Why is Visual Literacy Important?
Arthur T. Peace
CGD218 Visual Literacy in Business (ADL1513A)
Instructor Tony O’Neal
March 30, 2015
What is visual literacy? This is the first thing I asked myself when I first saw the name. I guess the first thing would be to understand what visual communication is. This is when you have the ability to send and receive messages using pictures. Visual literacy goes hand in hand with this in that it is basically the ability to gather meaning from pictures. We communicate visually more than any other way. It is a perfect and easy way of communicating that is understandable to everyone. It is seen with the eyes and the mind. A person who is visually literate will be able to read and write in visual language. They can also decode and interpret visual messages, as well as encode and compose visual communications with clear meaning. “Visual literacy involves developing the set of skills needed to be able to interpret the content of visual images, examine social impact of those images and to discuss purpose, audience and ownership”, (Dr. Anne Bamford, The Visual Literacy White Paper, 2003). I like to think of visual literacy like picture messaging. You can send someone a picture and without words they are able to tell exactly what the picture represents. To me, that is what visual literacy is. Ninety percent of all the information we take in from the world, we take in visually (Kennedy, 2010). We see many images on a daily basis. When we see these images we have our own interpretations. We see a very wide range of images constantly. When we see an image, some are important and some not so important. However, they all have significance. Now I have come to learn that these images are specified as visual literacy. In the video, “Visual Literacy: Why We Need It”, Brian Kennedy defines visual literacy as the ability to construct meaning from images and that it’s not a skill. It uses skills as a tool box and is a form of critical thinking that enhances your intellectual capacity. Our textbook defines visual literacy as the competent creation and consumption of visual messages (Ryan, 2012). “These activities require not only the physical ability of sight but the cognitive abilities of attention, perception, critical thinking, evaluation, and synthesis with other sensory information and experiences” (Ryan, 2012). What we gather from this is that in our textbook, visual literacy is making and taking in images that need to be seen. This is simply stating that a person has to be able to define, evaluate, and understand what the images seen are about. This exercises our cognitive ability. Brian Kennedy says that we can read non-text 60,000 times faster than we can read text. This to me is really amazing. There are many ways to communicate visually. It can be with a gesture, an object, signs, or symbols. Visual literacy is a universal language. Two easy examples of this would be love and a smile. These are things that everyone all over the world can understand. Visuals are universal in that they are self-explanatory to everyone. It does not matter the language you speak because you understand the meaning by the pictures. We can see and evaluate visuals from any part of the world and understand them because images are universal. That is really amazing when you think about it. Imagine looking at a picture from China. No, you don’t speak Chinese but you can still interpret what the picture means. Learning what pictures represent is how we begin our learning process in school. Whether it is learning our ABC’s or learning our animals, we learn first by identifying with pictures. Visual literacy greatly impacts communication and global understanding in many ways. The greatest impact is through the internet. Information shared through digital imagery can be used for much quicker communications. We all experience this when we are online. Visuals are able to relay a message without wording. Since technological advances continue to develop at an unprecedented rate, educators are increasingly promoting the learning of visual literacies as indispensable to life in the information age (Wikipedia, 2014). All over the world, there are visuals being used for teaching. Social media is also being used as a tool in teaching visual literacy globally. Almost all if not all of the children today are affiliated with social media. One way to teach someone something is to do it in a way they will absorb it and feel comfortable with. It has been proven that when text-based learning is taught together with visual literacy, students are better able to remember what they were taught. Instagram is a perfect example of this. This site is all about visuals. In conclusion, if I had to choose which definition of visual literacy is more accurate in today’s world I would choose what was stated by Brian Kennedy. It is solely the ability to construct meaning from images. This is plainly and simply put. We are in the information age and imagery is part of this. Everything we do today involves visuals. This is especially online. If we are not able to look at an image and gather the meaning, we would be lost.
1. The Visual Literacy White Paper, by Dr. Anne Bamford. Director of Visual Arts. Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media, Art and Design University of Technology Sydney http://wwwimages.adobe.com/content/dam/Adobe/en/education/pdfs/visual-literacy-wp.pdf
2. Learning To See-A Guide to Visual Literacy, by William Ryan, Copyright © 2012, Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
3. TedTalk: Brian Kennedy: Visual Literacy and Why We Need It, by Brian Kennedy, (http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxDartmouth-Brian-Kennedy-Vis;search%3Abrian%20kennedy)
4. Visual Literacy, Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_literacy
5. Using Social Media to Teach Visual literacy in the 21st-Century Classroom, George Luca Educational Foundation, http://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-media-visual-literacy-classroom-dave-guymon