Rhetoric is broadly referred to as the theory and practice of suasory communication enabling humans to participate actively in public. Although traditionally viewed as strongly tied with exclusively verbal persuasion, rhetoric has always extended beyond this limitation. Semiforgotten elements of the ancient faculty prove that rhetoric requires creative visual imagination from both parties (orator and audience) and that the practice emanates from and embeds in visuospatial, sensual experiences. These visual features are combined with the verbal in rhetorical practice resulting in a multidimensional—hybrid—discourse, the main function of which is persuasion. In this hybridity of codes and modes, the primary movement in the persuasive act is connection. This connection relates the person to the world, human imagination to articulation, thoughts to images, and words to pictures. By means of this connection persuasion becomes identification, a constitutive act enhancing the unity of different entities (either human or material).
The present essay conceives of rhetoric, and especially visual rhetoric, as a suitable framework to interpret visual hybrids. Here, visual hybrids are understood to be entities that enact the internal rhetorical interplay between difference and unity represented by visual elements and motifs. The article first investigates the concept of ingenium and multimodality to introduce general rhetoric as a holistic framework of human experience and expression that is inherently visual and sensual. Then the paradigms of visual rhetoric are outlined to propose a possible classification of visual hybrids, illustrated by contemporary examples from art and advertising.