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Visual Literacy & Visual Language in a Digital Culture

Newton Virus, Prototype, 2005/2007

This is a blog entry in response to readings and discussions in a graduate course at UBC: Theory and Research in Digital Literacy…

In “Visual Aspects of Media Literacy” (1998), Paul Messaris discusses why those who are highly educated and interested in visual media seem to be unaware of paraproxemic devices by hinting towards a broader conclusion: “If we ask why paraproxemic devices are so transparent to the average viewer, a likely answer might be that it is precisely their analogical quality, that is, their nonarbitrariness, that makes them transparent. Because they appear to be simple extensions of our everyday, real-world perceptual habits, we may interpret them without much conscious awareness or careful scrutiny.” (p. 74) At the end of the article Messaris suggests that the aim of education about visual literacy should be to “denaturalize” visual syntax and for students to realize how they have accepted the implications of that syntax and how they can apply this understanding to their work: “A visually literate person can use these properties either as tools of creative thought and expression or as foundations for resisting the potentially negative influences of visual media” (p. 77). I incorporate these ideas into how I teach art and design. I may not use the exact same language as Messaris (paraproxemic, denaturalize, syntax) but usually everything I teach in art involves breaking the image/text down to the components that create the composition in order to understand its affect on the human psyche. Continue reading

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