America is a country both united and divided. Each day we base our actions on the principles of our democracy and constitution, but our behaviors reveal that we each have a unique interpretation of what those principles really mean. The flag sits in the background of my poster to show our foundation is strong and consistent. The stars and stripes are echoed throughout the image to demonstrate their strength, but also their influence on everything that we do. The flag is an easily recognizable image which stirs feelings in the viewer, and which instantly calls to mind all things patriotic and American. The flag is an abstract symbol that is universally recognizable by viewers around the world.
We all believe in America, but what it means to be an American is interpreted in wildly different ways. We find ourselves in a time where this concept of patriotism is debated perhaps more strongly than ever. The things which unite us feel more tenuous, as the flag becomes covered with so many symbols of what we think it represents. On opposing sides sit religion and science, often presented as dichotomous ideals. Religion and the belief in a higher power guiding our lives, is actually strikingly similar to the concepts of science, which proffer a structured natural order guiding the creation of the world.
Despite their similarities, we stake our claim in one or the other, and dig our heels into those opposing tenants. Religion is infused throughout the left side of the image, represented by church, the cross, and rosary beads. Situated on the opposite side of the page to imply contrast, science dominates the right, showing trees, plants, the Earth, and DNA structure. Opposing views of our origins form the basis of our disagreements, a principle so strong that it undergirds all other beliefs. These symbols contribute to the narrative of America as a concept strongly divided.
The collage simplifies the presentation of higher-level concepts through thematic representation of familiar symbols. The majority of Americans, operating from the same cultural background, will have a similar interpretation of the larger meaning of the image. However, as Andrew Losowsky points out, that interpretation is dependent “on the cultural background, personal experience, and current state of mind of each individual viewer.” The symbols in this image were chosen for their simplicity and strength, meant to represent various high-level concepts and themes in a simplistic format that anyone can understand.
The visual story presented in this image is one of a divided America, meant to illustrate the idea that we are at once united and divided. It takes complex ideas and through their proximity provides meaning. For example, the image of the fetus on the left-hand side of the image makes us thing of protecting the right to life and diminishing the reproductive freedom of women. However if it had appeared on the right-hand side of the image, it may have been perceived as representative of science and innovation, based on its proximity to other scientific symbols.
While there are so many different shapes and styles used throughout the image, the colors of red, white and blue serve to unite the whole image together. These colors are used consistently and on the opposing edges of the image to bring cohesion. The image was created using Hugh J. Watson’s approach to visual storytelling:
- Don’t use meaningless variety
The side of the elements was somewhat consistent throughout, so that no one thing would become overbearing. There is a clear section at the top, the bottom, and the middle to help us make visual sense of the overall image.
- Don’t misuse or overuse color
Red, white and blue were used when possible to create unity throughout the work
- Don’t use useless decoration
Only images which were key to the theme of political division were included in the collage
The central focal point of the image is a peace sign on a flag, with hands ripping it apart from opposing sides. The hands create tension, drawing the eye of the viewer immediately to the center of the image, and from there the eye branches out. We can see that the pull is coming from two opposing sides, and as we explore the imagery on each side we begin to see the elements driving the argument.
The top and bottom of the image also serve to unite the overall narrative between two themes. One is interpreted from the top of the image, where crowds of people hold flags, indistinguishable in their political party or affiliation, all united in their patriotism while cheering for their country. The diversity of our population is seen in the faces of men and women with a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Their appearance at the top of the image symbolizes the importance of their voices in mass.
The bottom border of the image is lined with coins, symbolizing the money that is infused throughout the entire country, the driver of so many of our decisions and beliefs. Money, in this case, is then shown as the root of everything else which sits upon it visually. This hierarchy, with money below and the voices of the masses above, illustrates the two driving forces at work in America today.
The collage, These Truths Are Not Self Evident, illustrates our country as a nation united in basic common beliefs, but divided by passionate extreme viewpoints. It’s presented as a non-dramatic visual story, where meaning is both served by the artist but also enhanced by the own individual (Bergstorm). Like America, the image itself is very much open to interpretation.
Bergstrom, B. (2009). Essentials of visual communication. London: Laurence King Publishing.
Losowsky, A. (2011). Introduction. In R. Klanten, S. Ehmann and F. Schulze Visual storytelling: Inspiring a new visual language (4-7). Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag.
Watson, H. (2017). Data visualization, data interpreters, and storytelling. Business Intelligence Journal, 22(1), 5-10.
I really enjoyed analyzing your story. Here’s what I see.
The central image is a seal that sits atop the American flag, which is being pulled by three hands on each side. This serves as your theme, and shows the line that is drawn in America between conservatives (pictured on the left) and liberals (on the right). Each individual image offers a strong symbol of the important issues Americans are facing today. I offer up my interpretation of each below.
On the conservative side we find the following:
• a rifle (the right to bear arms)
• the Statue of Liberty under construction (perhaps a nod to Trump’s “Make American Great Again”)
• an unborn child (the Pro-Life movement)
• an old-fashioned country church (conservative religion)
• red hands pointing towards the heavens (passionate evangelicals)
• a soldier holding a rifle (high military spending)
• rosary beads and crosier (Catholic support, especially for Vice President Mike Pence)
• a football (all-American sport)
• large coins (big money or wealth or capitalism)
There are also two instances of the left-most side of the American flag and what appears to be a male-centric rally.
On the opposite side we see:
• purple capsules (the opioid crisis in America)
• a close up of the head of the Statue of Liberty with tourists looking out from the crown (pro-immigration)
• a wind farm (renewable energy)
• planet earth (world view)
• a large green plant (preference for natural products)
• a marijuana leaf (support for legalization)
• two books at the base of a tree (tree of knowledge)
• a lighthouse (the symbol for overcoming challenges and adversity)
• an eagle with a pussy hat (support for the #MeToo movement)
• three infinity symbols with rainbow centers (LGBTQ support)
• smaller coins (the average citizen)
There are also two instances of the right-hand side of the American flag and a woman-centric rally.
The Gestalt principles are used as follows:
• tree of knowledge – two books at the base of a tree (proximity)
• American flag on the far left and far right (continuation)
• three rally images at the top center (similarity)
• three infinity symbols with rainbow centers (similarity and proximity)
• coins lined up across the bottom of the image (similarity)
• half image of a tree (continuation)
• eagle with a pussy hat (proximity)
Taken as a whole, the images sing the song of a divided America, torn apart by people who are growing further apart as a result of partisan politics. I found the image of the red hand on the left side of the center flag to be particularly interesting. The fingers dig deep into the flag, perhaps tearing at the ideals of equality, individual freedom, and democracy.
Basically, the message of this image says the “fabric” of our country is at stake.
One question Kristen. Did you intentionally flip-flop and put conservatives on the left and democrats on the right? Either way, it’s awesome.
Wagemans, J., Elder, J. H., Kubovy, M., Palmer, S. E., Peterson, M. A., Singh, M., & von der Heydt, R. (2012). A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perception I. Perceptual Grouping and Figure-Groud Organization. NIH-PA Author Manuscript, 138.