On Why Multiform References are an Intimate Rhetorical Device

Multiform References (MFRs) are the rhetorical devices that authors use to shift their readers’ attention between words and images to create a new, unified representation or meaning.

I argue here that MFRs are an intimate rhetorical device and that, consequently, they have a significant capacity to evoke emotions among both the author and the reader (if we focus on illustrated texts). What is in MFRs that make them so?

Firstly, the choice of which words and images to use in a verbal-visual sequence seems to be more revealing than the choice of which words to use in an only-verbal one or which images in an only-visual one. The use of two different semiotic systems in one message, on the one hand, and the lack of guidance as to how to use multiform rhetoric, on the other, open room for creativity and improvisation. These, in turn, shed light on rhetorical decisions based on personal sensitivities and inclinations.

Noa Yaari, Your Stats (detail of “Artist in Residence“), 2020.  Ink and acrylic on paper. 23 x 30 cm. Toronto.

Secondly, MFRs are the space and time (or spacetime) between words and images. As such, they provide the readers with the opportunity to integrate verbal and visual signs into a new unified one. This process of integration touches upon associations that we established at a young age, mostly when we acquired language. When our parents pointed something and told us how it is called and did so repeatedly, they created to and for us a system with which we can represent the world. When we point an image in our text and claim something about it, we parent our readers, and arguably, ourselves.

Noa Yaari, The Moon, the Real Moon, is an Emoji (detail of “Artist in Residence“), 2020.  Ink and acrylic on paper. 23 x 30 cm. Toronto.
Posted in Contemplations, My Art

The Voice Multiform Reference

Does the fact that English is written from left to right and Hebrew from right to left influence the way we use emojis in messages in these two languages? To answer this question, I offer a new kind of multiform reference (MFR), that is, the voice MFR.

Multiform References (MFRs) are the rhetorical devices that authors use to shift their readers’ attention between words and images to create a new, unified representation or meaning.

Verbal and Visual Poles are the points between which the MFRs extend, and which we identify by their semantic relationship. The illustration below shows two kinds of such relationships. The first is a semantic similarity (or synonymity) between the term “chick” and an image of a chick. This semantic similarity reflects the similar meanings that the term and the image denote.

There is also a semantic relationship between the terms “things” and “animals” and the image of the chick. This is due to the inclusion of the term “chick” in these two broad terms (chick is both an animal and a thing), and due to the semantic similarity between the term “chick” and the image of the chick. Put differently, the fact that the term “chick” is a member in the groups “animals” and “things” makes the image of the chick a member in them as well. This relationship is the holonym-meronym one, where the group or whole is a holonym to the member or part, which in turn, is the meronym to the group or the whole. In the illustration above, we see a scheme of a holonym-meronym MFR, where the verbal pole, i.e., the term “things” or “animals” is a holonym to the image of the chick.

Does the fact that English is written from left to right and Hebrew from right to left influence the meaning of messages that use emojis? The illustration below shows a message in English and another in Hebrew that, on the surface, convey the same meaning: “we’re ready.” The two also use emojis at the end of or after their verbal component. Since the two languages progress in opposite directions, in English, the chick and the hen look toward the text, which is left to them, while in Hebrew, they look toward an empty or undefined space while the text is right to them.

To better understand the impact of the direction of the text on the meaning of the messages, I offer to define the relationship between their verbal and visual poles, i.e., their MFR as voice. In our example, we consider the chick and the hen (the visual pole) as the source and communicator of “we’re ready” (the verbal pole). We do so due to the spatial vicinity of the two poles and the fact that we don’t see any other source for that phrase. Thus, we add a third MFR to describe the relationship between the two poles, which suggests that one voices the other.

Once again, does the fact that English is written from left to right and Hebrew from right to left influence the meaning of verbal-visual or multiform messages? In the message in English, the visual pole, which voices the verbal one, literally faces its own message. Therefore, this message might be understood as a response to someone else’s expectation from the chick and the hen to be ready as they direct their attention to where this expectation seems to come from. Moreover, perhaps someone else is ready, and the voice is not of the chick and the hen.

On the other hand, in the message in Hebrew, the visual pole faces an empty or undefined space. Thus, if the chick and the hen are those who voice their readiness, they don’t seem like responding to someone else’s expectation. At the same time, the fact that the visual and the verbal poles share the same direction, and the verbal pole precedes the visual one, suggests that the communicators of the readiness are right to the message, expressing their willingness to move forward, under the leadership of the chick and the hen.

To conclude, the direction of the text influences the meaning of our multiform communication, and therefore, ought to influence the way we use emojis in messages in both English and Hebrew.


