Acting with pictures

Klaus Sachs-Hombach

Punctum, 2(1): 7-17, 2016
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2016.0002

Pictures are increasingly influential in all areas of society and even shape political discourse to a remarkable extent. In order to better understand why pictures are so powerful, the present article compares the affordances of using words and pictures for communicative purposes, thereby highlighting various similarities and differences between the two modes, and ultimately developing a pragmatic theory of picture use. The article’s main thesis is that using pictures in a communicative context offers powerful affordances because understanding pictures involves a particularly intense engagement of our perceptual system. This can be formulated in terms of a predicative picture theory that describes pictures in analogy to predicators, as fulfilling a predicative function. At the same time, however, it seems that pictures are likely to be under-determined in various respects. And since their being under-determined allows that any change of context easily alters the effects pictures provoke, it becomes much more difficult to properly control the communicative effects of pictures.

KEYWORDS: picture use, language, nomination, predication, illocution, pictorial act theory, perceptual realism, pictorial meaning
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