A visual metaphor is a comparison of something that belongs to one category with another of a different category (Arnheim 125). It suggests a similarity between the two things. Visual metaphors vary from one cultural setting to another. For this reason the intended message may be lost if a metaphor from one culture is used in another one.
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Therefore, visual metaphors that are used in cosmopolitan societies must be universal in order to fit into everyone’s mental model of reality. Visual metaphors tremendously enhance our thinking and understanding of things.
Some examples of visual metaphors include: American farmers need a financial safety net, Ideas are mushrooms that multiply quickly, he played the devil’s advocate yesterday, ideas are winged, things are elephant right now, asking questions is priming the pump of better understanding, thoughts are the seeds of creation, we left on foot even though it was raining cats and dogs, a positive attitude is a lighthouse for the hopeful, you have the heart of a lion, you’re my sunshine, she is a visual thinking butterfly, still in her cocoon.
Visual metaphors play an important role in learning. Metaphors in general improve the speed with which we grasp various things and notions. Learners are able to get some things faster. However, this is thought is true only when the learner has already experience of the image being used (Benson 200). The understanding of a new thing will in such situations depend on the individual’s understanding of the image.
Metaphors help the learner understand reality. Metaphors are used on a daily basis to help us get an insight of the world around us. Visual metaphors shape one’s understanding of the surrounding. This in turn influences one’s mental picture of reality.
The mental model of reality is instrumental in assisting one to make critical decisions on some situations later in life. The decisions made tend to be more effective when one is exposed to metaphors early in life. Visual metaphors may also inspire and motivate one depending on one’s understanding of the metaphor.
Visual metaphors help us in visual thinking. The metaphors provide the user with an opportunity to communicate a visual message in a way that enhances understanding and awareness (Bowers 73). Visual metaphors help people we are communicating with connect with us and thus create a deep understanding of the message being shared. Therefore, metaphors add color to our understanding.
Another effect that visual metaphors have on visual thinking is linking the new with the familiar. They help bridge the gap between the new and the familiar. This device assists its users in putting together new concepts and ideas in a way that others can connect with. Each new idea is presented to the end user in a manner that evokes familiarity and understanding. Familiarity helps us overcome the fear and anxiety associated with encountering things for the first time. It nurtures acceptance and tolerance.
Visual metaphors help us internalize what we learn. Internalization is a pre-requisite for better understanding and abstraction. Internalization helps us form mental models of things. The models later come into play when we are thinking abstractly.
Metaphors, therefore, play an important role in society. They help us understand difficult subjects through association. Visual metaphors are an important aspect of visual thinking. They add color to visual thinking. Without visual metaphors, visual and abstract thinking would be plain.
Arnheim, Rudolph. Visual thinking. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1999. Print.
Benson, Thomas W., & Prosser, Michael. Readings in classical rhetoric. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 2002. Print.
Bowers, A., & Flinders, David J. Responsive teaching: An ecological approach to Classroom patterns of language, culture, and thought. New York: Teachers College Press. 1990. Print.