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Visual Literacy: Getting Started

What is Visual Literacy?

Pictures ("visual information") require the same critical judgment texts do.  Just as some texts don't tell the truth--intentionally or unintentionally--the same is true with images.  Like other forms of information, images can be accurate quotations or careless paraphrases.  It's necessary, then, for students and scholars to approach the images they use in their research and writing with the same apparatus they do for texts.

Visual literacy - how to interpret ("read") and image using one or all of the following critera

  • sensibility of the creator - what could he/she reasonably have meant and not possibly meant (at the time) of creating an image?
  • the historic/cultural context at the time of its creation -  just because it's represented, was it commonplace?
  • contemporary image theory - what's generally accepted that images of your topic mean?
  • the history of similar images - has this scene been represented throughout history, is the a quotation of that scene?
  • History of commentary - Who are the previous writers on this (or a similar) image and what have they concluded?

Visual analysis - how would a visually-literate person approach this particular image? 

  • what are the undisclosed ideologies the creator of the image?
  • what does the image leave out, and why?

Subject Guide

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Lee Sorensen
Box 90727
Lilly Library