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Visual Narrative & Metaphor

Lesson 22 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

Visual Narrative & Metaphor

Lesson 22 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

22. Visual Narrative & Metaphor

Lesson Info

Visual Narrative & Metaphor

So once you have all this meaning, you have images, you have forms, you're telling a story, of course. And that's what the word narrative means. In this case, we're talking about visual narrative as opposed to a verbal narrative, which is like a novel or short story, a written story. A visual narrative is a sense of a kind of meaning that is derived just from images and forms together without the benefit or any additional context. So of course, as soon as you juxtapose two images or two signs of any kind, you're gonna generate meaning. And the meaning will vary, depending on what the identities of those forms are, subject matters. So, we see, so of course we have here also kind of a manipulation already a stylization, this very highly reduced image of a band-aid that's been configured in a cross, so already we're looking at something that has to do with a hospital or with healthcare, perhaps. And then we have it in relationship to an image, which is a flame. So this may be about burn v...

ictims or hospitalization after a fire. And then we have it compared with the letter H, which in blue in combination with the red cross, stands in for the word hospital, see how fast I can't ignore it. And then on the last one we have a combination of a hand, the same cross form made of band-aids, and a leaf form, and so we might interpret this as kind of natural medicine, or organic medicine. Cropping an image and also what you choose to include in it, versus what you choose not to include in it, is critical, especially with photography. 'Cause that's where in the story lies. So, these are kind of a hypothetical study for a murder mystery book cover. I just took some photos of stuff. So, this is a shelf with some stuff on it, We can tell from elements, those towels, and there's a cologne bottle, and there's, I can see a shower curtain and a towel in the back, this must be a bathroom. That's really kind of all I can tell. Given the kind of nature of the elements, this sort of the elegant style of the clock, the attenuated quality of the vase, the sort of the refracted crystal quality of the cologne bottle, the glassiness of the shelf, this unusual uplighting, is that there's something a little bit unusual going on and it feels kind of serene, and quite sort of highbrow. So it might be, it might be a hotel bathroom, not one's home bathroom. Here the lighting has gotten a little bit more extreme, whereas the lighting here is a little bit more even, the uplighting, the fact that the light is actually, the light source is actually on the floor, instead of up above, where it should be, usually, tells us that there is something else going on. Why is the light coming up from the ground? I don't know. So, as we pull back a little bit, I may actually have a duplicate there, a little detail, so we'll go to jump to this one. So, suddenly I've introduced in this other last image, a new kind of an object, which is adding a dramatically different kind of situation. So here, where this alteration of light begins to suggest something is off because it's unexpected, here the inclusion of additional elements gives us a kind of a story. There's a knife, there's a key. Is it the hotel key? Or is the key to that secret lockbox where the money is? Then there's some money there as well. So, the how you, what you choose to include, how you edit it out, how you crop an image, can have a lot to do with how it's perceived and what you're really communicating with it. Now, if we were going to use one of these images for the cover of a murder mystery, you know, we could go right here and say, well okay, this tells us the whole thing. And that would be fine. It's a nice image. It's got some cool color, the weird lighting is still there. Here it's even more intense, as though the lamp has been knocked over and the bulb is exposed, and it's giving us this really high contrast, kind of blown out highlight. But even this, but on the other hand, if we were to pair this, you know, with a title, you know, by Agatha Christie, I don't know what it would be, is that just the sense that the light is in the wrong place might be enough to evoke that sense of danger or mystery without having to actually go the whole way. Of course, the context in which something appears, or someone appears, will completely change the identity of that person. It's kind of self explanatory. Words and images alter each other. So, any time you see an image next to a word, the word is gonna tell you what to think about the image. The image might, to a certain degree, tell you what to think about the word, in reverse, the two become inextricable. So, when you see this image, and this word, you have one kind of a feeling, or thought, or understanding, and when you see this pairing, you're thinking about something entirely different. And you're probably thinking about something very specific because that narrative is kind of currently a top of mind, or has been recently, since the year 2001, in particular, in America. Words can be affected in terms of their meaning by an image. An image, placed next to a work will tell you which of the meanings of that word, or which sense of that word, or what metaphor is being asked of that word. And it will change. The word has just changed, even though it's the same word, made of the same letters, that means essentially the same thing, is that the entire narrative is now very different, and yet again. Juxtaposition creates a gap in meaning between subjects, and so that gap, which I like to call the semantic gap, semantics has to do with meaning. What things are, what their subjects are, or what their metaphors are. And the gap can be very, very close, that is two images in juxtaposition, can