The Power of Visual Non-Verbal Communication

Verbal forms of communication are used primarily to exchange information on a daily basis. Even though non-verbal forms are not used independently for communication, they still surround and influence us wherever we go. William ­Blake, a romanticist English poet, used visual illustrations to allow a more diverse population to understand his work. Together with his poems, hand-written typography and visual illustrations formed a multi-layered poetic landscape containing multiple graphic elements. When does verbal communication become non-verbal? And could non-verbal communication be used as a standalone form of communication? Verbal communication becomes non-verbal when it gets written down, allowing it to be used as a graphic element for visual interpretation. This visual artistry creates a multidimensional relationship between typography, colors, and creative techniques. It makes it possible to analyze not only verbal but also non-verbal connotations behind the artist’s work.

Figure 1: William Blake: "Infant Sorrow", engraving from Song of Experience (1974)

The Miami Art Museum’s exhibition “Visual Poetics: Art and the Word” looked at the relationship between words, visuals and absorption of information. Words describing certain exhibits were placed to see how they influence our perception. The incentive came from a poetic speculation that “language is a ‘cumulative project’ of the species, comparable to animal husbandry.” Provoking comparison shows vividly how visual communication is a collaborative project constantly evolving into something more complex and refined. Many aspects of works of art are similar to writing pieces in that each must flow together to create a unified whole. Like words in a sentence, visual elements and symbols carry a certain meaning that has been created by humans over thousands of years of evolution and cultural growth. E.g. lines communicate a feeling of delight, and curved lines suggest comfort, safety, and familiarity.

While text represents a form of verbal communication, it can also be seen as an element of pictorial composition. Marinetti, an Italian poet, sought to advance the way in which we view text. He used various colors, font-sizes, and styles to create a contextual background for linguistic material. His work “Lettre d’une jolie femme a un monsier passeiste” (Letter from a pretty woman to a Mr. Past) reminds us of an advertisement, accompanied by large-scale fonts and graphic illustrations. Artistic typography looks like a billboard advertisement, a word Chair (the French word for “flesh”) functions as a subtext or anagram and the rest of the poem is a telegram-contract before an erotic encounter between the characters. These symbols elicit emotion from the reader and put the poem into a larger context.

Figure 2: F.T. Marinetti: “Lettre d’une jolie femme a` un monsieur passe´iste”, in: Les mots en liberte´ futuristes, Edizioni futuriste di “Poesia”, 1919.

Visual language becomes a powerful platform when a lot is left up to observers to interpret in their own way. The artist in this case takes the role of a motivator for provoked discussions. Visual languages cannot be seen as an independent form of communication mainly because it has so much space for individual interpretations. These interpretations often expect people to have similar socio-cultural background whether because of their specific symbolic meaning or contextual significance.

The relationship between words and visuals is a constantly changing phenomenon. If we base our interpretations of art on our own cultural background, rather than the author’s, we find ourselves making errors. The vast differences in interpretations require us to use verbal communication to provide greater contextual understanding.


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