Visual constitutive rhetoric and the transformative power of public art.



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In his germinal essay, “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Québécois,” Maurice Charland posits that rhetors can call audiences into being to motivate them toward specific goals. Rhetorical critics initially applied this theory to traditional texts, such as speeches. By examining murals in the cities of Lyon, France; Prague, Czech Republic; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this thesis expands on Charland’s theory by arguing that public art, such as murals, can unite audiences and constitutes distinctive identities through the use of iconographic symbols and certain aesthetic choices. Moreover, this project offers a new method of analysis that can be applied to a variety of murals for future scholarship, an exploration of what makes constitutive rhetoric succeed and fail, and the participatory and inclusive aspects of visual constitutive rhetoric. Taken together, these case studies showcase the breakthroughs and boundaries of the visual form.