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Equally Efficient Modes of Communication: Comparing Visual Arts and Speech

Understanding how people communicate is vitally important in many different fields. This sample research paper explores effective methods of communication, focusing primarily on the difference between visual arts and speech and is one of the research paper writing services offered by Ultius.

Equally efficient modes of communication: comparing visual arts and speech

For centuries, individuals, including cavemen and preschoolers, have been using methods other than speech to convey meaning to people, society, and the world. As a result, visual communication can be recognized as its own language. Visual communication includes communicating through the use of visual arts, where ideas and feelings are conveyed through:

Communicating ideas and feelings through visual arts is often as effective as communication through speech since both convey universally and culturally recognizable symbols, both use the communication process to derive meaning from the messages, and there are similarities in how the brain processes speech and visual arts.

Semiotics – interpreting signs and symbols

Since the 20th century, researchers have been examining how semiotics, the use of signs and symbols, affects the communication process. Marvin Irvine explained that linguistics is the study of language and how signs and symbols represent written and verbal forms of communication. However, semiotics specifically focus on interpreting signs and symbols and explaining how these objects can convey meaning. Actually, semiotics can be applied to the study of art, where painters, photographers, sculptures, and those who have language disorders communicate with others through visual means. According to Burcin Turkan:

“semiotics is used to examine how people express their feelings and ideas through the process of art production.”

As a result, although semiotics is a science of non-linguistic communication processes, upcoming research in the area is useful to explaining how communicating through visual arts is as effective as communicating through verbal speech.

Communicating ideas

Communicating ideas and feelings, as well as making arguments through visual arts is as effective as communication through speech since both methods of communication convey universally and culturally recognizable symbols. Although linguistics enable people in a culture to derive the meaning of their language through discourse,

“semiotics allows individuals to create visual cultures that convey meaning to the individual, society, and the world” (Turkan 601).

When a person uses verbal speech to convey thoughts and ideas to others, they are using a language that contains signs and symbols that are recognized by a specific group of people or a culture (Irvine). For example, when the Latino community talks about machismo, the word symbolizes a dominating male, and the meaning behind this word is highly recognizable in this culture. Along the same lines, when a person conveys their thoughts and feelings through visual communication, the symbols and signs in the artwork can be universally or culturally recognized. For instance, if an artist paints a picture using dark colors and evil images, the symbols in the picture can be immediately recognized by others in society and they can be interpreted as feelings of sadness and turmoil. Therefore, signs and symbols in language and in art are commonly recognized both universally and in cultures, and their meanings are effectively transmitted through verbal and visual communication processes.

Deriving messages through semiotics

In addition, communicating ideas and feelings through visual arts is as effective as communication through speech since both modes of communication use the communication process to derive meaning from the messages. In the communication process, the receiver of a message must analyze, evaluate, and critique the message that is being sent in order to understand the meaning of the message and to provide the sender with feedback.  Accordingly, both visual and verbal forms of communication follow this pattern as messages are:

  1. Analyzed
  2. Evaluated
  3. Critiqued

In speech, the receiver of the message must analyze and evaluate the context of language in order to interpret its meaning (Irvine). After the sounds, words, and symbols are interpreted by the receiver of the message, the recipient can obtain the message’s meaning and then form a response to the message. Likewise, when messages are communicated through visual arts, a person must analyze, critique, and assess the meaning that is presented in the message through:

  • Symbols
  • Color
  • Form
  • Content
  • Style (Turkan)

Once these elements are interpreted, the viewer of the art can make meaning of the art and understand the messages that have been conveyed. In sum, the meaning of the messages in both verbal and visual communication are able to be interpreted due to processes in the human brain.

Similarities in brain processes

Lastly, communicating ideas and feelings through visual arts is as effective as communication through speech since there are similarities in how the brain processes both speech and visual arts. Recent research conducted by speech language professors have determined that the

“the inferior parietal lobule of the brain is all about language acquisition and abstract use of language” (Harte).

Since language is learned through associating symbols with meanings, both verbal and nonverbal language are equally processed in this area of the brain. Furthermore, Erin Harte insists that new findings on language processing in the brain have shown that the brain is

“organized for language and not for speech.”

