Lighter

Noa Yaari, Lighter, 2005. Mixed media. Tel Aviv.

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Multiform Grammar: The Ripple Effect

Noa Yaari, CRRS 9/30 (detail), 2020. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

Combinations of words and images have a ripple effect that includes attracting attention to themselves, retaining that attention, penetrating to and residing in people’s long-term memory, and stimulating the echoing of the stored information. Combinations of words and images are, therefore, seeds that often grow into a culture.

This ripple effect is a result of the forces that we generate when we position words and images one next to the other. Every time we bring the two kinds of signs together, we create a “magnet” between them, that not only establishes their mutual attraction but also attracts the viewers’ attention to the new hybrid composition. Furthermore, there is a correlation between the relationship between the words and the images within the composition, on the one hand, and the strength of the latter to attract and retain attention, on the other.

For example, if the words signify the past and the images allude to the future, the whole combination opens space for the audience to immerse in a creative interpretation. As if the audience’s role is to fill in the gap between the words and the images and, concurrently, between the past and the future. This process gives space and time for individuals to become part of the creation of the content. As their engagement lingers, this process also amplifies their self-awareness. 

Diving into the interpretation of any content increases the chances of creating a representation of it in the long-term memory. However, there is a difference between trying to understand what something means and what someone says. The first may introduce an abundance of equally reasonable possibilities, whereas the latter may reflect a lack of clarity or unintentional vagueness. 

Exploring and sorting possibilities while looking at visually appealing content is a pleasure, which in turn increases the will to continue consuming the content. Another form of consumption is to share the memory of the content and the pleasure associated with it with others. This level of the ripple effect gives even more space for the audience to re-create the information. At this point, the original combination of words and images is only a seed, as the rest is already a culture.      

Noa Yaari, CRRS 9/30 (detail), 2020. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto
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Repetition and Variation

Noa Yaari, CRRS 4/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

Every combination of words and images includes both repetition and variation. For example, when we use a letter, symbol, word, or phrase more than once, or when shapes and colours reappear. Some of the repetitions result from an echo between the words and the images, which may express different kinds – as well as degrees – of similarity.

In the image above, the letters C (c) and O (o) in “Commander,” and the circular shapes in the image of the ship, maintain similarity. They echo one another as if they have shared ancestors, culture, history, something beyond the division of “verbal” and “visual.”

What does this affinity between words and images or their elements do to our communication? What does it do to us? One possibility is to ask whether the letter O (o) could have more in common with a window of a ship than with the letter E (e), which may share the same word with O (o). Another possibility is to harness letters such as O (o) and windows of ships to increase cohesiveness in a hybrid environment such as verbal-visual communication. This approach to repetition would surely see the value in the variation.      

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Grammarly’s Emojis and My Commitment to Make Them Happy

Noa Yaari, CRRS 7/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

I recently wrote an email to a friend of mine in which I used : )  Since I have Grammarly as a plug-in on my Chrome, I’m able not only to see the level of my grammatical performance but also the tone of my communication. Grammarly’s emoji reacted seriously to that email; their eyes were open, and their mouth was flat. Those of you who know Grammarly might have already guessed: it was the “neutral” one.

But, I thought, I used : ) in my email. How can Grammarly look so neutral? Can’t they see that I’m quite happy, and that I’m ensuring that my reader receives the right tone of my massage? While asking these questions, my first step was to sound more cheerful. I changed my wording until Grammarly smiled along with my smiley. And my second step was to look for information about what determines Grammarly’s moods or reactions.

The Grammarly website says: “Grammarly’s tone detector relies on a combination of rules and machine learning to identify signals in a piece of writing that contribute to its overall tone. By analyzing your word choice, phrasing, punctuation, and even capitalization, Grammarly can tell you how your message is likely to sound to someone reading it.”

Apparently, Grammarly’s analysis doesn’t recognize : ) as it computes features such as wording, phrasing, and punctuation. Let’s try to make sense of this technological, and ultimately cultural, phenomenon.

Grammarly uses an emoji to signal to the users of the application how they might sound to their readers. It means that while the application’s input is verbal, its output is visual. In the spacetime between the input and the output, the verbal information changes into a visual one. In principle, if the words sound serious, Grammarly looks serious. And if the words sound exciting, Grammarly looks excited.

Grammarly’s output in the form of a neutral emoji in my email tells me that the application is “blind” to the icon : )  Moreover, further examination has shown that it doesn’t recognize emojis that Gmail offers as well. Lastly, the company’s website doesn’t mention emojis as a variable that the tone detector processes; this confirms my observations.

How is it possible that Grammarly uses emojis to denote tones while it ignores them at the same time? It makes sense to me that if Grammarly “believes” in emojis, it has to “respect” them equally to words. Until then, I’m committed to making Grammarly’s emoji happy. In my emails, my friend, no one leaves you neutral : )

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Multiform Grammar: Exploring Communication through a New Lens

Noa Yaari, CRRS 5/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

The spaces and times between words and images within a single sequence are a tool with which we can develop effective and creative communication skills. This is due to the resistance of these gaps or “spacetimes” to evaluate the communication through “right or wrong.” Let’s explore this phenomenon using insights about syntax, that is, sequences of only words, and about the gaps between the words.

