Rhett Gérard Poché

A blog devoted to the study of art, art history, and visual literacy.

What is Visual Literacy?

If you are a visitor to this blog who is not a student in my class, you are probably asking yourself—“What is Visual Literacy?”  I’ll do my best to explain.  Yet, before I do so, I would like to direct you to the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA).  The IVLA’s website features a thorough definition of Visual Literacy in addition to various resources devoted to this very important skill.

Here is how I see Visual Literacy:

Visual Literacy applies to many different disciplines and is essential to living a well-rounded life of the mind.  In fact, the pluralistic nature of Visual Literacy mirrors the common human need to understand the images we encounter on a daily basis.

If we are unable to decode or “read” images, we fall victim to a form of illiteracy that is similar to the inability to read the written word.  Visual Literacy is a skill that gives us the capacity to understand the language of images so that we may recognize and appreciate the important cultural concepts they present.  Furthermore, I think Visual Literacy affords individuals the opportunity to view visual culture (art, design, film, advertising, websites, etc.) from three distinct perspectives—as spectators, critics, and/or artists.  The visually literate, despite their roles in the making or viewing of visual culture, are able to understand visual information from all three perspectives.

As spectators and critics the visually literate view images with a critical eye.  They can interpret or “read” images with an expanded knowledge of the artistic processes, cultural concepts, and historical factors that shape their creation.  Moreover, those who are not image-makers are able to place themselves in the position of artists.  They understand the relationship between craft and content, and learn to appreciate the artist’s ability to create with his or her hands as well as with his or her mind.

I love teaching ARTS 100—Visual Literacy:  How to “Read” Art and Culture.  Creating and teaching this course has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic career.  My job is to provide students with the keys to unlocking and demystifying art—to show them that they have complete access to the “secrets” of visual information.  It really is akin to teaching a second language.  I savor the moment when students realize they are fluent in art and other forms of visual culture, and that this very special language will enrich their lives for years to come.

On another note, I must also confess that I do take great pleasure in using my course to recruit potential Visual Arts majors and convert those who have declared themselves as majors of a more “practical” discipline—I’m talking to you, Business majors.   You know, a double major in Business and Visual Arts sounds like a good idea to me.  Maybe even a Visual Arts minor?

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Filed under: Visual Literacy

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