Lecture 8: Visual Literacy Now


Definition of Visual Literacy

“Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text. Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be communicated through a process of reading.”

Avgerinou, M . (n.d) What is visual literacy?, International Visual Literacy Association. http:// http://www.ivla.org/org_what_vis_lit.html

How might art and design be understood (or read) in today’s image saturated world and what about the future?

The task of evaluating the merits, relevance, diversity, ideology’s of contemporary images is more difficult than it was in the past.

The rise of digital photography and imaging has transformed the landscape of visual communication and culture. Events, activities, moments, objects, and people are ‘captured’ and distributed as images on an unprecedented scale. Many of these are shared publicly; some remain private, others become intellectual property, and some have the potential to shape global events.

Facebook revealed in a white paper that its users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos

Photo uploads on Facebook total 300 million per day.
8,796 photos per second are uploaded onto ‘snapchat’ every second

27,800 photos are uploaded to Instagram every minute

There will be more photographs taken this year than in the entire history of photographing on sensitized substrates (film and plates).

“ It might be stated as a general formula that the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes what is reproduced. ” – Walter Benjamin, Benjamin W., The Work of Art in the Age of its Reproducibility

Benjamin W., The Work of Art in the Age of its Reproducibility


Post-modernism, key ideas:

• Appropriation or Simulation

• Hyperrealism (or realism)

• Questions ideas of originality, authenticity, authorship and skill.

• Pastiche, parody and the art of ‘quotation’

• Understanding that experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal

Many contemporary visual artists are concerned with processes of appropriation. This is a process where visual artists quote the work of others in order to redefine its reading and therefore meaning. This often provides different contexts and audiences.

The Graphic Designer as Author

Traditional definition of graphic design …

“Graphic design is a creative process that combines art and technology to communicate ideas. The designer works with a variety of communication tools in order to convey a message from a client to a particular audience. The main tools are image and typography.” – American Institute of Graphic Arts

A contemporary definition

‘graphic designers who are engaged in work that transcends the traditional serviceoriented commercial production, and who pursue projects that are personal, social or investigative in nature’.


Ideology definition:

1. The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture.

2. A set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system.

Citizen Journalism & Photography

The concept of citizen journalism is based upon public citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information. This process of democratic report also known as “public”, “participatory”, “democratic”, “guerrilla” or “street” journalism.

“Today almost a third of news photographs are frame grabs from video and digital sources. The proportions increases in the coverage of international conflict.”

“Photography is finding other roles, or more accurately, visual culture at large is leaving photography with certain tasks and subject matters such as aftermath.

“In forfeiting any immediate relation to the event and taking up a slower relation to time, ‘late’ photographs appear to separate themselves out from the constant visual stream from the convergence of modern electronic image technologies.

Campany D., (Ed) Green D,. (2003). Where is the Photograph? Photoworks.

Interactivity & Materiality

Digital Resources and the Archive

In recent years social media has begun to eclipse traditional media in regard to the exchange of information and images. With billions of networked images flowing through social media, how might we interact with images in the 21st century and make sense of our shared visual culture?

“Everyone concedes that photography is now a medium of exchange as much as a mode of documentation. Able to be disseminated around the globe, a digital snapshot initially functions as a message in the present rather than a record of some past moment.”

Batchen G,. Aperture, Spring Issue, 2013. New York. Aperture

To summarize here are the key issues facing visual communicators in the 21st century •

Globalization & technology – digital information is a shared resource that can be accessed with increasing ease and speed regardless of geographical location.

• The citizen as cultural commentator/journalist due to access to increasingly ubiquitous publishing tools and technological devices

• The artist as a curator – harnessing increasingly expanding online databases as raw material for personal expression / cultural commentary

• The convergence of media and disciplines within communication – e.g blurring of boundaries between art & commerce, typographer & animator, photographer / sculptor