  • I based this post on the talk I gave on October 21 at the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University.
Posted in Contemplations, Research

Finally, Out for Delivery

Noa Yaari, Finally, Out for Delivery (detail of Artist of Residence), 2020. Ink and acrylic on paper. 30 x 35.5 cm. Koschitsky Centre for Jewish Studies, York University, Toronto.
Posted in My Art


I recently started to work at an online project that teaches English-speaking kids another language. The program encourages them to shift their attention repetitively between the written words and the images to acquire the new language. These shifts integrate the words and the images into a new hybrid sign that includes both the name of the object it represents and its appearance.

These shifts are what I termed as “multiform references” (MFRs), that push and pull the attention between the words and the images that share a field of vision. MFRs have a crucial influence on the leaners’ apprehension and comprehension of the world, as well as their development of ethical values. For example, MFRs may write on their verbal end “mother” or “father,” and on their visual one, portray a person in a specific activity as if it is an inherent part of the learned term.

Imagine an application that indicates where authors use MFRs to subtly express their ideologies, ideas about identities and their appropriate roles in society, and right and wrong. What kind of artificial intelligence would it need?

Noa Yaari, Startup (detail of “Artist in Residence”). 2020. Ink and acrylic on paper 23 x 30.5 cm. Toronto.
Posted in Contemplations, My Art

Multiform Grammar and the Sense of Belonging

On August 4, I’ll be giving an online hands-on workshop at the Learning Enrichment Foundation titled “The Artist in Me: Using Art to Build a Sense of Belonging.” In it, I will show my art projects at York University and the University of Toronto and explain how they have helped me develop a positive outlook on my experience as an international student and newcomer in Canada. I believe that the ability to use the arts as a tool to increase positive feelings can benefit everyone. Therefore, although I designed the workshop for newcomers, it’s open to all. In it, we’ll also have a drawing exercise and discussion, and I’m hoping to open an online exhibition on LinkedIn to share our artworks.

Here I like to ponder the connection between the multiform grammar (MFG) and the sense of belonging. It’s not a coincidence that I developed the MFG while I was an international student, although my passion for combinations of words and images started at a much younger age. During my studies, the attempt to create meaningful connections with my new social and cultural environment inspired me to conceptualize a framework that analyzes combinations of words and images and fosters the intentional use of them. The attention I paid to social commonalities advanced my sensitivity to the space and the time that elapses between words and images. Consequently, I developed a perception of those space and time as resources.

Noa Yaari, Multiform Grammer and the Sense of Belonging. 2020. Ink and Acrylic on Paper. Toronto.

It’s our choice whether to see words and images as signs that belong to two different systems of communication, or as rhetorical means that share a verbal-visual spectrum. Perceiving them as utterly different signs implies seeing the space between them as an “uncertain, foggy region” as Michel Foucault described it (This Is Not a Pipe, 1982). On the other hand, holding them as signs on a single spectrum requires us to recognize the space between them as full of content that manifests a gradual change. This content is neither words nor images, but an invisible, verbal-visual hybrid. Considering it as such is to acquire proficiency in MFG, which enables us to express ourselves effectively and creatively through combinations of words and images.

What is the connection between the capacity to use MFG and a sense of belonging? If you train yourself to see invisible content between visible – traditionally different – signs, then several processes take place. First, you ask significant questions about communication, which may lead to insightful answers, as well as to new and meaningful social connections. Second, you develop a communication skill that uses both imagination and systematic thinking. The integration of these two can create an engaging, long-term professional journey. And third, you produce something valuable to contribute to society, which is a primary factor in increasing a sense of belonging.

Posted in Contemplations, My Art, Research

When the Technique is the Name of the Artwork

Today I posted on LinkedIn an image with the text “Ink and acrylic on paper.”

Noa Yaari, Ink and Acrylic on Paper. 2020. Mixed media. Toronto.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about the connection between the title of the artwork and its technique. In Hebrew, “Adam” means a human being. “Ben” means a son. These are not adjectives like “Amir,” which means tall, but rather nouns that position their agent within fundamental categories such as humanity and family.

What happens then when we title or name an artwork by “Ink and Acrylic on Paper”? Does this name function like “Adam” or like “Amir”? Does it point to the essence of the artwork or one of its features?

Let’s think about a dog whose name is “Adam.” Does “Adam,” in this case, mean something else than a man? Do we understand “Adam” differently when it names a man, on the one hand, and a dog, on the other?

It would amuse us to call a (male) dog “Adam” since on a fundamental level, dogs and humans are different, although we share many traits, and we love one another. According to the book of Genesis, God created “Adam” as a man distinguishing him from other creatures, that are signified by different names. Calling a dog “Adam” blurs this distinction.

