The Psychology of Graphic Images: Seeing, Drawing, Communicating

The Psychology of Graphic Images: Seeing, Drawing, Communicating

The Psychology of Graphic Images: Seeing, Drawing, Communicating

The Psychology of Graphic Images: Seeing, Drawing, Communicating


This book explores the nature of one of the most ancient tools for nonverbal communication: drawings. They are naturally adaptable enough to meet an incredibly wide range of communication needs. But how exactly do they do their job so well?

Avoiding the kinds of aesthetic rankings of different graphic domains so often made by art historians and critics, Manfredo Massironi considers an extensive and representative sample of graphic applications with an open mind. He finds a deep mutuality between the material components of images and the activation of the perceptual and cognitive processes that create and decipher them.

Massironi first examines the material components themselves: the mark or line, the plane of representation (the angle formed by the actual drawing surface and the depicted objects), and the position of the viewpoint relative to the depicted objects. The roles played by these three components are independent of the content of the drawing; they function in the same way in concrete and abstract representations. He then closely scrutinizes the choices made by the person planning and executing the drawings. Given that any object can be depicted in an infinite number of different ways, the drawer performs continuous work emphasizing and excluding different features. The choices are typically unconscious and guided by his or her communicative goals. A successful graph, be it simple or complex, is always successful precisely because the emphasized features are far fewer in number than the excluded ones. Finally, he analyzes the perceptual and cognitive integrations made by the viewer.

Drawings are not simply tools for communication but important instruments for investigating reality and its structure. Richly illustrated, the book includes a series of graphic exercises that enable readers to get a sense of their own perceptual and cognitive activity when inspecting images. Massironi's pathbreaking taxonomy of graphic productions will illuminate all the processes involved in producing and understanding graphic images for a wide audience, in fields ranging from perceptual and cognitive psychology through human factors and graphic design to architecture and art history.


This chapter discusses information provided by complex patterns. For simplicity, I will call these patterns "scenes." Scenes are images containing elements that occur in specific relation to each other, creating figural unity. Each element of a scene contributes to the overall meaning of the scene through its individual meaning and its figural characteristics. At the same time, the global properties of the scene contribute to the meaning and characteristics of each local component. Borrowing from linguistics, these reciprocal relationships often are defined using the term context, and the idea that contextual information removes ambiguity from the scene's individual elements is similar to the linguistic notion that ambiguous words become unambiguous through linguistic context. In the pages that follow, I introduce and discuss examples of representational graphics that will help us identify the critical theoretical concepts necessary to understand information in complex scenes. A graphic exercise will lead us to the discovery that the mode of presentation changes the perceptual processing of the presented material and, therefore, also the availability of information. This will take us to the conclusion that, far from being an explanation, the context often remains an unsolved problem.


Most people appreciate importance of context when they try to understand how verbal communication can be possible. Verbal context is particularly important when meaning relies on establishing relationships between pieces of discourse. After closer scrutiny, however, it becomes apparent that the putative role of context, far from providing an explanation of verbal communication, actually creates a problem. Thus, language is an excellent way to start our discussion of context. Language, of course, can be either written text or spoken discourse. For simplicity, I will focus here on the first case. Text acquires meaning through well-established rules, which in turn are based on . . .

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