Metaphor in Art and Design The ‘Interanimation’ of Worlds: Creative Metaphors in Art and Design 1

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The ‘Interanimation’ of Worlds:

Creative Metaphors in Art and Design1
Gerald C. Cupchik

University of Toronto


Dr. Gerald C. Cupchik

University of Toronto at Scarborough

Life Sciences Division

1265 Military Trail

Scarborough, ON,

Canada M1C 1A4


Creative metaphors in language juxtapose two words which appear quite different on the surface but share an underlying similarity, given a particular context. In the metaphor ‘Life is a river,’ the vehicle ‘river’ modifies the tenor ‘life’ thereby drawing our attention to life’s meandering quality and the constant flow of time. Scholars have emphasized a dynamic tension between tenor and vehicle and that the vehicle (‘river’) is always salient, modifying the tenor (‘life’) and never vice-versa. A central argument of this paper is that: (1) the vehicle is salient because it is always more concrete than the tenor on the sensory-verbal-symbolic continuum and (2) the vehicle always modifies the tenor implicitly and spontaneously so that they are experienced as a unity. These ideas are examined in this paper in terms of internal relations between subject matter and style or function and form in successful art, design, and architectural metaphors. Accordingly, the internal surface difference is between the denotative (i.e., symbolic) subject matter or function and the connotative (i.e., expressive) style or form. The underlying similarity reflects the influence of concrete sensory style or form properties which resonate with subject matter or function, thereby creating an implicit experience of fit. This unified experience establishes a bridge between the viewer/user and the work that is the foundation for a personal attachment to it.

The ‘Interanimation’ of Worlds:

Creative Metaphors in Art and Design

The possibility of metaphor springs from the infinite elasticity of the human mind; it testifies to its capacity to perceive and assimilate new experiences as modifications of earlier ones, of finding equivalences in the most disparate phenomena and of substituting one for another. Without this constant process of substitution neither language nor art, nor indeed civilized life would be possible.
Sir Ernst Gombrich (1963)

Content and Act Oriented Approaches to Metaphor

This paper is about metaphors in the visual and applied arts, in and of itself a challenging problem because metaphors are usually discussed in the context of language and sometimes in relation to pictures. But regardless of whether a discussion of metaphors is centred in the domain of language or is extended to the worlds of painting, design, or architecture, there is a need for a working theory, an account of processes underlying their generation and reception. Aristotle stated in his Poetics that ‘The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor....for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances’ (cited in Richards, 1965, p. 89). Metaphors are not merely artifacts of culture but also the products of complex mental acts of noticing similarities in the face of obvious differences and using them to emphasize a point. However, there are radically different accounts of metaphors and their role in language and meaning. One approach treats metaphors as contents which underlie the very structure of language in the conventional everyday world, whereas for another, metaphorization is an act bringing fresh perspectives on the world.

The content oriented tradition micro-analyzes established (i.e., conventional) metaphors as qualified noun phrases within a strict linguistic framework. It reflects Darwinian pragmatism and a concern for action, both behavioural and cognitive, in adapting to the demands of the physical and social worlds. Ideas and objects are categorized and linked pragmatically by the logic of action. Thus, Searle’s (1993) comparison theory addressed the meaning of words and sentences in relation to a speaker’s intention or utterance meaning. The presence of a ‘defective utterance,’ if it is taken literally, signals that the listener should ‘look for an utterance meaning that differs from the sentence meaning’ (p. 103).

Lakoff ‘s (1993) contemporary theory of metaphor goes a cognitive step further by asserting that ‘The generalizations governing poetic metaphorical expressions are not in language, but in thought: they are general mappings across conceptual schemas’ (p. 203). In fact, ‘as soon as one gets away from concrete physical experience and starts talking about abstractions or emotions, metaphorical understanding is the norm’ (p. 205). In the end, ‘one generation’s realization of a metaphor can become part of the next generation’s experiential basis for that metaphor’ (p. 244). Thus, Lakoff’s theory of metaphor is constructionist at its foundation, concerned ultimately with the process of learning and the roots (or routes) of conventional knowledge. From Glucksberg’s (2001) perspective, ‘Lakoff couples..[a].. hyperliteral model of metaphor understanding to a hypermetaphoric construal of literal language’ (p. 106).