So, what happens when we name an artwork by “Ink and Acrylic on Paper”? Do we, through the name, point to the essence of the artwork or its features? Or perhaps both? As well, does it matter if we write the technique of this artwork next to its title and whether it’s ink and acrylic on paper?

Noa Yaari, Ink and Acrylic on Paper. 2020.
Posted in Contemplations, Research

On Campus, We Can All Be Artists

Universities would benefit from allowing their students, faculty, and staff to exhibit their art on campus and from programing and supporting this activity. This would encourage the community to be creative, practice communication, develop confidence, expand its networking, and form collaborations. Furthermore, it would decorate the campus and make it more interesting by displaying personal content. Lastly, these exhibitions would inspire people to discuss art with one another and consequently examine how our interpretation of the world plays a role in our understanding of it.

“Artist in Residence,” my current project at the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies, enables me to experience the pandemic through an art project. Given the situation, I couldn’t ask for more. From the Centre’s and the University’s point of view, this is an opportunity to make the campus a living body that responds to and commemorates the present at the same time.

Posted in Contemplations, My Art

Artist in Residence

My work-from-home project is the preparation of a solo exhibition for the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, Toronto. The project titled “Artist in Residence” will show how I feel as an artist who works at home these days.

I will exhibit the project in the main hallway at the Centre. It’s a wide hallway with two currently empty walls. On one wall, I’m planning to display a panel of twenty acrylic paintings. On the other, a “visual echo” of the first wall. I’m still thinking about how this echo or resonance will look. At any rate, the relationship between the two walls will push the viewers to figure out the principle behind that elusive repetition.

I’m pasting here several images of the paintings and the evolving panel. I almost finished the eighth one. Around three weeks ago, I showed the project in an online Meetup gathering. We discussed possible interpretations of moons and stars that are close to “stay safe.”

Posted in My Art

A Creative and Effective Grammar

Multiform grammar (MFG) allows 👥 who aren’t 👍 in regular grammar to 🎉 their  communication 🏋️and 🏌️. It does so since it 🐣 new paths for , logic, and 🐒.

I’m analyzing here the phrase “communication 🏋️and 🏌️.” 🏋 signifies strength, power, capability, competence, endurance, resilience, etc. In this phrase, we interpret it as a noun that the adjective “communication” modifies. But we can also interpret 🏋 as a verb; for example, lifting, raising, elevating, pushing, and holding. This double meaning creates space for dynamism within this phrase, which gains further momentum with 🏌. The gesture of hitting the golf ball builds momentum through the impetus that it gives to the ball. At the same time, it releases the tension that 🏋 holds. Moreover, through this gesture, the bar between the weights turns into the golf club, and the weights (or at least one of them) turn into the golf ball, which is the period that closes the whole sentence.

A grammatical system that uses a period as a golf ball doesn’t allow us to evaluate its performance through “right” and “wrong,” but rather “creative” and “effective.”

The🏌 seems to complete the gesture while missing the ball. Does it matter grammatically, or at all?

Posted in Contemplations

What Works

Today I gave a talk at the conference “World History Association of Texas – Phi Alpha Theta” at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas (via Zoom). My talk entitled “Approaching History and the Arts with Multiform Grammar” introduced my academic and artistic exploration of the communication of ideas through combinations of words and images.

In my talk, I presented a scan of a double spread (pp. 148-49) from the chapter “The Perfecting of the Individual” in Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, that he wrote in 1860 and Johannes Jahn illustrated in 1926. I showed how Jahn embedded two images in this double spread: one of the artist Andrea Mantegna, and the other of the polymath Leon Battista Alberti. I pointed out that, in this chapter, while Burckhardt uses Alberti as an example of the development of what he observed as the Renaissance, “all-sided” man, he doesn’t write anything about Mantegna. My highlights of Alberti’s name, image, and pronounce in blue, throughout this double spread, visualize this imbalance.

Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (New York, 1958), pp. 148-49

During the Q&A session, we discussed Jahn’s decision to embed the two images, although the text refers only to Alberti and the influence this might have on Burckhardt’s argument. We wondered if the section in which Mantegna is “doesn’t work” while the one that includes Alberti does. I claimed that we could benefit from suspending our judgment of this multiform situation and that the fact that Mantegna and Alberti are present in this chapter in different ways may even raise useful questions. For example, would it be possible that the use of various strategies of presentation in a single chapter increases the possibility that we read this chapter every time differently? Would this effect, in turn, encourage us to return to this chapter, to look for information that we thought we could find there? Moreover, perhaps applying various modes of presentation in a single document has some merit. It reminds us that the individuals involved in the making of illustrated literature have some freedom and that it’s fun to see them practicing it even if the result looks odd.

Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (New York, 1958), pp. 148-49
Posted in My Art, Research