question for open comment: how do you define visual literacy?

Looking at the visual literacy definitions and the component list below, what stands out as least/most important? Are there any elements that should not be included, or elements that you feel are missing?

(We are defining visual literacy in the context of an interdisciplinary, information-literacy-based, higher education environment.)


  1. I think that before deciding what visual literacy is, we may need to decide what the word “image” includes since it looks like it is the preferred word used in the definitions. Reading through the literature, I see that visual, picture, and image are used interchangeably, yet, when there is no explanation, they may mean something different to the reader. One could understand picture as a painting, drawing, while an image as a photograph, and a visual as an object. In any cases, to me the three terms all means the same thing: visual, image, picture are a two-dimensional representation in any medium that is factual or fictional of something or someone. Moreover, since we are defining visual literacy, perhaps we should use the term visuals and not images?

    1. I think that the five definitions that we have are great- thank you all for your work. This is an excellent start. Reading the definitions, I see that we have an intersection of literacies as well as skills. It is easy to see the connection with information literacy, therefore, to me the words “find, evaluate, use, store and understanding of legal issues” are a critical component. The other literacy that I see is media literacy. The words “build, distribute, present” to me all refer to how a message is created. The two skills that I see coming up through the definitions are aesthetic skills (create, build, and aesthetic), and critical thinking skills. So, to me, visual literacy is the ability to use and combine information and media literacies with aesthetic and critical thinking skills in order to communicate with others.
      I really like the last sentences in definition #1 “aA visually literate person is able to understand the aesthetic, cultural, contextual and subjective component” and #5 “As an outcome of this process, a visually literate individual will be not only a consumer of media, but also a contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture.” I think they provide a good understanding that visual literacy is not just about making images, but there is a more subtle and deeper set of abilities that can be acquired in time.

  2. Definition number 1 does a really good job of combining key concepts from information literacy and of adding new skills specifically needed for visual literacy. Some important concepts that came up in the other definitions that could augment this definition are technical skills and an understanding of the legal considerations associated with visual literacy. I agree with Alessia, number 5 does a great job of summarizing why visual literacy is important with,“As an outcome of this process, a visually literate individual will be not only a consumer of media, but also a contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture.” I like the idea of including a big picture, why is this important, summary like this in the definition.

  3. Very helpful additions to the discussion – the need to consider the term used for image/picture/visual; media literacies and aesthetic and critical thinking skills; importance of outcomes and big picture. Thank you!

  4. I agree with Alessia and Amelia. While we should be inclusive of concepts in our description, I think that further discussion on the usage of the terms we are considering is warranted. Should we be considering the “idea” of images, or simply image “surrogates”, which can be just about any form of visual media? In my mind, the components of creation, manipulation, communication, etc are implied, or can be applied to both.

  5. Does Visual Literacy include things like the ability to understand charts and graphs, or is that thought of separately as more of a quantitative skill?

    1. Great question Marianne. As we craft our definition of visual literacy, our intention is to make it broad enough to be of wide use, but also recognize that we can’t address all of the competencies people will utilize in various learning situations (which often involve overlapping skills sets). So while we assume that visual literacy definitely is relevant to understanding visual representations of data, at the same time, like you suggested, other quantitative skills will likely need to come into play. So ultimately, we don’t anticipate the scope of our definition will be wide enough to address all of the skills required to effectively work with visual data.

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