Figure \(16.1\) Consider the subject of this painting, Man on the Street, by Russian artist Olga Rozanova (1886–1918). Now, consider the way the subject is presented: cool colors, fragmented lines, distorted perspective. What is the artist saying about the man on the street by presenting him in this way? As soon as you begin to answer this question, you are analyzing a visual text. When you read a story, you might ask the following questions: Why does this character act this way? How would the story be different if it were set in another time or place? What is the author saying about life in general? How does the author make these points? When you begin to answer these questions about a work of fiction or literary nonfiction, you are analyzing a literary text. (credit: “Man on the Street (Analysis of Volumes)” by Olga Rozanova/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
In the real world, you are surrounded by text—both visual and print. It appears in media, advertising, and even text messages. Often, text is not one-dimensional, in the sense that words and the ways in which they are used or arranged can have different meanings depending on the relationship between the text and the reader. In such cases, a text is open to analysis and interpretation. Usually, there is no one right way to analyze and interpret a text; readers, like viewers, may understand elements in different ways and draw different conclusions. Whatever they are, however, will be the result of reading critically: examining parts of the text as they relate to the whole, supporting ideas with evidence, and drawing conclusions on the basis of analysis.
The practice of analysis will benefit you in several ways. It can help you enter an ongoing conversation with a new and fresh perspective. It also can help you understand meaning beyond the surface of a text—including historical contexts and cultures, new approaches to thinking, and new knowledge.
Although the word text tends to imply words, writing, or books, virtually all works created by human beings can be considered texts that are open to analysis—films, plays, music and dance performances, exhibits, paintings, photographs, sculptures, advertisements, artifacts, buildings, and even whole cultures. In this chapter, you will focus on the analysis of print texts. In Image Analysis: What You See, you will move to the analysis of visual and digital texts.