There is a basic assumption underlying this approach that ‘from the earliest moments of processing, figurative language comprehension does not differ in kind from understanding literal language’ (Gibbs, 1994, p. 118). Metaphors can express complex ideas that would be difficult to convey using literal language in a compact and vivid manner (Gibbs, 1994). The processing of metaphors unfolds temporally through stages involving comprehension, the moment-to-moment creation of meaning for utterances, recognition of the products of this analysis as literal or metaphoric, interpretation of the specific products of comprehension, and appreciation or aesthetic judgment of the product (Gibbs, 1990). In addition, comprehension may be time-limited, as when a metaphor is encountered in the theatre or conversation, or leisurely and self-paced (Gerrig, 1989). Once the act of comprehension is complete, the metaphor may be taken as a sign which expresses the particular viewpoint of the speaker (Steen, 1994).

This emphasis on the content of metaphors can be contrasted with another approach which stresses acts and experiences involved in the generation and reception of metaphors. In The Philosophy of Rhetoric, Richards (1965) addressed the ‘interanimation’ or mutual influence of words, reminding us that differences create the power of the metaphor to draw attention and have its effect. He introduced the distinction between tenor and vehicle so that in the metaphor, ‘life is a winding river,’ ‘life’ is the tenor and ‘river’ is the vehicle (these traditional terms will be used throughout the paper rather than the more modern, target and source). The potency of the metaphor ‘is even more the work of their unlikenesses than of their likenesses’ (p. 127) and ‘As the two things put together are more remote, the tension created is, of course, greater’ (p. 125). Richards explored the implications of ‘what happens in the mind when we put together - in a sudden and striking fashion - two things belonging to very different orders of experience. The most important happening - in addition to a general confused reverberation and strain - are the mind’s efforts to connect them’ (p. 124-125). Thus, tension is initiated by the surface differences between tenor and vehicle, while an effort to find underlying similarity offers the possibility of reconciliation.

Ricoeur (1975) explored three applications of the tension idea. There exists ‘(a) tension within the statement: between tenor and vehicle....(b) tension between two interpretations: between a literal interpretation that perishes at the hands of semantic impertinence and a metaphorical interpretation whose sense emerges through non-sense; (c) tension in the relational function of the copula: between identity and difference in the interplay of resemblance’ (p. 247). The tension between surface difference and underlying similarity helps to emphatically express a statement of truth about some aspect of the world.

Psychologists have also had much to say about the dynamics surrounding tension between the tenor and vehicle. Richard’s analysis implies that arousal can stimulate the process of interpreting or resolving metaphors. As experimental evidence for this, Paivio and Walsh (1993) cite the work of Anderson (1964) who applied Berlyne’s (1960) theory of arousal induction and reduction to account for the effects of novel metaphors. Incongruity produces arousal (Richard’s ‘tension’) which is reduced through a ‘conceptual resolution’ of the disparate elements. Berlyne (1971) himself picked up on the role of incongruity in poetry but he got the idea from Martindale’s (1969) as yet unpublished Ph.D. dissertation which discussed the issue of ‘arousal distance’ later described as ‘the remoteness of the things compared in a metaphor or simile’ (Martindale, 1990, p. 82). The balance between similarities and differences, or relative incongruity creates a tension which stimulates an effort at synthesis.

This balance between similarities and differences in language and images was examined by Tversky (1977) in relation to the theme of asymmetric similarities. As an example of a simile, he chose ‘Turks fight like tigers’ with the word ‘tiger’ serving as referent because of its renown as a fighting spirit. Again, in the simile ‘my love is as deep as the ocean,’ the word ‘ocean’ serves as the referent because ‘the ocean epitomizes depth’ (p. 328). The focus would appear to be on the ‘tiger’ and ‘ocean’ referents because of their relative salience or potency and this is the cause of the asymmetry. In geometric figures, relative salience is governed by goodness of form, a gestalt quality pertaining to orderliness. Generally speaking, one can conceive of relations between two objects based on proximity, such as prototypicality and representativeness. ‘One characteristic of good metaphors is the contrast between the prior, literal interpretation, and the posterior, metaphoric interpretation. Metaphors that are too transparent are uninteresting; obscure metaphors are uninterpretable’ (p. 349). The central point for our purposes is that the salient quality of the referent (Richard’s ‘vehicle’) is applied to the subject, and not vice-versa, in the process of bringing coherence to the related items at an ‘optimal level of abstraction’ (p. 348). This helps explain why metaphors are nonreversible in their application; the vehicle always modifies the tenor which comes first and not vice-versa. Tversky’s article stimulated other attempts to account for the effects of vehicles on tenors. Ortony (1979), for example, stressed salience imbalance to explain the effects of metaphors and their non-reversibility. In a successful metaphor, the salient qualities of the vehicle becomes attached to the non-salient properties of the tenor.

