Grammar of Visual Space- Visual Syntax and Cultural Icons

Author: St. Clair, Robert N.
The study of visual communication has been dominated by person-oriented psychological models, which has overlooked the role of culture in the organization of visual space. This book argues that there is a grammar to visual space and that this grammar changes from one culture to the other. The metaphor or grammatical space allows one to demonstrate how the visual syntax of the indigenous art of the Oglala Sioux, for example, differs from that of traditional Chinese landscape art. It demonstrates how each social group employs the use of visual icons to express cultural meaning.


“St. Clair is a highly productive scholar in the area of language and communication. This book represents his scholarly pursuit of visual structure and the modeling of visual systems in different cultural contexts.”
-Prof. Guo-Ming Chen,
University of Rhode Island

“With brilliance, the author allows us to look through the lens of visual syntax, so we can easily and firmly walk with him on the path of different cultures…from Native American to Chinese, from Japanese to Nordic, from Mayans to Ancient Egyptians he enables us to recognize the configuration of these systems in their society.”
-Prof. Ana Clotilde Thomé Williams,
Northwestern University

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Preface by Guo-Ming Chen
Chapter One: Introduction

The Quest for Structure
The Quest for a Visual Grammar
Visual Signs and Cultural Icons
Outline of the Book
Chapter Two: Visual Sign Theory

The Dyadic Signs
The Dyadic Model of Grammatical Space
The Triadic Sign
The Philosophical Realms of Meaning and Form
The Social Construction of Reality
The Duality of Sign Functions
The Phenomenology of Reality-Loops
Symbols are Culture-Laden
Concluding Remarks
Chapter Three: Visual Grammar

Grammatical Structures
Visual Grammar
Visual Codes
Visual Shapes
Visual Scale
Color as a Primary Element of the Visual Code
Color Theory
The Attributes of Color
Constructing a Visual Grammar
Concluding Remarks
Chapter Four: Visual Syntax

Perspectival Templates
The Fibonacci Template
The Medicine Wheel Template
The Spiritual Path Template
Concluding Remarks
Chapter Five: The Quaternity and the Oglala Sioux

The Wind Gods
The Sioux Culture
Visual Syntax
Oral Cultures and Visual Cultures
The Vision Quest Shield
The Medicine Wheel as an Astronomical Template
Concluding Remarks
Chapter Six: Chinese Landscape Art and the Spiritual Path

Taoist Philosophy
Chinese Landscape Paintings
Origins of the Tai Chi Symbol
Shan Shi Hua
Concluding Remarks
Chapter Seven: Concluding Comments

The Concept of Structural Communication
The Biographical-Self
Semiosis: Form Follows Meaning
Form Evokes Function
Cultural Icons
Ontology and Practical Knowledge
Going Beyond the Container Metaphor
Ontological markers
Legitimation of Material Culture
Limitations of Cultural Trait Analysis
Sociology of Culture
Form evokes Emotional Resonance
Forging a New paradigm