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Visual Literacy

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In order to understand what visual literacy is, you have to consider that photographs, advertisements, and cartoons have a common language. Visual literacy can be defined as the set of skills involved in the criticism and interpretation of images. 1 In order to be an informed citizen, it is imperative that you learn how to understand visual messages. Each day people are bombarded by different ideas and opinions just by getting out of bed. They are on TV, the box of cereal you used for breakfast, the bus you rode to class, and even your clothes. Because people are constantly bombarded with images, they rarely stop to think about what the intended message of the creator.

Each time you see an image you should realize that the creator wants to convey a particular idea. Oftentimes, the main idea will not be directly stated by the image, or there may be multiple things said by one image. In order to understand the underlying meaning of an image, you should ask yourself three questions:

  1. What is the central purpose of the image?
  2. By what means does the artist achieve his or her purpose?
  3. Why does the image succeed or not succeed?

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Additionally, you can ask the following questions about the picture:

  1. What kind of angle is the picture or video taken from?
  2. What kind of colors are used in the picture?
  3. Outdoors or indoors?
  4. How many people are in the visual argument? Who are they? How can you tell?
  5. What time of day? What season?
  6. Are there any words in the picture? If so, what do they say?
  7. How close together or fall apart are the objects or people in the picture?
  8. Are there any symbols visible?
  9. How do I feel as I look at the visual argument? How does the creator want me to feel?
  10. Are the objects/people in the visual argument familiar to you?

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In class activity:

Discuss the underlying message of each picture using the questions above.

Picture One
Picture Two
Picture Three

Assignment: You will need to list the different forms of visual literacy that you see during the next week and outline the creator’s message and whether it is well presented.


Visual Literacy

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Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factcouraud. (2007, May 22). Visual Literacy. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License