The Importance of Visual Literacy

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Visual Literacy can be defined as a way of using sight to evaluate, apply or create. Education, art history, art criticism, philosophy, graphic designers and more use the term “visual literacy” to mean different things. The term is widely contested. Wikipedia defines it as “the ability to interpret negotiate, and make meaning, from information presented in the form of an image.” There are many definitions used to define the term and all are lacking. No one definition will suffice to encompass the whole definition.

Studying visual literacy means understanding the process of formally analyzing art or architecture; identifying who, what, when, where, why, and how, along with the identifying formal elements of line, color, medium, texture, shape, space. Visual and aesthetic qualities must also be considered: composition, movement, scale, light, mood, meaning, and style. The use of formal analysis, formal elements and visual and aesthetic qualities builds a foundation upon which a knowledgeable artist or critic forms an opinion about a piece.

Normally sighted people think of visual literacy as the way in which we interpret and decode meaning in advertising, signage, art, and so on. What this course in visual literacy has taught me, is that the term “Visual Literacy” can be altered depending on the persons individual sense of vision. James Elkins comes the closest to the best description of visual literacy, “Understanding how people perceive objects. Interpret what they see and what they learn from them.”

What happens when the artist or viewer has a different sense of vision. Looking at three different cases in Oliver Sacks An Anthropologist on Mars; Seven Paradoxical Tales, “The Case of the Color...

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... and painting with fresco.

Visual literacy is not just about what we see but what is perceived. There are many art critics who will discredit work that they themselves could not create. It is not even the thought that really counts, cases like Stephen prove this. So then how do we define an artist or art? It is merely the intent. To be visually literate means to use the visual world the is around “you” to create. Whether you is autistic, colorblind or “normal”.


Elkins, J (2010) The concept of visual literacy, and its limitations, in: Visual literacy. New York, New York: Routledge. (217)

Sacks, O. (1995) An anthropologist on mars: Seven paradoxical tales. New York, New York: Vintage Books. (3-41,107-152,188 - 243)

Visual Literacy. (2011 February, 22) . Retrieved June 5, 2011 from Wikipedia:
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