be very closely related in their intrinsic identity, or their intrinsic meaning, or subject matter. And they can be very far apart, and the further apart the intrinsic identity of each image becomes, the bigger the gap in meaning, and the more complex the narrative becomes. Or, in another way of thinking about it, the closer together, or the smaller the semantic gap is between the images, the more literal that narrative is, and the wider the semantic gap is, the more metaphorical or symbolic, or many layered, or complex the narrative becomes. So, here we have an image of two creatures, and the semantic gap here is quite small. They are both infants, they are both un-evolved, they are both innocent, neither of them knows a whole lot, they're both soft, and they're both cute. They're both babies, they just happen to be different species. So then the semantic quite is quite small. When we come here, and now we're confronted by this new image, the semantic gap has become a little bit wider, even though this image represents a human, and so in that sense, the subject matters have become a little bit closer, there are so many other kinds of potential meaning intendant on this image, that we have other questions to ask. So, the identity of this woman, relative to the infant, is now up for grabs, or the identity of the infant relative to the woman, is up for grabs. This could be the infant's mother, it could be the infant's sister, it could be the infant 25 years later. And the last pairing, the semantic gap is quite wide. There is no intrinsic, immediately understandable relationship between infants and money. Or are there? Sure there are, but they're weirder, and they are much more complicated. So, this pairing, and this pairing, this juxtaposition could be telling us that children are expensive to raise, childcare costs a lot, we might interpret that also to mean that education, saving for college is financially challenging. Or we could understand that babies are very expensive on the black market. Sequence plays a dramatic role. As soon as the juxtaposition of images moves beyond a pairing, suddenly you start the viewer off down a kind of a hill, or you've revved up a train, it's like the locomotive. And as each image appears, adding its information to what is already been seen and understood, the narrative begins to kind of move forward and speed up, and then the viewer will often supply the summary, the conclusion, or the expected summary conclusion of the end, and by supporting that, you make them feel very, very happy. It's very fulfilling to a viewer to end up in the place where they thought they were gonna get to. But the thing about images, especially in juxtaposition or sequence, is that you can make somebody believe almost anything you want to, because people will just take for granted, especially with photographs, that whatever you're showing them is real, and that the fact that these two photographic, or more photographic images, are combined together, suggests that, that narrative, has to also be real, the sequence, it's gotta make sense. But, that's not always really the case. So, here I'm showing you a house, it's a nice house, and then suddenly we're confronted by an image of two people of opposite gender. Now, I'm sure that most of you have already assumed that this is a romantically involved couple. Even though there's no information given to actually support that conclusion, you projected that. Whenever we see people of opposite gender, even of same gender, standing together very, very closely, intertwined, holding each other, with smiling faces, and especially also because there's a kind of a color reference to romance, or Valentine's Day, is that we'll assume that they're a happily involved, romantic couple. And, because we've seen them appear after we've seen the house, we must assume that either this is their house, or they're looking for a house to buy, because they're building their lives, which is then supported by the following image. Or is it? Because there is no evidence that the people in this image are actually the same people, and in fact, they're not. They're from totally different sources, and even though this image is black and white, and this image is in color, you don't care, you still believe that this couple has gotten married after moving into this house. And once they moved into the house, and they were in the bedroom, the conclusion was reached. A single image can be manipulated in many ways. And so here's another narrative, using the same image. So in about 12 seconds, you're going to believe something entirely different. So, here's again we see the same house, and following it we see stormy sky. Most likely you have already come to the conclusion that this house exists in the place where this landscape is, and that this storm is threatening this house. Still keep in mind that there's no evidence given for that. But you already believe it. Following that, we see a slightly blurred image of two people running, holding hands. Now, there could be, if we ignore everything else, this image could mean a whole bunch of things. Maybe it's that previous happy couple running through their yard, playing, they're chasing a dog, they're running through the fields. But, in the context of this, what we believe is that this couple is very, very afraid for their house, and they're running away from the storm. They're in danger. Last we see that, we see an image of a destroyed house. And, I know that you already believe two things. That this couple's house has been destroyed and they've abandoned it, because you already assume that this house belongs to the couple, and because of the storm, and because it's destroyed, they're no longer there. They left. You see, they ran. But, if you notice, this house, oh and that this house, the house, got destroyed by the storm, but if you'll notice, this house is actually of wood construction, whereas this house is of stone construction. But you don't care. Because the narrative train has