Visual Activities

Visual Activities

Introduction: Becoming Visually Literate

We live in an information age, much of which is received visually. From the headlines, weather, and stock quotes that trail across our television screens to the web sites through which we search the Internet, we have a constant stream of incoming images. Some of these images loop endlessly, such as the image of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, omnipresent in the back of our minds like ghostly shadows. Many of us stare at computer screens all day long, breaking up our view of corporate spreadsheets with quick clicks to view our favorite web sites. Glossy advertising images pervade print, television, and the Web. Posters in stores, direct mail in our mailboxes, and photographs in newspapers and magazines are part of our daily visual environment. Logos have even become so important that two Houston artists made a career for a year out of wearing suits emblazoned with corporate logos and parading their attire in urban locations. Movies suffuse our lives 24/7, both on our home sets and through video rentals. Digital photography is so easy that even children are able to upload images to the Web. In addition to this daily barrage, artists heighten our awareness of this visual environment through their own interpretation of it.

Learning about seeing, or how images are composed or designed, is now an important part of learning to write. Just as writers plan word by word how each sentence is shaped, and paragraph by paragraph how the whole essay is constructed, artists and designers compose. Advertisers decide if there should be a story implied by their ad. Web designers decide which colors to use, and how much white space, and how easy the navigation menu is for the user. Photographers decide how to compose what they see and what should be included and what left out of an image.

“Seeing” is different than just “looking.” “Seeing” includes both “looking,” that is simple observation of what is in front of you, andinterpreting, that is developing and then answering questions that lead to a possible explanation of the meaning of what you looked at. Seeing always start with careful observation, a skill you can actually practice. By developing this skill, you will also develop questions about what you observe. From these questions emerges your own interpretation of the meaning or significance of what you observe. Writing provides the opportunity to explore your interpretation.

Norman MacLean once described how we learn to think in a series of steps that are the same as how we learn to “see”:

All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable, which makes you see something you weren’t noticing, which makes you see something that isn’t visible. A River Runs Through It

Learning to write is about learning to think, just as learning to “see” our visual environment is also about learning to think critically, or interpret it. Being visually literate is as empowering as being verbally literate. You control your experience when you choose to think about what you have observed. Your visualexperience becomes a rich opportunity to make meaning, to swim in the lively waters of experience rather than to swept away by them.

Art Activities

Art Activity #1: Is the Web Merely an Oversized Mall?
Art Activity #2: The Spectacle of War
Art Activity #3: Man Today; Boy Tomorrow? Standing on The Edge
Art Activity #4: American Icons at Home and Abroad
Art Activity #5: Web 101? What You See and What You Say
Art Activity #6: Of Mice and Cats, and the Nazis