According to Glucksberg’s (2001) ‘interactive property’ view of metaphor comprehension, a ‘metaphor topic provides dimensions for attribution, while a metaphor vehicle provides properties to be attributed to the topic’ (p. 53). In addition, the metaphor vehicle functions at two levels of abstraction, implying the literal object as well as the more abstract attributive quality that the concept prototypically exemplifies. The metaphor comprehension process will be more successful: (1) the more constraining the topic (implying fewer relevant dimensions), (2) the more prototypical (i.e., less ambiguous) the properties of the vehicle, and (3) the greater a person’s world knowledge regarding each domain. This latter point cannot be sufficiently underscored. The understanding of metaphors requires some appreciation of the context within which they are meaningfully presented. This is what primes the person to bring to bear relevant cognitions that help resolve the seemingly paradoxical nature of a metaphor.

Black (1962, 1993) contributed in an important way to the interactive approach by examining ‘how strong metaphorical statements work’ (Black, 1993, p. 27). Such emphatic metaphors are unique in that the ‘”focus,” the salient word or expression, whose occurrence in the literal frame invested the utterance with metaphorical force’ is indispensable and is ‘dwelt upon for the sake of [its] unstated implications’ (Black, 1993, p. 26). The receiver cooperates ‘in perceiving what lies behind the words used’ (p. 26). Black argued that resonant metaphors possess ‘a high degree of implicative elaboration’ (p. 26) and, accordingly, the ‘secondary subject’ (Richard’s ‘tenor’) should be viewed as a system. The metaphor works, given a ‘context of metaphorical use’ (p. 28), because the maker of the statement selects and organizes features of the primary subject (Richard’s ‘vehicle’) that are part of its set of ‘associated implications’ and these awaken us to the relevant qualities of the secondary subject in a manner akin to what Richards called the ‘interanimation of words.’ The suggestiveness of the primary subject, and the ambiance shared by both primary and secondary subjects, impresses, strikes, or seizes ‘the state of mind of somebody who affirms a metaphorical statement’ (p. 31). Of special relevance to creative artists and designers is Black’s ‘strong creativity thesis’ which holds that ‘some metaphors are what might be called “cognitive instruments,” indispensable for perceiving connections that, once perceived, are then truly present...’ (p. 37). Accordingly, strong metaphors ‘enable us to see aspects of reality that the metaphor’s production helps to constitute’ (Black, 1993, p. 38).

Hausman (1989) argued along the same lines as Max Black that ‘metaphors create integrated wholes’ (p. 45) and ‘help constitute what may be called the world’ (p. 83) by providing ‘intelligibility to that on which attention focuses’ (p. 121). It is spontaneity and freedom that enables creative people to generate meaningful metaphors which can modify worlds. In relation to art, ‘a metaphor modifies a medium in that it gives another use to a medium, whose usual function in everyday experience is practical’ (p. 136). Hausman showed how an interaction between the subject matter of a painting and its formal-expressive qualities (i.e., its style) ‘generates and sustains tensions’ (p. 180). Thus, in the painting, Young Woman with a Water Jug, by Vermeer, there is a dynamic interaction between the young woman who is its major focus and the expressive sense of space created by his treatment of light.

Schön (1993) applied the interactive approach to industrial design (e.g., improving the simple paintbrush) and social policy (e.g., housing for the poor) problems. The act of ‘frame restructuring’ in the resolution of technical and social problems is seen as analogous to the production of generative metaphors. Thus, seeing a paintbrush as a kind of pump represents a scientific version of a generative metaphor that leads to a variety of meaningful inventions (see Schön, pp. 139-143). In a further move toward an experiential account of metaphor, Schön emphasized the process of seeing A as B (seeing a paintbrush as a pump), even though they were initially perceived ‘as very different things’ (p. 141). This ‘restructuring of perception’... ‘occurred because the researchers were immersed in experience of the phenomena’ (pp. 141-142). These industrial researchers mapped their descriptions of pumps and pumping onto earlier accounts of paintbrushes and painting. As a result, the paint brush was reconceptualized in terms of new features which are regrouped and renamed on the road to the redevelopment of a more efficient tool. In accordance with the developmental aspects of generative metaphor, ‘the researchers were able to see painting as similar to pumping before they were able to say “similar with respect to what”’ (p. 142). Of great importance is the fact that ‘The cognitive work of restructuring draws upon the richness of features and relations which are to be found in the concrete situation’ (p. 158). Thus, ‘immersion in the concrete experience of the phenomena of the situation’ (p. 160) permits choices about the features to be mapped from one domain to the other with the resulting frame restructuring and coordination.

