements to compose a visual text which communicates a textual concept or theme

d. Annotate the representation techniques chosen, using appropriate terminology.

e. Explain clearly and concisely in written form what is represented and how the techniques used achieve the desired effect.

Basic compositional elements of visual texts:

LINE: is the essential element to indicate movement across a visual space. A horizontal line creates a strong sense of equilibrium and balance e.g. the horizon in an open outdoor space creates balance and spatial orientation. A diagonal line attracts the eye and creates visual stress, which heightens interest and arouses curiosity. A diagonal line can also imply movement.

DIRECTION: When we look at an image our eye travels around the frame exploring the contents. Direction will play key role in our understanding the meaning of this image. The amount and type of motion created by various shapes and lines can convey different emotional states and the direction of that motion will contribute the intensity of the emotional response. A viewer's primary scan of an image is along the vertical then horizontal axis. This is how the eye picks up the most basic information from an image. Now, if diagonal direction is substituted for horizontal and vertical direction the image will feel less stable. This is because the diagonal direction is one that conveys a feeling of movement, excitement, and change. Diagonals are the most dynamic directions, for they can suggest a strong feeling of imbalance and motion. A left to right incline is associated with an ordinary graph, lower left indicating inferiority, upper right indicating superiority or dominance. This diagonal is commonly used in visual communication because it is so accessible to a viewer. On the other hand, a left to right decline will feel less stable to the viewer because it is perceived as "downhill". This is also a very suggestive visual manipulation. Curves can lead the eye in either direction, but because of the absence of angles the usual effect is a degree of softness. Curved direction also has an element of instability in it, but unlike diagonals, it also has the ability to be reassuring and safe. The amount of reassurance we derive from the curved direction is dependent on how curved the direction is; a curve that makes a full circle is much more encompassing than a curve that is shallow. A circle is a virtual visual trap. Once the eye has picked up the curve of a circle, it will inevitably become trapped within the path of the circle and importance will be placed on anything inside. SHAPE: may be the outlines of objects, may be composed from different parts of adjacent objects, or may consist of gaps or negative shapes between objects. We respond to shapes emotionally, so different shapes will position us to respond in particular ways.

Circles and all curvey shapes will suggest feelings that are calm, peaceful, confident and optimistic. Also can be used to represent the eternal, no beginning or end, cyclical, ending up back where you started, protection, safety, family, warmth - the sun and world are round.

Squares are stable, but dull and straightforward, lacking imagination, man made as opposed to part of nature.

Triangles suggest action, agitation, conflict, tension but also aspiration, spirituality (the trinity). The pointed, sharp edges suggest anguish, danger, antagonism. Likewise thorns, fire, spears, cracked ice and mirrors, arrow heads etc.

Angles:

• full frontal – a ‘demand’ shot –...
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