Visual Literacy

In the same way that literacy enables us to read, interpret and communicate using the written word, visual literacy refers to the ability to interpret and create visual images and communicate ideas and meaning.

It applies to, not only traditional art forms, areas of design and architecture, but also digital and contemporary media such as installation, film and video.

See also the Big Landscape 'How' Block titled Virtual and Digital here.

Visual literacy is important due to the increasing use of visual communication and multimedia in modern society.  

Developing visual literacy skills enables students to understand and communicate ideas and information effectively and more rapidly than text alone. It allows them to analyse and interpret visual messages, which are increasingly prevalent in the modern world and through digital culture.

Students' ability to understand and use visual codes and conventions will enable them to develop the ability to create their own original work and express themselves through art.  

Visual literacy can enhance students’ critical thinking skills (see Big Landscape Critical and Contextual Thinking) and help students understand the viewpoints of others.

It can also lead to greater insights and understanding, with an appreciation of different communities, cultures and history, broadening students’ global knowledge.  

Visual literacy is essential across the curriculum wherever learners need to visually read, analyse, interpret and understand visual information. For example, in history and geography, historic paintings, buildings, maps, photographs and images of landscapes all require visual interpretation to gain insights.

Similarly, illustrations and diagrams in books require visual literacy to extend text-based information and in languages, the semiotics of a culture (the signs and symbols used and their interpretation) can help us read and better understand the functions of a society.  

Art educators will encourage their learners to be aware of the visual environment that has been created and teach how to recognise, understand and ultimately use the visual languages that they encounter.  

Visual literacy can also include:

  • Perception and Conception                 
  • Art History                 
  • Critical and Contextual Thinking       

Applying the study of art, craft and design can cover:

  • Research
  • Study
  • Analyse
  • Classify
  • Label
  • Critique
  • Describe
  • Explain
  • Explore
  • Evaluate
  • Annotate
  • Respond
  • Review
  • Reflect
  • Write
  • Draft
  • Discuss
  • Label
  • Appreciate
  • Communicate
  • Qualify

This can be achieved when using, learning and applying this when ‘meaning-making’:  

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Recording
  • Visual Research
  • Annotation
  • Scanning
  • Selecting
  • Explaining
  • Discussing
  • Evaluating
  • Analysing – for example, the impact of social, cultural and other influences on the work and practice of artists, makers and designers. 
  • Understanding the aesthetic of diverse cultures and times can help learners to define their own aesthetic, taste and style.
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