Rhetorical Analysis Essay about a Picture

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Questions regarding pictures in art history and visual culture have been both rhetorical and interpretive. Human beings seem to be highly interested in the meaning of pictures, and what the pictures do, which includes the way they communicate as symbols and signs and the power they possess of impacting the behavior and emotions of human beings. Images normally express the desires of the artist and also act as mechanisms that elicit the beholder's desires. This is replicated by our extraordinary and powerful responses to the pictures and images that experience in our daily lives. We behave as though pictures are alive, and have the power to demand things from us, influencing, seducing, and persuading us or even leading us astray. In his book, 'What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images Mitchell argues that images are not just inert objects that are used to convey meanings, rather, they have demands, needs, appetites, drives, and desires of their own. As a result, images have the potential of exploding signification in our lives. This paper rhetorically analyzes the power of images as depicted by Mitchell in relation to the Starry Night painting by Vincent van Gogh.

Images have human desires, which is demonstrated by their tendency of looking back at the beholder, responding to the beholder, or 'wanting something' from the beholder. Mitchell personified images by using an analogy of images with human attributes. They are depicted as having meaning to our lives, wanting things from us, and also having claims upon us. In the Preface, He says, 'The question to ask of the picture from the standpoint of a poetics is not just what they mean or do but what they want- what claims they make upon us, and how we are to respond. Obviously, this question also requires us to ask what is that we want from the picture' (Mitchell, Preface, XV). The answers to these questions are clearly evident in The Starry Night, which illustrates the relationship between the picture and the beholder as comprising of mutual desire. In the painting, the artist is viewing a village from the window of his asylum window and is imagining the comfort in the village compared to one in his asylum room. He imagines of a future in that village and the good life it would bring forth. From this painting, we would say that the answer to our many questions is that pictures want to be admired. He imagines of a future in that village and the good life it would bring forth. From this painting, we would say that the answer to our many questions is that pictures want to be admired. It is not clear if it depicts the artist's wish or fear of living in that comfortable village. In whichever case, the painting has been given human attributes of looking at the artist, responding to him, wanting something from him, and depicting a mutual relationship between it and him.

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Also, images and pictures have the power to convince us about what exactly they are. They have the human power of convincing us that they are everything. In Vital Sign, Mitchell asks, '... why is it that people have such strange attitudes towards images, objects, and media? Why do they behave as if pictures were alive, as if works of art had minds of their own, as if images had a power to influence human beings, demanding things from us, persuading, seducing, and leading us astray?” (Mitchell 7). Looking at the painting Starry Night, one would say it is convincing us about what it is and what it depicts, and hence it is everything. The painting depicts a cypress tree that sits in the foreground and one that reaches almost the top edge of the canvas and hence acting as a visual link between the sky and the land. Symbolically, the cypress could be viewed as a bridge between death and life. This image, therefore, looks as though it is alive with its own mindset, which it aims at passing to the audience and hence convincing us about what it is.

In addition, pictures are described as having overtones of animism, vitalism, and anthropomorphism that powerfully influences human beings into treating them just like living things. In Cloning Terror, Mitchell presents images as living organisms making the question of what pictures want inevitable. The painting The Starry Night may be looked at as though it has been cloned to enable the artist to treat it as a hybrid class or special species that will be admired by a large audience. Mitchell notes that 'the clone signifies the potential for the creation of new images in our time- new images that fulfill the ancient dream of creating a 'living image,' a replica or copy that is not merely a mechanical duplicate but an organic, biologically viable simulacrum of a living organism' (Mitchell 12-13). This means that the painting by Gogh has been cloned with the sole aim of fulfilling an ancient dream of the creation of living images that replicate living things. Further, the author says, 'Harris notes that we often talk about buildings as if they were living things, or as if their intimate proximity to living beings made them take on some of the vitality of their inhabitants' (Mitchell 14). By this argument, the author brings in an analogy that exists between buildings and the living human body and that these are creations conceived in the mind of the architect, grow up, and are built to become a habitat for living organisms. Gogh's painting seems cloned to meet the artist's aim of showing comfort and goodness in the village and what he wished to experience. He includes a luminous sky in the painting to represent the brighter future he so desires and a cypress tree to act as a bridge from his asylum room to the village. He, therefore, appears to have cloned the village he imaged to depict and reflect his current situation and the hope he has for his future. As a result, human beings are able to remark on the link that exists between the very idea of things like buildings and this spectacular image.

Further, images are presented as being vital signs that play a crucial role in human social life to the extent that usually generates surplus values for them. By vital signs, Mitchell notes that images are not just 'signs for living things but signs as living things' (Mitchell 6). It is for this reason that images have the power to illuminate our daily lives, inspire and even frighten us. That, therefore, means that images are analogies of living things. In The Starry Night, Gogh clearly uses exaggerated and expressive brushstrokes with the aim of visualizing his emotions and dream and also to reveal the impressions he had of the subject following his dream. The piece of artwork has a night with shining stars, a bright moon, and whirling clouds which enable the viewer to explore the artwork. There is a church that dominates the entire village and acts as a symbol of the village's unity. Looking at the painting, it is not just a sign for living things, but it is a sign of living things. It is not just symbolic of the village but it is a representation of the desired life at the village and every living attribute of the village. The painting touches on the social life of human beings, and as a result, the image is a very vital sign that is important for the social life of human beings. The images in the painting simply come alive and behave like a living thing.

Moreover, a picture is presented as being very paradoxical and peculiar create both in its abstract and concrete form as well as both as a specific individual and a symbolic form that embraced a totality. Images, therefore, have the power of giving human beings a detailed view of a certain situation and also provide a snapshot of that specific moment. To emphasize this, Mitchell says, 'To get the whole picture of pictures, then, we cannot remain content with the narrow conception of them, nor can we imagine that our results, no matter how general or comprehensive, will be anything more than a picture of images, objects, and media as they appear to some of us at this moment' (Mitchell, Preface xvii). The painting by Gogh seems to capture the artist's imagination and dream of a village adjacent to his asylum room. It captures what exactly he imagined under different weather conditions. The images in the painting look agitated, turbulent, and with very intense swirling patterns that appear to roll across the frame surface like waves. This is an indication of some kind of conflict more so between life in his asylum room and the village. At the moment of his imagination, he imagined such a conflict, and as a result, the painting is a reflection of that particular moment. Therefore, in its totality, the painting is peculiar and paradoxical an indication of the power images have in depicting a specific moment.

In conclusion, the power of images as depicted in 'What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images' by Mitchell is rhetorical. Images are depicted as being very vital in human social lives, being peculiar and paradoxical in nature, having human attributes, having the power of convincing us what they are, and having overtones of animism, vitalism, and anthropomorphism that influence human beings like living things. All these attributes clearly and rhetorically explain the power of images and what they want and hence the reason why human beings should not look at them as just inert objects that pass a given message, but as animated or personified beings that have desires, needs, wants drives, appetites, and demands. Therefore, human beings should not hold images and pictures in contempt or even denigrate them; rather, they should view them as powerful objects that present different aspects of human life.

Works Cited

    1. Mitchell, WJ Thomas. What do pictures want?: The lives and loves of images. University of Chicago Press, 2005.
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