This argument lends support for the theory of left vs. right brain dominance in individuals. These findings are based on the fact that deaf people communicate symbols the same way that non-deaf individuals relay messages. This means that communication does not need to be heard in order to be effective since nonverbal messages and visual messages contain symbols that are also interpreted through processes in the brain. Consequently, since verbal and nonverbal messages are processed in the same region of the brain and speech is not correlated to this process, it can be argued that communicating ideas and feelings through visual arts is as effective as communication through speech.

Differing research

Conversely, while it has been confirmed that communicating ideas and feelings through visual arts is as effective as linguistic communication through speech, some researchers do not agree with this assertion. Those in favor of verbal speech argue that the meaning of a message is more likely to be misinterpreted through the communication of visual arts than in speech. Kay O’Halloran argued that:

“linguistic texts unfold in a series of steps and meaning culminates progressively as the text unfolds” (447).

As a result, the process allows individuals to make better meaning of ideas and feelings associated with language when they are verbally communicated through speech. On the other hand, visual communication involves using our eyes to view and scan an image to make meaning of the parts. However, Kay O’Halloran insists that:

“the whole image is usually interpreted before the parts.”

This means that the meaning behind the visual art can be misinterpreted since components of the artwork that contribute to the meaning of the message may go unnoticed. Moreover, when a message is trying to be derived through visual communication, the thought process may be all over the place. Therefore, when an individual conveys a message through visual arts instead of speech, the chances are greater that the message will be misinterpreted since the meaning of the messages is not inferred through a series of steps that take into account all of the elements of language.

The strengths of visual communication

Though some researchers do not believe that communicating ideas and feelings through visual arts is as effective as communication through speech as messages can be misinterpreted, evidence has proven that communicating our ideas and feelings through artwork is an efficient mode of communication. This type of communication is becoming increasingly more important as speech communication seems to be declining due to technological advancement.

  1. Visual communication requires greater critical thinking – Research conducted by James Rosier, Lawrence Locker, and Karen Naufel found that visual communication allows individuals to better make meaning of messages since it involves the use of critical thinking skills. For example, when people hear a verbal message, they sometimes can provide feedback to the message immediately without taking the time to process the meaning of the message that is being sent. On the contrary, when messages are relayed through visual arts, those viewing the images must critically analyze and examine all of the parts of the artwork in order to understand the ideas and feelings of the message.
  2. Visual memory is retained more easily than verbal memory – Rosier, Locker, and Naufel insist that visual communication is actually more effective than speech since visual images are retained longer in our memory. Considering that many people can quickly forget what a person just said when they hear a verbal message, the authors’ viewpoint is valid since visual images remain in the brain’s memory longer than verbal messages.

Thus, since communicating through visual arts involves using critical thinking skills to assess artwork and the images last longer in the brain, the chance of misinterpreting the messages are less likely than when responding to a verbal message that has been communicated through speech.


Communicating ideas and feelings through visual arts is as effective as communication through speech since both:

  • Convey universally and culturally recognizable symbols
  • Use the communication process to derive meaning from the messages
  • Display similarities in how the brain processes speech and visual arts

Although linguistics allows individuals to make meaning out of written and spoken language, semiotics allow people to derive meaning from visual images through the examination and interpretation of universally and culturally recognizable signs and symbols. Despite the fact that researchers argue that communication through speech is more effective since the chances that the meaning of the messages will be misinterpreted are reduced, it has been proven that the human brain processes verbal and nonverbal language similarly and that communicating through the use of visual arts is a more complex process than speaking.

Works Cited

Harte, Erin. “Language Processing in the Human Brain.” BrainWorld, 22 July 2011. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

Irvine, Marvin. “Structural Linguistics, Semiotics, and Communication Theory: Basic Outlines and Assumptions.” Georgetown, 2012. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

O’Halloran, Kay. “Systemic Functional-Multimodal Discourse Analysis (SF-MDA): Constructing Ideational Meaning Using Language and Visual Imagery.” Visual Communication 7.4 (2008): 443-475. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

Rosier, James, Lawrence Locker, and Karen Naufel. “Art and Memory: An Examination of the Learning Benefits of Visual-Art Exposure.” Northern American Journal of Psychology, 15.2 (2013): 265-278. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

Turkan, Burcin. “Semiotic Approach to the Analysis of Children’s Drawings.” Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice 13.1 (2013): 600-607. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

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