Relational Thinking in the Generation and Reception of Metaphors

The act orientation stresses relational thinking which is required when words or images are to be experienced and understood as part of a unified event in a particular context. It is stimulated by the paradoxical co-presence of surface differences and underlying similarities which modify the perception of individual objects (Aldrich, 1968). Metaphors therefore represent a case of conjunctive ambiguity wherein ‘several fields are connected though remaining intact’ (Kris, 1952, p. 248). From the perspective of Gestalt psychology, people have a natural disposition to resolve this ambiguity and the resulting tension energizes the process. For Arnheim (1971), ‘expression is an inherent characteristic of perceptual patterns’ (p. 433) and metaphor can ‘make the reader penetrate the concrete shell of the world of things by combination of objects that have little in common but the underlying pattern’ (p. 435-436). Kris (1952) stated that poetic ‘Metaphor serves as a stimulus to functional regression because the primary process itself is metaphoric and imagistic’ (Kris, 1952, p. 258). Verbal and visual metaphors possess physiognomic (i.e., spontaneously expressive) sensory qualities that resonate with personal meanings (Straus, 1958). Thus, the co-presence of novelty and familiarity are a source of tension and absorption which stimulates a broad range of cognitive processes, both conscious and unconscious, in an effort to resolve ambiguity.

But modern scholars all too readily forget that metaphors are part of a communicative act linking author and reader. As Abercrombie (1926) has said: “Language in poetry is a transmission of energy rather than of substance... It urges us for a time to live in a particular style of imagination - the style of the poet’s imagination; ....the symbolic nature of language in a stimulus for our minds, though a stimulus of a very determining character” (p. 82-83). Original metaphors are generated through intentional acts and presume a point of view on the part of their creators, prompting readers to adopt a perspective in their ‘effort after meaning’ (Bartlett, 1932). Like ‘impeded texts,’ (Iser, 1978), metaphors stimulate readers and listeners to adduce the appropriate context which resolves the ambiguity and promotes coherence between the seemingly paradoxical terms. All this is meant to imply that the reader or listener who brings to bear an appropriate context will spontaneously experience the unity of the metaphor (spontaneous experience hypothesis). Since we cannot be both inside and outside of experience at the same moment, reflective awareness of the full meaning of the metaphor requires that the person step outside the experience thereby pausing in the interpretive flow (reflective awareness hypothesis).

Why can’t the recipient spontaneously experience the implicit relationship between tenor and vehicle and in the same moment reflect upon or articulate its meaning? There are a number of possible answers. One has to do with the fact that acts of experiencing and acts of reflection are fundamentally different and, hence, incommensurate in the same psychological moment. You cannot be inside and outside of an experience at one and the same moment! A second possibility pertains to the delicate balance between surface differences and deep similarities which produce a complex and distracting figure/ground relationship, especially when decisions regarding whether differences (as in irony) or similarities (as in metaphor) should have the upper hand. This is reminiscent of the apparent conflict between manifest (i.e., salient) and latent (i.e., relevant) meanings. A third potential answer has to do with the relative status of tenor and vehicle in terms of whole/part relations. While the whole object represents the tenor in a metaphor, the vehicle characterizes only a part of it. Thus, the mixing of surface wholes and deeper parts cannot be readily realized in the same moment. However, once an optimum level of abstraction is achieved and a meaningful link established, then the two terms are perceived as a unified complex and pass into the domain of hybrid concepts (e.g., life-as-river). This is part of the developmental history of a metaphor when it transforms from the generative to a conventional stage of understanding.

When wholes and parts are discussed in terms of asymmetry and hierarchy, the problem of metaphor as process becomes particularly interesting. As Tversky (1977) has pointed out, asymmetry reflects the differential salience of the tenor (i.e., the whole) and the vehicle (i.e., the part), favouring the latter. This is seemingly paradoxical because when we state that ‘life is a river’ presumably our central focus is on the nature of ‘life’. But, according to the asymmetry principle, the relative salience of the tenor (in this case ‘the river’) is what governs the direction of influence. Salience, according to Tversky, can reflect goodness of form in geometrical shapes or prototypicality in concepts. An application of Schön’s (1993) analysis would suggest that diagnostic relevance of the context (e.g., pump image for a paintbrush which is to apply paint smoothly) is crucial for determining differential influence. Glucksberg (2001) would address the problem in terms of the relative constraints placed by the tenor and the prototypicality of the properties of the vehicle.

