“People see with their brains rather than eyes” — this is a quote from Nicholas Mirzoeff’s book How to see the world when he argues that every individual will interpret the same visual information differently due to their diverse personal interests and beliefs as well as the influence of their cultural backgrounds. My biggest takeaway from this class is a better understanding of the complicated relationship between text and visuals and in particular the power of visual narratives. This site, which is divided into three parts: the Sunday sketch assignments, the literacy narrative project, and the tracing project, exhibits my journey throughout this semester to explore the potential of visuals and how to make effective use of both texts and visuals to present information, and more importantly, to make an argument.
The Sunday Sketch assignments focus on developing students’ ability to create visuals that are informative and powerful, telling a story on their own instead of being merely supplements to texts. Through different prompts, I was inspired to create visuals that focused on improving different skills. For instance, “Combophoto” and “Recreate a movie scene” prompted me to make creative connections by observing and taking note of the key characteristics of everyday objects or a specific image, like a movie poster; “Visual note-taking” and “Data viz from everyday life” instead exercised my ability to generate an informative image by visualizing quantitative data or descriptive information; and through “Triptych” and “Quadriptych”, I was able to practice telling a story using visuals and experience how the number of panels could influence the rhythm of a story. However, even though every sketch prompt has a slightly different emphasis, ultimately they all urged me to reflect on my own preferences, allowing me to explore different ways of representing “who I am”. I discovered that as a writer, I have a particular interest in using analogies and symbols, as well as describing complicated emotions, especially when I knew that my idea would be turned into a drawing, I often tried to visualize it in advance while I was brainstorming. For example, in the Quadriptych, I used Magnolia as a symbol for the transient nature of beauty and happiness. Similarly, in my literary narrative, I tried to delineate my feelings of insecurity and disorientation by using a bubble as a symbol: “Like a sharp scalpel, the title sliced open the hazy bubble which I carelessly named as reality by simply forcing me to select one event that could be used to define my recent life.” I found analogy to be a particularly powerful and effective devise to substantiate and clarify abstract feelings that I’m interested in capturing in my writings, especially when the writings are to be visualized. Another pattern I observed was my interest in including animals in my projects: the cat in my avatar, the firefly in my Sunday sketch, and the octopus in my combophoto. I realized that probably because I like drawing inspiration from animals so the visual database in my head is filled with animal images, maybe in the future I should consciously expand the diversity of this visual database.
The tracing assignment, instead, put more emphasis on students’ ability to clarify their ideas and present their arguments through texts. Even though as an art history major, I’m familiar with visual analysis, initially I had a hard time deciding my argument and the structure of the essay, since this was my first time consciously using an ABT format instead of writing a parallel three paragraph essay. Eventually, I decided to focus on what interested me most about visual narratives: their ability to vividly reveal the artist’s unique representation of reality. Later in the semester, I found what I’ve learned from writing this essay to be particularly helpful when I was writing the final project for my comparative literature class, a 2500-word essay that asked me to present an argument by comparing two books. Also, I decided to continue exploring the problem of “representing reality” for my seminar class final project by comparing and analyzing two types of war postcards: WWI real-photo postcards and cold war mail art postcards. Again, visual analysis and comparative analysis played an important role in this research, and the ABT format made it a lot easier for me to develop a clear emphasis and an easy-to-follow structure throughout this 3000-word essay.
The Halfa Kucha assignment also improved my ability to make an argument using ABT structure, but put more emphasis on the ability to orally deliver an argument through a presentation. I employed similar rules while preparing for my seminar 10-minute presentation, For instance, instead of filling each slide with texts organized in bullet points, I tried to include more images and only a few keywords in large size to make each slide more straightforward. I also condensed the information on each slide as I realized that by making each slide shorter, the viewers were more likely to stay focused.
The assignment that I learned most from was the literary narrative assignment, as it gave me an opportunity to apply all the skills I’ve learned so far to create a project that tells a personal story. The process of completing the three parts of this assignment allowed me to reflect on the relationship between visuals and texts and how to adjust the information based on the media. The easiest part for me was part 1 since I’ve been keeping a diary for a long time so I was used to writing introspectively. The challenge was to turn it into a comic, and I spent the most amount of time designing the storyboard, which was when I realized that some adjustments must be made in order to create interesting visuals and a smooth narrative rhythm. Also, sometimes it was difficult to spot the inconsistencies in the storyboard since I was reviewing it over and over again, which was when peer review became helpful as my peers were able to point out the issues that I ignored as a creator. For instance, in my storyboard, the out-of-panel space was initially filled with mushrooms as a way to echo the theme of the rain and growth, but my peers all found this to be quite confusing so I deleted them in the final version. My biggest takeaway from this assignment was a better understanding of how texts and visuals work together. In part 1, texts play a major role; part 2 relies primarily on the visuals; and part 3 asked me to combine both mediums. From this process, I found that part 3, the combination of text and self-created visuals was the most powerful way to present my idea, as it not only allows me to retain the level of clarity in my writing but also to establish a certain ambiance and incorporate cues more implicitly and effortlessly through visuals.
Overall, all of these skills mentioned above are helpful ways to make an argument engaging and easy to follow, and I believe that what I’ve learned about ABT structure, various types of visual narratives, and Halfa-Kucha style presentation would be helpful for my future classes.