Robert L. Martin Creative Consulting, New Media Design, Photography, and Printing

Robert L. Martin
Why Visual?

I’m almost never asked why I’m a visual artist working in New Media, it is assumed these days that anyone working in this field uses video, visuals, and graphics. For me though it’s not just chance that I choose to work with images, I choose these for the very specific impact that images have. Bear with me… to understand we need to navigate the whole of human history.

If you throw out the question: “What is the greatest human invention or acheivement?” the answer is often the wheel. I disagree, communication and language is the one thing that allows us to collaborate, to share, to tell our stories. The specific way that we learned to communicate actually helped to form our brains, in order to understand the symbols our brains had to learn to create a method for comparing the symbol, to a cultural ideal, and finally arrive at the actual idea being communicated about. The study of this process is called Semiotics, and presents the process as the Semiotic Triangle. Essentially it represents the way we interpret written language and symbols. It’s not a complex process, but as you’ll see there is a short cut.

The next big innovation in human kind is often considered the printing press. While I agree this was a huge step, it didn’t change the way we communicated visually, it changed the distribution method we used. In other words, the press doesn’t change language, it gets it out there faster. More people became engaged in language and storytelling, but it was essentially the same.

The innovation that really changed things to me is photography. Because photography is a visual representation of actual objects, it short cuts the semiotic triangle, we interpret images through visual rhetoric, but we don’t have to go through interpreting symbols and their multiple meanings. In other words, if I write the word “Cat”, we interpret the symbols ┬áC, A, T, as a thought concept, and that thought concept is OUR PARTICULAR experience of a cat, which is likely different than other people. With a photo of a cat, we start with the reference of the cat in the photo, we don’t need to work through interpreting symbols and experience, we are already on common ground.

Knowing this, it’s no wonder our species loves images so much, it’s less work to get the idea across, less work to structure the language, we simply show what it is we want to show. Video, 3D animations, all of these can (but don’t always) communicate quite directly, freeing up our brains to concentrate on other things.

Once photography, film, video, and the like became popular, the next big innovation is the internet, another distribution method, but one inherently visual. Nearly 1/2 billion images are uploaded to Facebook a day, with many more to all the other image distribution outlets on the net. We crave images, build them and distribute them almost without thinking because they are easier than words, and communicate more information, more rapidly.

At the Isaacson School we teach students to write, and draw, and create graphics, and to communicate with images. I use images because as a culture we are immersed in a visual world, we experience the visual richness of our world through image and that can be communicated in a much more lush manner through images, without using the reference (semiotic) triangle. Students love images and video, and I as a teacher need to meet them on our common ground, teaching to use the image, but also teaching them to be cautious about using the image, because unlike written language, images have multiple references within them. Our images must stand out, and be clear communication.

In later blogs I’ll talk about images and interpretation, cultural references, and nested abstraction, we all need to know how to build effective communication using all the 6 attributes of New Media (graphics, sound, images, video, words, and interactivity)

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