In hierarchical terms this implies that the properties of the vehicle are not just prototypical but they are also more concrete and accordingly have an implicit and dynamic impact on the more abstract term. Rothenberg’s (1990) discussion of the homospatial process in the creative generation of metaphors in literature, art, and science underscores the importance of integrating basic components into larger wholes. Following Rothenberg (1988), the metaphor can be understood as a kind of articulation in which the ‘joining of an element with another one produces both a coming together and a separation at the same time’ (p. 127). The ‘creative person separates out critical aspects of the material he works with, and he fuses or brings these separated elements together’ (p. 128). It was this interplay of concrete material elements that so engaged highly creative authors and artists interviewed by Rothenberg.2

If we extend this analysis to a hierarchy of meanings that runs upward along the continuum, sensory/perceptual - verbal/cognitive - formal/symbolic, then the metaphorical impact should be from the lower to the higher term, in other words, sensory-to-verbal and verbal-to-symbolic. The first instance, sensory-to-verbal, refers to the typical influence of connotatively rich adjectives on unsuspecting nouns (Cupchik, Leonard, Axelrad, and Kalin, 1998) and this encompasses the kinds of synaesthetic metaphors that were central to Osgood’s (1953) analysis. The verbal-symbolic link is directly relevant to the creative problem solving described by Schön and to the formalization of scientific concepts regarding, for example, black wholes and other physical phenomena. Handelman (1982) reminds us that “Metaphorical predication is based on relation” (p. 24), and following Derrida, emphasizes the concrete nature of the metaphor and its basic role in relational thought. According to the asymmetry hypothesis: salient concrete qualities become spontaneously attached to more abstract categories with which they share some element of resemblance, while surface differences mask this bottom-up process.

The etiology of this kind of bottom-up process can be found both in child development trends and in the evolution of culture. When it comes to metaphorical phrases, the child must possess some kind of metalinguistic awareness to distinguish the literal from the non-literal (between what is said and what it meant) and this occurs around the ages of six or seven (Winner and Gardner, 1993). Children appear to understand perceptual metaphors (e.g., ‘her cheeks were roses’) before nonperceptual ones (Winner, 1988). Consistent with this, Kogan et al., (1980) found, using a pictorial representation task, that children (around nine and a half years old) ‘who spontaneously generated metaphorically appropriate labels did not grasp the metaphoric similarity any better than children who offered irrelevant or distracting labels’ (p. 59). We should not forget that Piaget’s preoperational stage (ages two to seven) is characterized by the child’s responsiveness and possible fixation on salient perceptual features of objects (see Flavell, 1963). Thus, attention to salient perceptual features, and a syncretic style of thinking in which they can become arbitrarily associated with objects, provides a basis for asymmetric dynamics in the shaping of metaphors. The same pattern can be found in the evolution of human culture where visual thinking, characteristic of early tool makers and cave painters, is followed, through increased connectivity and abstraction, by verbal, formal, and structural thinking (Avital, 2003).

Interanimations’ Between Subject Matter and Style or Function and Form

Examining the metaphorical foundations of artworks, industrial and graphic design objects, and architecture requires attention to the mutual interaction or interanimation between subject matter and style or function and form. Arnheim’s (1969) relational analysis of metaphors in literature can readily be extended to visual thinking that shapes this interanimation. In literature, “the pairing of two images throws into relief a common quality and thereby accomplishes a perceptual abstraction without relinquishing the contexts from which the single-out quality draws its life” (Arnheim, 1969, p. 62). Art history teachers place two paintings with different subject matter side-by-side on a screen in order to make salient a stylistic quality (i.e., a perceptual abstraction) that they share. John Kennedy (1982) has explored the role of metaphoric depiction which becomes quite conventional by involving ‘intended violations of standard modes of depiction that are universally recognizable’ (p. 589).

Can one speak of a metaphorical relationship between subject matter and style within an individual painting? On the surface, so to speak, they represent contrasting or different domains in art; subject matter has semantic (i.e., symbolic) or denotative reference and style possesses only sensory structure. But the essence of a metaphor lies in the fact that, in spite of surface differences between subject matter and style (i.e., denotation versus connotation), a salient underlying relationship creates a meaningful experience that elevates our consciousness about the world. According to the principle of asymmetry derived from Tversky (1977), the salient concrete qualities of style can implicitly shape our perception of the subject matter, thereby generating a unique experience and meaning not present separately in either of them. The qualities of style that shape experience can resonate with the meanings associated with the subject matter to produce a distinctive experience that could not result from encountering the semantic information in isolation. Thus, dark and foreboding colours can reinforce the theme of sadness or isolation depicted in an artwork. In the successful metaphorical treatment of a theme in a painting, the subject matter becomes nested within the style such that the two are experienced in harmony, thereby shaping a unified aesthetic experience. Consonance between the hedonic quality of style and subject matter in a painting is key to metaphoric coherence and the ‘interanimation’ of the symbolic and sensory worlds.


