Visual Literacy

Visual Literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical components involved in the production and use of visual materials. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture.

In an interdisciplinary, higher education environment, a visually literate individual is able to:

• Determine the nature and extent of the visual materials needed
• Find and access needed images and visual media effectively and efficiently
• Interpret and analyze the meanings of images and visual media
• Evaluate images and their sources
• Use images and visual media effectively
• Design and create meaningful images and visual media
• Understand many of the ethical, legal, social, and economic issues surrounding the creation and use of images and visual media, and access and use visual materials ethically

Basic Visual Literacy Questions

Each time you see an image you should realize that the creator wants to convey a particular idea. Oftentimes, the main idea will not be directly stated by the image, or there may be multiple things said by one image. In order to understand the underlying meaning of an image, you should ask yourself three questions:

What is the central purpose of the image?
By what means does the artist achieve his or her purpose?
Why does the image succeed or not succeed?

Reference Databases

Google Arts & Culture Explore stories and collections from around the world.

ART_library deco African American Art Online Reference Journal


The Soul of Black Comix: Learn more about visual literacy from Professor John Jennings | He uses comics, Hip Hop and his own drawings to showcase African American expressions.

Visual Literacy and Diversity in Music Video: Examine this visual documentation of music videos by Sandra O’Neil | What did YOU see?; What did you NOT see?; Is it all “bad”?

Revisiting The Wire During 2020’s Black Lives Matter Movement: Video essay was put together by aspirant screenwriter Nehemiah T. Jordan whose Behind the Curtain series aims to provide insights on how celebrated scripts for both the big and small screensFight Club, Uncut Gems, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad—come by their aesthetic quality.

Free Online Course

Modern Museum of Art: Seeing Through Photography: Although taking, sharing, and viewing photographs has become second nature for many of us, our regular engagement with images does not necessarily make us visually literate. This course aims to address the gap between seeing and truly understanding photographs by introducing a diversity of ideas, approaches, and technologies that inform their making. In this course you will look closely at photographs from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art and hear a variety of perspectives on what a photograph is and the ways that photography has been used throughout its nearly 180 year history: as a means of artistic expression, as a tool for science and exploration; as an instrument of documentation; to tell stories and record histories; and as a mode of communication and critique in our ever increasingly visual culture.

Source: “ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education”, American Library Association, October 27, 2011. (Accessed July 21, 2016) | Document ID: 4d02961f-23ff-b874-7d6d-9f8d0b87e7c2
Source: factcouraud. (2007, May 22). Visual Literacy. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site:

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