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Re: [xmca] Fwd: Visual literacy? Surf an art museum - Lifestyle - SignOnSanDiego.com

Thanks for the link, Mike. Was nice to see someone in the mass media, affiliated with a newspaper no less, arguing for critical visual literacy to protect us from advertising!

Of course that is an old idea in visual education circles, and it can build on the widespread folk-skepticism toward advertising. Unfortunately the more pernicious effects in ads are probably at subtler levels than what basic visual literacy skills can foreground.

"The ability to find meaning in images" is the definition of visual literacy used. That seems a little too basic. I think everyone finds meaning in images, with or without any literacy education. Maybe there is an implied emphasis on FIND, in the sense of digging below the surface/obvious, which would be better. But more recent ideas in the field put more emphasis on visual production relative to interpretation, so I'd probably go with a definition more like "the skills of making meaning with visual resources, for your own purposes", and include in that the meaning-making we do with others' images by way of interpretation, critique, etc.

Have you ever noticed that when anyone, docent, tourguide, or just me, speaks authoritatively about a painting in a museum, that many bystanders seem to become interested in listening? People generally seem to believe that art images, at least, require some professional interpretation or benefit from having specialist knowledge (esp. historical). People also seem to enjoy visual interpretation more than textual. Textual interpretation is seen as superfluous, even obstructing to enjoyment of the work. No one really reads literary criticism, or book reviews beyond the "it's good" part. But people are fascinated by the exegesis of visual works. The is one basis for the popularity of the DaVinci Code and similar popular works.

And there is not a word about visual interpretation skills in our standard curricula (meaning as practiced in schools, there are some nods in the official standards).


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Dec 20, 2009, at 12:37 PM, mike cole wrote:

The various extensions of the term, "literacy" that we have witnessed in recent decades always leave me somewhat uncomfortable, "health literacy"
being the
most recent addition. The article attainable below actually has an
definition of visual literacy and I thought others might be interested (if
you can ignore the ads!)

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