Insert Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4 about here



We can see the effects of style on subject matter in a comparison between the photograph of a bandana used in a painting (Figure 1a) and a painterly treatment of this motif (Figure 1b). The artist, Lanny Shereck, says about the paintings:

‘To my mind, the painting titled AMERIKA is a metaphor by being an act of representation. As an assemblage of colours and shapes, I am creating sculptural forms with the cloth, modeling it by folding, turning, and shaping the material into triangulations. This contrasts with the photocopied image of the bandana which lacks any shape. The shaping of the material draws people into the picture plane because they move through the image three-dimensionally, imagining the other side of the piece of material and feeling the depth. This is the opposite of the graphic shape which has no depth. The work is metaphorical in that the form, the colours, the textures, and tones bring it to life and resonate with the central image, the bandana. The “k” in the title Amerika is meant to imply that the bandana might be part of an American counter-culture scene. I am not showing the American flag but, rather, by being represented as a bandana, the flag becomes metaphorically something else. At a symbolic level, I am being ironic and at an experiential level I am being metaphorical. The ironic thing has to do with the fact the American flag is transformed into a mere counter culture garment; this emphasizes the differences between the actual bandana and the flag image. The metaphorical aspect of the piece has to do with the creation of an experience of that garment as an object of our attention that is shaped by the colours, composition, and atmosphere.’

In the case of graphic design, the notion of subject matter extends beyond recognizable images to include letters, words, and phrases. The verbal and image content stimulate thoughts and feelings regarding what is represented in a CD cover (Figure 2a) and a poster announcing a comedian’s performance (Figure 2b). The semantic material is seen in a stylistic context which includes both qualities appropriate to painting as well as type fonts which give expressive form to the lettering. According to the argument developed here: A graphic design piece will be successful to the extent that the semantic message becomes embedded in the stylistic treatment of the image so that they merge, with the style evoking an experience that brings the meaning of the message to life.

2a. The Watchman / Peaceful Artillery (cover designed by Pieter Aarts, John van der Maat and Jeroen van Erp - Fabrique [design, communications and new media] ).

‘In general when we start with the design of a cover there are roughly three ways to approach the problem. The first way is to express something of the intrinsic quality of the music. It's often a problem that it's hard to differentiate between albums. But now and then it's a nice way to approach the design especially when there are very explicit choices made for a particular album. This approach is often used by artists and bands that act within a strict genre. There is the danger that form that is developed from an intrinsic value is used over and over again and becomes an icon for the genre (e.g. heavy metal logo's). By then the development of the form stops and it makes us designers sad. But new genres come with new styles.

A second approach is to focus on what we call “the communication value”. What does the artist want to tell you about himself (is he sad, happy, hooked?) or about the music. By the way, in most cases it's about the artist and not about the music. When he decides to change the world, it's easy to express. Sometimes the artist identifies with another artist and would like to have that expressed in the cover. The third approach is the one where we are looking for a meaning to express. This meaning can be linked to the music, artist or context. An interesting case is the white album of the Beatles. It came after Sgt. Peppers, which was the first gatefold cover ever, and with an extraordinary picture on it. It was a sensation at that time. The only way to beat this cover was the “non-cover” of the white album, which isn't the official title but everybody calls it that way now.

For the Watchman, the inspiration came from the title song. The chestnut was copied from a schoolbook. You see the same chestnut nine times but every chestnut is turned around a little and deliberately put in strict order. Only the chestnut in the middle is shown completely. By cutting off the other ones, the picture gives you the idea that there are many more than these nine. For the typeface we chose an atypical style for pop music. This style is formal and mostly used for books. The singer of the band, Ad van Meurs really liked the cover instantly. He's also the writer of the songs. The record company, although, at first thought it was too colourful. They suggested that people might think it was a dance album. We convinced them by arguing that there would be no mistakes because of the choice for typography and the fact that a chestnut is pretty daft and does not appeal to people who like techno music.’
In terms of metaphor, the paradoxical image of ‘peaceful-artillery’ is repeated in the pairing of the tasty and beautiful European chestnut with its bristly case. The chestnuts, presented in an orderly array, appear like Pacman images ready to consume each other. It is a very punchy piece in part because of the tonal contrast between the dark centre of the chestnut and the rest. The green and yellow are quite close in value and resonate with one another, more so because of the dark centres. While the chestnuts are modeled, the background is flat and this makes the picture appear decorative. The choice of colour and tone also make the chestnuts appear to be compressed into the front plane. So without illusion the surface is modernist and becomes the flat plane upon which the words are written. In essence, the visual surface becomes a wallpaper upon which words are written. By relating in the same terms, graphic and flat, we find a basic similarity beneath surface differences that is the essence of metaphor.

