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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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.”

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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?

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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
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Happy New Year!

Noa Yaari, Happy New Year! 2020. Mixed media, Toronto
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Welcome to MFG: Welcome to the CRRS Library!

I’m currently working on an art project in the library of the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto. The project is an installation entitled “Image-Text Relationships at the CRRS Library,” and it’s taking place in the hallway that leads to the library.


Welcome to the CRRS Library!


The project has three main goals. First, to make the “multiform grammar” (MFG) accessible in higher education and to the general public. Second, to use a “body of knowledge” as tangible art material. And third, to use a space on campus for the practice of the MFG. These goals raise the questions: What is MFG? What is the “body of knowledge”? How will MFG be practiced at the CRRS library?

MFG is a grammatical system that I developed for the combination of words and images. One of its main concepts is “multiform arguments” (MFAs); these are arguments that are composed of both words and images. Here’s an example of an MFA that discusses Duke of Anjou’s chain of command in 1567-1568 through a combination of words and a diagram. This double-spread is only part of this MFA.

James B. Wood, The King’s Army, 1996, pp. 78-79


Another central concept is “multiform references” (MFRs); these are the rhetorical devices that authors use to shift their readers’ attention between words and images to create a new, unified representation. As we can see, Wood uses terms such as “Anjou,” “chain of command,” “figure 11,” “diagram,” “Swiss,” and “1567” and “1568” to integrate the verbal and the visual components of his MFA.

Noa Yaari, MFRs in James B. Wood’s The King’s Army, 1996, pp. 78-79, 2019, Toronto


Lastly, the concepts “verbal” and “visual poles” describe the points between which the MFRs extend. In Wood’s MFA, the visual component is a diagram that represents by analogy the chain of command. Thus, some of the MFRs in this MFA extend between the term “diagram” and the diagram itself.

Noa Yaari, Verbal and Visual Poles in James B. Wood’s The King’s Army, 1996, pp. 78-79, 2019, Toronto


The body of knowledge that I use is MFAs in the books that the CRRS library holds. This is what I do: scan thirty MFAs, print the scans, remove the captions of the illustrations from the prints and, consequently, from the MFAs, paint on the prints, scan the paintings, print the scans, laminate the prints, and create the installation from the reproductions of the paintings and the independent captions.

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


Noa Yaari, CRRS 6/30. 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto


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


Noa Yaari, CRRS 8/30. 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto


I will practice the MFG by extending MFRs across the hallway that leads to the CRRS library.

Noa Yaari, Welcome to MFG: Welcome to the CRRS Library! (simulation), 2019, Toronto
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Using Multiform Grammar in Presentations

How do speakers who use both words and images employ MFG? And how can they do so intentionally and effectively? As you can see in the illustration below, the speaker refers to the image on the screen in three different ways. These are three types of multiform references (MFRs) that integrate words and images into a unified meaning. The first MFR is an explicit one, in which the speaker refers to the image directly and overtly by saying: “as the image shows…” When the audience hears this phrase, it knows that anything that will be said afterward will address what the image on the screen represents in the eyes of the speaker. By using an explicit MFR, the speaker develops a clear expectation among the audience and, consequently, enables it to agree or disagree with the speaker’s multiform argument (MFA).

The second phrase says: “the modern perception of Earth…” In this case, the MFR between the words and the image is an implicit one as it doesn’t refer directly to what the image shows. Instead, this implicit MFR builds on the semantic similarity that the term “Earth” and the image on the screen maintain. Does the image on the screen represent “Earth”? Does “Earth” represent the image? Not necessarily, since there are various ways to visually represent “Earth,” and there are various meanings that the image on the screen may signify, which we can describe through terms other than “Earth.” Put differently, the term “Earth” and the image on the screen are not “synonyms,” although they may denote, in specific contexts, the same meaning. Thus, in implicit MFRs, the context plays a role; we do need to know how “the modern perception of…” in this phrase operates within the whole MFA, to develop any critical view of this multiform rhetoric. Importantly, even with such a critical view, in this example, there is no explicit reference between the spoken component of the MFA and its visual one.

The third phrase says: “we are the world…” Do the phrase and the image on the screen create a new, unified meaning? And if so, how do they do this? The semantic distance between the term “world” and the image is shorter than the one between “we” and the image. Yet, to what extent the term “world” and the image denote the same meaning? When the speaker says “world” or “the world,” do they refer to what the image on the screen represents? Well, also here, it depends on the context. We need to know how the speaker uses the term “world” and this image, within the MFA, to assess the connection between the two. At the same time, since the phrase “we are the world” is a metaphor that describes who “we” are, and the image may (in specific contexts) denote “the world,” we may interpret the image as “we.” If we do so – if this is the new unified meaning that this multiform rhetoric implies – then we should look for ideologies that are subtly expressed between words and images, through indeterminate MFRs.

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