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Definitions for Visual Literacy

Note: I highlighted the one I’m rather partial to.

According to John Debes, who originally coined the term in 1969 in a conference presentation,

“Visual Literacy refers to a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning. When developed, they enable a visually literate person to discriminate and interpret the visible actions, objects, symbols, natural or man-made, that he encounters in his environment. Through the creative use of these competencies, he is able to communicate with others. Through the appreciative use of these competencies, he is able to comprehend and enjoy the masterworks of visual communication.”

See http://www.ivla.org/drupal2/content/what-visual-literacy-0. John Debes, 1969b, 27.
“Visual literacy involves the ability to understand, produce, and use culturally significant images, objects, and visible actions. . . . With training and practice, people can develop the ability to recognize, interpret, and employ the distinct syntax and semantics of different visual forms.  The process of becoming visually literate continues through a lifetime of learning new and more sophisticated ways to analyze and use images.”

“Resource Review:  Visual literacy” by Peter Felten. In Change, November/December 2008. http://fod.msu.edu/oir/visual-literacy

“A group of acquired competencies for interpreting and composing visible messages. A visually literate person is able to: (a) discriminate, and make sense of visible objects as part of a visual acuity, (b) create static and dynamic visible objects effectively in a defined space, (c) comprehend and appreciate the visual testaments of others, and (d) conjure objects in the mind’s eye.”

Brill, J.M., Kim, D., Branch, R.M. (2000), Visual literacy defined: the results of a Delphi study: can IVLA (operationally) define visual literacy? paper presented at the International Visual Literacy Association, Ames, IA. http://fod.msu.edu/oir/visual-literacy

“Demonstrate the ability to interpret, recognize, appreciate, and understand information presented through visible actions, objects and symbols, natural or mane-made.”

“Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills,” by Institute of Museum and Library Services acknowledging “Derived from definition attributed to John Debes, per the International Visual Literacy Association (www.ivla.org/org_what_vis_lit.htm).”

“The ability to construct meaning from images. It’s not a skill. It uses skills as a toolbox. It’s a form of critical thinking that enhances your intellectual capacity. . . .

-The process of sending and receiving messages using images

-The ability to construct meaning from visual images

-Intermediality—combined literacies are needed to read in a multi-media world.”

Brian Kennedy, http://www.vislit.org/visual-literacy/, accessed July 27, 2015.

“Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and[/or?] 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.”

Association of College and Research Libraries, http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/visualliteracy, accessed July 27, 2015.

See also “Visual literacy Defined – The Results of a Delphi Study” Can IVLA (Operationally) Define Visual Literacy?” Journal of Visual Literacy (2007/1): 47-60.



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