2b. Poster for: Het Laatste Oordeel [The Last Judgement]/ Freek de Jonge (designed by Paul Roos,

Eelko Groenewegen and Micha de Bie - Fabrique [design, communications and new media] )

‘Freek de Jonge is a stand up comedian. His father was a vicar and one way or another Freek acts like his father. He often makes gestures with his index finger. When the design process was started there was the intention to make a drawing with one finger. And by making the drawing in a kind of Japanese manga style it would look a little special and strange. Japanese manga style is the mainstream style for comic books in Japan. It's characterized by clear lines, forms as simple as possible, and the basic use of color (most of the times black and white). In recent years this was a hip style for music and youth related flyers and posters. Freek de Jonge isn't hip at all so adapting this style and combining it with more classical oriented type gave the poster a kind of undefined surrealistic flavor.

The one finger also referred to the title of the show which means The Last Judgement. After 9/11 (i.e, the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2002) we changed the one finger into a peace sign and from that it was a small step to cutting the tops off. It's hard to recall the exact process. The typography is big but delicate. It has a theatre feel. And let me repeat: the biggest problem is that a lot of design decisions aren't that pure in a sense that they are a perfect example of using a metaphor. Most of the time the final decision to “freeze” the design is based on a complex structure of decisions.’
This poster provides an excellent example of the way that a visual image can provide a salient context within which verbal content can become embedded so as to achieve maximum metaphorical resonance. It especially highlights the importance of interpretive context because The Last Judgement poster is seen in relation to the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2002. The bloody cartoon treatment of the cut off fingers brings home all too poignantly the cruel ironies of the show’s title. In fact, this paper is being written in February of 2003 while we await an immanent war between the United States and Iraq. With this context in mind, the painting Amerika and The Last Judgement poster take on fresh meaning. It is a special quality of successful metaphor that it reawakens meaningful experience, but always in an appropriate context (Forceville, 1996).


The industrial design process focuses on the development of useful items but at the same time considers the interaction between commodities and users both in relation to self image and emotional experience. A person’s attachment to a particular design object will reflect the extent to which a bridge has been created between the two. According to the model developed here, the unified and meaningful experience of a design object will reflect the extent to which the function of the object becomes embedded in its form. In other words, when a person looks at a successful design piece, there will be an immediate and spontaneous experience of unity; the sensory experience (visual, tactile, auditory, taste, and so on) gives a direct meaning to the function of the work thereby providing a basis for product attachment.

DESIGNER’S STATEMENT: Matthijs van Dijk (extracted from Hekkert and van Dijk, 2001)

3a and 3b. Link
‘The Belgium company Durlet develops luxury, leather sitting furniture for more expensive market segments. In 1999, they approached the Dutch design agency KVD to design a concept seating element for 2005. The agency emphasized two context factors. With respect to the status that so often surrounds the high-quality products of Durlet, KVD selected the development that status more and more results from the relationship with products. Instead of it being an intrinsic property, the meaning of status emanates from a personal and convincing interaction. Next, they highlighted the trend that people start to recognize the importance of emotions in human behaviour and thinking. Therefore, KVD wanted to seduce people and let them feel the space to show their emotions. From the status factor, they derived that status can be obtained when you involve other people in your interaction with products.

These two positions resulted in the design of Link (see Figure 3A), a sitting element constructed of three interconnected hassocks that invite to be used in many different ways. You can either expose yourself completely by facing the centre, or hide your vulnerability by turning your back to the other two bulges. The quality of the fabrics, patterns, and stitches, the monolithic and organic shape, and the fact that Link can be used by more people at the same time, ensure that users cannot avoid interacting with the product. The naturalness of their interaction will eventually determine the amount of status Link can provide.

The metaphor is, in my opinion, about “connection”. This product emphasizes the connection between the different users which will result in their behaviour (see Figure 3B). Their behaviour will tell something about their social capabilities, their social status. This artificial human connection is literally accomplished by the physical connection of the three hassocks. The metaphor thus expresses the relationship between the psychological domain and the physical, structural, domain and can both be described as “being connected”.’
This sofa-chair provides an excellent example of how metaphor is realized in the successful industrial design product: the function of the successful design object disappears into its visual form.

