Cultivating Visual Literacy

Maggie McCarthy, German and Film, Davidson College

This seminar will be held at Davidson College

In our increasingly digital world, images have become an omnipresent mode of conveying meaning alongside of words. They serve not only as a supplement to language but also communicate in ways unique to visual media forms. These include film, television, youtube videos, music videos and video games, which this seminar will examine. Just as we need to think about how words express overt and subtle messages, images always resonate beyond their “face value” appearance. In fact the word “media” stems from the Latin word for “middle,” which suggests a filter between the world and us. In this sense, what we see has been “mediated” in some way, i.e. changed. A camera does not simply capture the world as it is but rather alters it according to a particular perspective. To be visually literate involves looking beyond the surface to understand how images manipulate us and to what ends.

This seminar would be useful for teachers of elementary, middle, and high school students who incorporate visual elements into their curriculum. It approaches images in nuts and bolts terms that address how are they constructed, framed, lit, stylized, edited together, etc. In addition we will think about how they resonate symbolically. Also important to consider is the larger context in which images appear, which can be social, cultural, or historical, as well as how they relate to our own gendered, racial, or sexual identities. Since many students will ultimately have jobs that require them to create visual content, it is very important for them to acquire visual literacy in order to communicate as effectively as possible.

Some texts to consider:

Nichols, “Introduction: Some Basic Issues and Concepts”

Gocsik, et al., “Analyzing Film”

“Everything is a Remix II”