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Metaphors Metonymy and Synecdoche

What is a visual metaphor?


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June 04, 2012 6:57PM

A visual metaphor, also called a pictorial metaphor, is a metaphor in which something (the metaphor's "target") that is presented visually is compared to something that belongs to another category (the metaphor's "source") of things than the first, also presented visually. As in verbal metaphors (such as "football is war" or "the world is a stage"), at least one feature or association is "mapped" from the source to the target. Often, a whole set of (interrelated) features is mapped from source to target. Visual/pictorial metaphors are used often in advertising, but also in political cartoons and films. Many examples of visual/pictorial metaphor, as well as discussions of them, are discussed in my book Pictorial Metaphor in Advertising (Routledge 1996), which also contains references to the work of other authors who discuss metaphor in images and film, for instance the perception psychologist John Kennedy, the film scholar Trevor Whittock, and the film philosopher Noel Carroll.

Nowadays, metaphors straddling two or more modalities (language, visuals, sound, gesture ...) are beginning to receive serious scholarly attention. Metaphors in which the target and the source are in different modalities are called "multimodal metaphors." An example of the latter is an advertisement for a photo camera (target, in the visual modality) with underneath the text "supermodel" (source, in the verbal modality). For more information, see my online course *A Course in Pictorial and Multimodal Metaphor.*

In September 2009 the volume Multimodal Metaphor (Mouton de Gruyter) appeared, which I co-edited with Eduardo Urios-Aparisi. More information on this topic can be found on the Adventures in Multimodality (AIM) blog [Contribution by Charles Forceville.]