In other words, the purpose of this sofa-chair, which is to bring people together, is expressed in its very configuration. It looks like what it is at a metaphorical level and, hence, the piece speaks for itself at many levels encompassing the function, the visual, and the social.


4. L’institut du Monde Arabe [Prof. Dr. Paul Hekkert]

‘When you approach L’institut du Monde Arabe, the overall view of the building appears as a carefully designed composition that makes a reference to carpets we know from Islamic cultures. In this way, the architect, Jean Nouvel, has succeeded in making a connection between the function of the building - a center for Arabic cultures - and its design. [This fact is already a metaphor in that the experience of the whole is shaped by the building's facade] Getting closer to the building, you discover that the various circular elements constituting the overall design, are in fact diaphragms that could open up and stop down and in this way regulate the amount of sunlight entering the building. Thus, at a local level the view of the building is different from the view at the global level, but both views make sense and do not exclude each other. To the contrary, the fact that the same circular elements have a different (and relevant) function at the local and global level enhances the experience at both levels and contributes highly to the overall experience of the building.’
This building provides an example of conjunctive ambiguity and its resolution through the linking of parts and wholes.


There have been many different treatments of the problem of metaphor in visual images. Some scholars have examined the ‘interanimation’ of two or more pictorial images that are co-present (Rothenberg, 1980) and layered one upon the other (i.e., homospatially), or in Surrealist painting (Forceville, 2002), in which case the emphasis is on semantic interplay. Another approach might emphasize symbolic metaphors in Christian visual art of the medieval period or metaphoric illustrations in novels (V. Kennedy, 1994). The focus in this paper was on the ‘interanimation’ of qualitatively different domains: subject matter and style in art and graphic design, as well as function and form in industrial design and architecture.

The theoretical position proposed here is consistent with the interactive approach to verbal (Black, 1962, 1993), visual (Hausman, 1989), and functional (Schön, 1993) metaphors. The central point of my argument, as an extension of Tversky’s (1977) concept of asymmetric similarities, is that vehicles shape the unified metaphoric experience of tenors, and not vice-versa, because they are relatively more concrete on the continuum upward from sensory to verbal and then symbolic information. This tacit, implicit, and spontaneous influence of the vehicle on the tenor takes place when a non-literal intention is signaled or understood in an appropriate context. One might say that the salient and concrete qualities of the vehicle feed-forward to merge with the tenor in a unified psychological moment termed the metaphorical experience.

In relation to art, graphic and industrial design, and architecture, the attendant hierarchy begins at the physical/sensory level from which meaningful experience emerges and moves upward to the domains of subject matter and function. The qualities of the underlying sensory and stylistic structure in successful art and design artefacts stimulate resonances with the intended meanings of the subject matter or the object’s function. As a result, the subject matter or function merge with the underlying structure or form. This harmony builds bridges across the vast gulf of differences that contrast the mere sensory domain with the verbal or functional level of organization thereby bringing coherence to our engagement or absorption in the work or object.


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Author Notes

1. A special thanks to Lanny Shereck, Jeroen van Erp, and Matthijs van Dijk for preparing and sharing commentaries on their own creative work, and to Paul Hekkert for his commentary on the architectural work, L’institut du Monde Arabe.

The author would like to thank colleagues and friends who read an initial draft of this paper and offered helpful comments, criticisms, and suggestions. They include: Tsion Avital, Paul Hekkert, Keith Oatley, Krista Phillips, Constantine Poulos, Albert Rothenberg, and Gerard Steen.

2. Personal communication from Albert Rothenberg.
Figure Captions

Figure 1. Photograph of the bandana (1a) used as a motif in the painting Amerika (1b) by Lanny Shereck.

Figure 2a. Cover for The Watchman / Peaceful Artillery CD (designed by Pieter Aarts, John van der Maat and Jeroen van Erp - Fabrique [design, communications and new media]) .

Figure 2b. Poster for Het Laatste Oordeel [The Last Judgement]/ Freek de Jonge (designed by Paul Roos, Eelko Groenewegen and Micha de Bie - Fabrique [design, communications and new media]).

Figure 3. Leather sofa chair, Link (a) (designed by Matthijs van Dijk of the Dutch design agency KVD for the Belgian furniture design company Durlet) with two possible seating configurations (b).

Figure 4. L’institut du Monde Arabe, Paris [Center for Arabic cultures], Jean Nouvel, Architect.

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