Traditionally rhetoric is thought of in its natural form of written or spoken word. However, when we consider the definition of rhetoric, it’s clear that an alternate form of rhetoric arose between the use of rhetoric in spoken and written word; that is art.
Art is intended to convey a message, and evoke emotion in its intended audience; these characteristics are also some of the main defining points of rhetoric. The power of art in rhetoric comes from the fact that it is easily understood by people from all walks of life whether they be young or old, educated or uneducated. You do not need to know how to read, or have a respectable vocabulary in order to be able to understand the authors message.
The full power of this can be realized in the art of many of the churches and monuments we have seen on this trip. Many of the ancient monuments near the Roman Forum (particularly the columns) had engravings on them that depicted stories and scenes, usually from whatever war or life that the monument was commemorating. In churches you can more commonly find frescoes or murals depicting religious events or tales from the Bible.
Modern rhetorical art can be found in places like the Banksy Museum in Amsterdam, which I visited this weekend. Banksy is a street artist from London who is renowned for making satirical art on walls, doors, street signs, etc. It was remarkable to see how with a few simple images he could convey his message about war, poverty, police brutality, or whatever else it may be.
Isabella, our guide in Florence, put it the best; “These were like 3-D comic books for the uneducated”. With most of the population at the time these works were commissioned, these works were essential to conveying the message or reinforcing the societal values that the fiancier wished to emphasize. I feel that this is still the most effective means of rhetoric today, even with an educated populace, because level of education does not restrict your comprehension of the rhetor’s message.