In 2009, communications scholars Esra Özcan, Ognyan Seizov and I wrote an academic paper on the Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy and its aftermath.
We concluded that “visuals have to be taken more seriously as powerful communication tools on a global scale”. As the murderous attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo has shown, once again political indifference toward the visual aspects of global communication has led to an underestimation of the risk and the vulnerability of visual artists.
The logic of visuals
Western civilization may be erudite and eloquent when it comes to text-based rhetoric. However, visuals hit a blind spot. The Western text-bias is pervasive in all spheres of life, beginning as early as elementary school, where visual analytic competencies are not trained to the same degree as textual and numeric analyses are.
While text-based communication is sequential –- one argument follows another – the logic of visual communication is not; it is based on association. Visuals automatically elicit both interpretation of meaning and emotional reaction. To different people the same visual might mean completely different things. What makes one person laugh, offends another.