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

Mike, you write:
"I managed a D+ in my one obligatory art producing class in college (a work later exhibited, by some really odd error, in a show of student art which makes one wonder at the judgments involved on either side of the process!). I am a hopeless plastic arts producer. But not entirely illiterate as a reader, finder of meanings."

It's fair enough to argue that reading and writing are not equivalent forms of literacy. But in this crazy multimodal culture of ours, where reading and writing both require adeptness with design proficiencies (remember that even the text we read on the screen is a digital product--the 'translation' of code into a specifically designed visual format that we can interpret), what we call "visual literacy" is increasingly an essential component of BOTH reading and writing. Visual literacy goes far beyond what we learned in art class--the color wheel and all that.

In fact, it seems a little strange to link visual literacy to museumgoing. I bombed art class right along with the best of them, and success in art class still wouldn't have prepared me to engage in the sorts of communications platforms that have become the most significant message delivery systems. Indeed, design and visual literacy (or whatever you want to call them) skills are so embedded in communication platforms that I find myself making design decisions without a thought (as when I re-formatted the chunk I quoted from the previous email in this thread, because when I pasted it in the line breaks got all funky--distracting for the reader!). I don't know if the fact that visual literacy (or whatever you want to call it) is embedded within reading and writing literacy practices strengthens or weaken the case for calling it a form of literacy; I only know that it's both important and different enough from reading and writing skills to deserve its own label, if only so we know how to talk about it.



Jenna McWilliams
Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University

On Dec 21, 2009, at 7:06 PM, mike cole wrote:

The addition of production to definitions of literacy is always a good move in my view, Jay. Reading is not equivalent to writing. In the case of visual literacy and museum art, it seems like what is being referred to is the reading half. At least i hope so. I managed a D+ in my one obligatory art
producing class in college (a work later exhibited, by some really odd
error, in a show of student art which makes one wonder at the judgments
involved on either side of the
process!). I am a hopeless plastic arts producer. But not entirely
illiterate as a reader, finder of meanings.

There is, a few blocks from you apartment, a show at the SD Museum of
Contemporary Art by Tera Donavan. I think you will find it as fascinating as I did. I plan to take the family during their visit. Donovan take everyday objects (tar paper, straws, cups, and more) and creates installations with
thousand of only one object aggregated in the most fantastic ways. She
states her goal as wanting to explore the properties of objects seens as
parts of very large populations rather than as individual objects. The
effects she achieves are mind boggling with the play of light and texture over surface sufficient to reorder our perceptions in ways we could never
anticipate.Again, art as tertiary artifact, re-admired.

Since you have written more on time scales, I'll stay away from the topic in
general; we have agreed too often here to warrant repitition.
But quite specifically, our work in creating the "Fifth Dimension" was to be able to study changes in a pre-pared system of activity over a long time period (from inception to death) at several scales of time. The idea was part of our interest in the failure of "successful" educational innovations to be sustained-- how did they die and why and how did their implementers enter in to and respond to the process. Still wrestling with analysis-- lots of 5thD's were born and died but others keep being born. Some are, today, strikingly like their originals in the 1980's, others have morphed so that
only a few features remain. The children participants, who are almost
impossible to track over time are now adults -- i sometime encounter one at
ucsd. The college participants are parents I sometimes hear from. All
recorded in their fieldnotes written at the time. I have some money salted away so that "when it dies" (or if i can manage to retire before doing so myself) I will have the full range of instances documented and a lot of the
data in digital form,
so that I can look at that object from both ends of its history. A
preliminary report is in the book, *The Fifth Dimension*.

As to LCHC, that is another matter. It seems to me a certainty that it will die. It had a near-death experience a couple of years ago. As a way of at least marking its passing, a number of former and current members of the lab are in the process of creating a book that traces its origins and the many offspring it has generated. THAT collective narrative I hope to live long
enough to see come into being.

Now if Yuan or anyone would like to see LCHC live, proposals for how to arrange that would of course be seriously entertained, and perhaps maybe even entertaining! I thought I saw a nibble at collaboration on making XMCA a more powerful medium the other day, but it turned out to be a mirage. So
for now, we keep on keeping on.
On Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM, Jay Lemke <jaylemke@umich.edu> wrote:

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
www.umich.edu/~jaylemke <http://www.umich.edu/%7Ejaylemke>

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

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