What is visual literacy?
If you can read a map, draw a diagram or interpret symbols like
then you are visually literate.
Visual literacy is the reading and writing of visual texts.
What are visual texts?
A text is anything with which we make meaning. Books, websites, videos, even smiles and gestures can be thought of as texts.
A visual text makes its meanings with images, or with meaningful patterns and sequences.
For example, a diagram uses images, while a flow chart arranges information in meaningful sequences.
Visual texts range from diagrams to documentaries.
They can be printed (such as an atlas) or electronic (such as a DVD). They can be fiction (such as a movie) or nonfiction (such as a street map). Visual messages are everywhere: on street signs, in books, on television news and packaging. Even the buildings we inhabit and the clothes we wear convey visual messages.
Although visual texts make meaning with images, they don't have to be without words: in fact, words and images are often combined to make the meaning. Think of a map: the words are needed to name the places, while the images are needed to show where those places are and the distances between them.
On this site we look mostly at visual information.
Visual information comes in the form of maps, diagrams, tables or charts, graphs, time lines, tree diagrams, cutaways and cross sections, flow charts, web diagrams, Venn diagrams and more.
Some kinds of information are best expressed in words, but others are more clearly expressed visually. These visual texts do the job better than the "same information" written out in words alone. (Imagine a street directory in which only words are used.)
Visual literacy is knowing which text to use
Think of all the different ways we can communicate: by writing, speaking, drawing, or gesture; by using words, numbers, images, symbols, or colors. Each one is a different tool in the literacy toolbox.
If we use only one set of tools (words, sentences, paragraphs) our literacy is limited to those things best expressed with those tools.
Why learn visual literacy?
The video of Steve's workshop What is visual literacy? is available from Stenhouse Publishers.
For a complete list of visual texts on our site click here.
I see what you mean: children at work with visual information and other books explaining visual literacy are listed here.