In Syntactic Structures, Noam Chomsky refers to a model of language that linguist Charles Hockett developed in the early 50s, according to which: “In producing a sentence, the speaker begins in the initial state, produces the first word of the sentence, thereby switching into a second state which limits the choice of the second word, etc. Each state through which he passes represents the grammatical restrictions that limit the choice of the next word at this point in the utterance” (p. 21).

Noa Yaari, CRRS 5/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

Hockett’s observation that the progress within a sentence gradually limits the freedom to choose words and thus increases grammatical restriction, does not play a role in verbal-visual sequences or “multiform grammar” (MFG). It cannot, because it is impossible to reduce the visual component of a hybrid utterance into a single word, regardless of the location of the image in it. How would you translate an image of a butterfly into one word? “Butterfly”? What does this word convey about the butterfly’s colours, size, texture, and relationship with its verbal-visual environment? What does it bring into the meaning of the phrase that the image does not?

The spacetimes between words and images, therefore, build up momentum for effectiveness and creativity, rather than limit the choice of the next word for the sake of grammatical correctness. This, in turn, rules out the values of right and wrong to assess the quality of the communication. Furthermore, it implies that MFG, as a system without right and wrong, has a different take on the expression of the unconscious.

Noa Yaari, CRRS 5/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

In his 1964-65 seminar “The Freudian Unconscious and Ours,” Jacques Lacan points out: “Impediment, failure, split. In a spoken or written sentence something stumbles. Freud is attracted by these phenomena, and it is there that he seeks the unconscious. There, something other demands to be realized – which appears as intentional, of course, but of a strange temporality. What occurs, what is produced, in this gap, is presented as the discovery. It is in this way that the Freudian exploration first encounters what occurs in the unconscious” (p. 25).

If Freudian slips, that take place between words, are manifestations of the unconscious, how does the unconscious manifest in MFG? For if multiform phrases do not embody grammatical correctness and restrictions, what could we expect to “discover” when something or someone stumbles? In the lack of correctness, what does a stumble look like? On the other hand, does it mean that the spacetimes between words and images are constant manifestations of the unconscious?

Noa Yaari, CRRS 5/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

Perhaps the MFG implies that there is no real difference between the conscious and the unconscious. If so, every time we combine words and images, we ask and even discover something about effective and creative communication. As if we hold a new lens in our hand.

 

Bibliography:
Chomsky, Noam. Syntactic Structures. 2nd ed. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002.
Lacan, Jacques.  The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. London and New York: Karnac, 2004.
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Utilizing Multiform Grammar: A Hands-on Workshop for Professionals and Employees

In February, I’ll be giving hands-on workshops on multiform grammar (MFG) at the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) in Toronto. The participants in these will be the professional clients and the staff at the organization. How can proficiency in MFG benefit the two groups?

Before answering this question, I like to explain what “proficiency in MFG” means. Proficiency is the ability to use tools and methods skillfully; to utilize the potential they have, to accomplish a certain task. These tools and methods can be tangible such as a keyboard or a sports car, as well as intangible such as tax laws and grammatical principles. When people develop proficiency, they acquire the capacity to navigate through certain environments. For example, knowing how to drive a sports car enables the driver to participate in a race and even win it. Competition is therefore an event in which the participants show the level of their skills to navigate through a certain environment, in comparison to that of others.

Noa Yaari, CRRS 3/30. 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

A proficiency in MFG is competence in integrating words and images effectively and creatively. It is the use of the principles of MFG consciously and intentionally while relinquishing the imitation of others as a method of verbal-visual expression. Further, it is the ability to use intuition in a sophisticated way, translating a “gut feeling” into a technique of achieving goals by combining words and images. Think about the slideshows that you have seen in lessons; how some of them were more helpful than others considering the learning outcomes. Recall online stores in which constellations of photos and the descriptions of the products sometimes clarified and sometimes obscured the nature of the products.

Noa Yaari, CRRS 3/30 (detail). 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

How can proficiency in MFG benefit professionals? The three main factors that influence our current use of MFG are technology, culture, and new insights into human communication. Technologically, the accessibility of cameras, mainly through smartphones, and of images on the internet, enhances the use of images in our casual and professional communication. As well, the availability of editing software that combine words and images increases the turn to multiform rhetoric. Culturally, practices such as using emojis in text messages and emails, captioning photos, and posting on social media advance our ability to express ideas and emotions while using MFG. Lastly, recent studies on the importance of non-verbal cues in human communication have made us conscious of how we interpret the world and how others might understand us beyond the verbal signs.

Noa Yaari, CRRS 3/30 (detail). 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

Since professional environments use jargon and etiquette, one would expect a professional community to apply multiform rhetoric “appropriately.” But what is “appropriate communication” in a world that is rapidly changing, technologically, and culturally? What is it in a world that is currently seeking “intercultural communication” to bridge between stakeholders from different backgrounds and traditions?

Noa Yaari, CRRS 3/30 (detail). 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

In the upcoming workshops, we will analyze how people combine words and images in professional environments. Using examples and a hands-on exercise, we will ask: What are the meanings that I create when I position words and images one next to the other? What are the meanings that I encounter when I see sequences of words and images at my work? And how can I implement the principles of MFG to meet my professional goals?

Noa Yaari, CRRS 3/30 (detail). 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

Happy New Year!

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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.
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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.
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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.
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Startup

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.
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