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A CALL FOR VISUAL LITERACY.

A wise man once said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But, when visual symbols are used in place of words to express an idea--or to evoke a feeling or a mood within--us it is necessary for the viewer to be able to understand the message.

For communication to take place, there must be a common language between an artist and an audience. Some amount of effort on the part of both artist and audience is required. It is only by reading a picture that it is possible to know what different feelings a picture may arouse in others. It is the only way that the viewer can understand what emotional feelings a picture might arouse or what ideas it might convey. Reading a picture in a meaningful way is the only way that true communication between the creative artist and the viewer can take place.

Visual vs. Verbal

Visual communication is usually taught at only the most advanced levels of photography or art training. At the lower educational levels, the concepts of visual communication are barely touched upon--if they are covered at all. Although art is taught to children at an early age in our schools, we generally teach only the technical aspects of the subject and spend little time teaching art as a visual language.

Educators have known for some time that the best time to learn a language is at a very early age. Therefore, why not begin teaching the language of vision as soon as possible?

Visual communication should be taught to children at an early age because it offers them a constructive way to express their emotional feelings. It provides a useful and challenging alternative for those individuals who are not skilled in verbal communication. Visual language creates a doorway to understanding and perception that cannot be experienced through verbal communication. We become aware of our surroundings and see things and their relationships to other things in a new way.

Picture This

The need to learn to read visual images is an urgent one that exists at all levels in our society. However, the place to begin teaching people how to understand pictures is in our schools. Pictures exist all around us. We are surrounded by them. Understanding pictures is a vital life-enriching necessity--not to understand them is visual illiteracy.

Today, it is easier than ever before to provide students with an opportunity to learn visual communication. With the advent of simple to operate automatic cameras, it is relatively easy to make a photograph.

Photography can provide a child with critical skills in perception, conceptualization, verbalization, and decision-making within experiences that are real for him or her.

Psychologically, the camera helps to improve the child's self-image (a critical aspect of learning) and extends the motivation to learn.

Socially, the camera can help the child to explore the environment, and through this, helps develop all types of social nuances

A whole curriculum can be built around the camera in which children can learn something about any topic based on their developmental level.

Photography provides specific aids to learning in general, and reading in particular. It is a great aid for teaching children how to use descriptive words.

Children use the camera as the link between impression and expression. The camera can be a wonderful device for self motivation and self-direction. The child can be the director of the learning process by deciding what picture to take, setting up the composition, and then actually taking the photograph.

Technical virtuosity and fine aesthetic qualities are vital to art. But they are of little value unless they help to convey clearly what it is that an image attempts to express. The visual and symbolic elements of a picture are as important as the technical and aesthetic ones. It is the visual image and the symbolism that it contains that causes an emotional feeling or a mood to be aroused within us when we look at a picture. It is these elements that help to bring about a meaningful experience. If a picture fails to do this, then what is the sense of looking at it in the first place? What is the sense in having a language--either visual or verbal--that we fail to understand?

Stuart Oring is the author of Understanding Pictures: Theories, Exercises, and Procedures, published by Isis Visual Communications, Owings, MD. The book uses both traditional and revolutionary approaches to help the reader understand the visual image.
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Title Annotation:teaching visual communication
Author:Oring, Stuart A.
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Words:742
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