left the station, and has driven you to believe that the conclusion of this narrative is some kind of disaster and that this house has to be that house, even though your eyes are right now telling you, that that's not really true. Last we'll talk a little bit about visual metaphor, and really a lot of these kinds of things that we've been looking at are metaphors, that is they're ideas that kind of stand in for other things, they refer to, they allude to, different kinds of experiences, or ideas that might not necessarily be related specifically to the subject matter that you're communicating about. And there are all kinds of visual metaphors. And one kind is the symbolic metaphor, which uses symbols in combination in order to generate an idea about something else. These are both, the subject matter here, is about a film festival and these two advertisements are creating of the kind of a sense that the film, which is represented by the film reel, is actually an apple, which is a kind of a metaphor for creativity, the fruit of one's creative pursuits. You know, fruit and trees and film have nothing to do with each other, it's a metaphor. And then when also see the apple in the context of a snake coming out of a tree, and the apple being offered by a woman to a man. And so here, we're being treated to a biblical reference as a metaphor. The apple is the seed of knowledge, knowledge is an artistic, or is part of the artistic pursuit, and maybe filmmaking has a dark side to it. These two, actually, these three images make use of another kind of a metaphor, which is a vernacular metaphor, is that they draw upon experiences from some other unrelated kind of context, that may or may not have literally anything to do with the subject matter, but things that we can recognize from other situations or things that we see in every day life, or things that we have used, or been around that mean something to us, because of what they are. But in this case, they've been kind of repurposed. Their language has been taken and used to translate the concept, the image. So, here this is a CD cover for a compilation of metal music, rock music, and the vernacular metaphor here is the kind of scribbling and doodling that high school students do on their trapper keepers, on their folders, while they're bored during class. This object is a business card for a library science consultant. And it uses the vernacular, both the shaping as well as the typographic style of an object that we associate with libraries that is the card catalog, or used to. At this point, this is also an archaic vernacular reference, since I do not know if there are card catalogs anymore. In fact, I don't know if people go to libraries, because you can do all of your research at home, in your pajamas, online. And then last, this is a book cover for recipes about afternoon tea treats. And it uses the vernacular of English wallpaper as a covering. Here we have, on the other hand, a very, very different kind of metaphor, this usual metaphor is a typographic metaphor, and it's about kind of form identity, and about the quality of the type elements that actually leads to a communication. So, this is a poster advertising a lecturing seminar about architecture, 10 proposals on national politics of architecture, in which the numbers, which signify the 10 lectures, in which also contain the information about their specific lectures, in sequence, have been given a three dimensional form in lit, so they take on the quality of buildings. And so the metaphor is very, very direct, it appears architectural because of our sense of the scale of these images, or these objects relative to the very, very small size of the text typography that accompanies them, and also because of the lighting, and the kind of clustered, sort of monolithic vertical configuration of them. And so, there's a, there are a lot of options that designers have for communicating with images, for visualizing material. And it's best not to initially preconceive or jump to any conclusions about what kind of option to use, but rather to experiment, to explore those options and then to choose the one that seems not only the most compelling, but also the most relevant and the most appropriate, and the most engaging for the project and its audience.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Syllabus - Graphic Design Fundamentals.pdf

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ad+Poster-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Book+Web--Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Color-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Form+Image-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Identity-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Intro-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Layout-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Typography-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf

Ratings and Reviews


This is more about all of your courses - It would be really nice for instructors to answer questions during break times or even after the class. There a lot a fabulous questions that I see that never get answered. I would like to go back even the next day and see a short note for at least some of those questions. Just an idea to help out this wonderful format that you have going. I am sure to make use of the promote question when I see an interesting one.


I LOVED this class! I learned so much and since I had the foresight to purchase it, I can go back for a refresher anytime I want. Plus, the downloads are spectacular! Almost a book's worth and so helpful! Thank you Timothy, you are great teacher!

a Creativelive Student

This was an outstanding course, would love to see a more in depth typography course from this guy. I'm a proffesional photographer with a formal education in design, I hardly ever use it, so I forget things, this was great both as a review, and to pinpoint things I didn't know or thought I knew. thanks once again! well done!!

Student Work