• Chelsea Slack

Logos as Visual and Collaborative

It seems self-explanatory to say human beings are visual creatures. We think visually. We learn visually. We understand the world in visual terms, through concrete experience. We struggle with understanding the world in metaphorical terms. Accordingly, it makes sense that we would approach truth and knowledge in a visual way. In Parmenides, Heidegger says, “The primordial essence of truth is aletheia not because the Greeks were visual, but instead the Greeks could only be visual because it is aletheia that determines the relation of their humanity to Being.”[1] The truth and knowledge are not just abstract concepts, not just things we know, but things we see, things that are communicated visually.

Could we take this to mean that logos is much more than just words, more than just language?

In his earlier writings, Heidegger is known to have used art as a way to discuss his ideas on rhetoric.[2] Art communicates its message visually, and if viewers are able to separate their interpretation of the piece from all other contexts in order to look only at the artwork itself, absent of other influences, they can perceive art’s true message. By using the experience of viewing art as a metaphor for how to view knowledge and the truth, it becomes clear that our traditional understanding of knowledge and what it means to “know” something is quite different from seeing a work of art.

Art is not something that can really be known – it is something that washes over the viewer. It is an experience, and that experience is different for each person who views artwork; the ability to see the true message of a piece depends on the viewer’s emotional reaction to it. Furthermore, according to Chandrinou, each person who creates art exposes his or her own personal truth in the process of creating.[3]

If it is possible to consider art in this context as a rhetorical category that encompasses many forms of non-verbal expression, then other non-verbal branches of the fine arts could also serve as modes of authentic communication. Take dance – classical ballet for example. Ballet uses no words, but there is quite clearly a message in each section of a production.

Like artists, dancers in the process of creating use not only physical movements, but also their emotions to communication their message. In fact, according to Hanna, the use of emotion in dance is just as important as the physical movements themselves, if not more important.[4] On the same coin, dance elicits an emotional response from its viewers, and it is their emotional response from which viewers glean the intended message and see the truth in the performance.

When Heidegger opened up logos to be something that is not just said or known, something beyond words and language, obviously this opens up logos to duality. If the truth is something we see, just as we would see a painting, a sculpture, or a ballet, this implies truth and knowledge is something we are simply supposed to take in. We are not supposed to try and change it, modify it, take it and make it our own.

But then we must ask, is there only one logos? Does a ballerina performing in Swan Lake only share Tchaikovsky’s message and Tchaikovsky’s truth, or is she also sharing a myriad of stories from her own life, thereby sharing her own truth, in order to fuel her performance? Is the viewer’s catharsis in the final scene a result of excellent composition, transcendent performance, or both?

Conceivably, the ballerina could be able to clearly perceive Tchaikovsky’s message, and use her own knowledge and insight to portray his truth. In this case, the ballerina is but paint upon the canvas. However, without the dancers, directors, choreographers and so many others using their own multitudinous experiences to help translate Tchaikovsky’s composition from mere words and stage directions into a physical and emotional message, there would be no Swan Lake in the first place, making its truth at best unrendered and at worst moot.

If logos is a conduit to truth, then our access to truth is greatly expanded with a visual and collaborative perception of logos. Heidegger’s understanding of logos as visual, as something that we see, gives us a broadened understanding of how we make meaning, share messages, and share truths. What’s more, making meaning, sharing messages, and sharing truths become things that can be the product of not one, but many people, as is the case with Swan Lake. When we consider our relationship with language, it becomes evident that we must consider our relationship with more than just words. The question becomes, “What wants to be seen?" rather than “What wants to be said?”


[1] Martin Heidegger, Parmenides (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 147.

[2] Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art," trans. Kenneth Haynes and Julian Young, in Off the Beaten Track (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 1-56.

[3] Theodora Chandrinou, "CLASICAL GREEK PHILOSOPHY AND VISUAL ART AESTHETICS FORMING THE PERSONALITY," Review Of Artistic Education, no. 9 (January 2015): 232, accessed September 2, 2016, EBSCOhost.

[4] J. L. Hanna, "A Nonverbal Language for Imagining and Learning: Dance Education in K-12 Curriculum," Educational Researcher 37, no. 8 (2008).



© 2018 by Chelsea Slack