Visual Literacy can be defined as a way of using sight to evaluate, apply or create. Education, art history, art criticism, philosophy, graphic designers and more use the term “visual literacy” to mean different things. The term is widely contested. Wikipedia defines it as “the ability to interpret negotiate, and make meaning, from information presented in the form of an image.” There are many definitions used to define the term and all are lacking. No one definition will suffice to encompass the whole definition.
Studying visual literacy means understanding the process of formally analyzing art or architecture; identifying who, what, when, where, why, and how, along with the identifying formal elements of line, color, medium, texture, shape, space. Visual and aesthetic qualities must also be considered: composition, movement, scale, light, mood, meaning, and style. The use of formal analysis, formal elements and visual and aesthetic qualities builds a foundation upon which a knowledgeable artist or critic forms an opinion about a piece.
Normally sighted people think of visual literacy as the way in which we interpret and decode meaning in advertising, signage, art, and so on. What this course in visual literacy has taught me, is that the term “Visual Literacy” can be altered depending on the persons individual sense of vision. James Elkins comes the closest to the best description of visual literacy, “Understanding how people perceive objects. Interpret what they see and what they learn from them.”
What happens when the artist or viewer has a different sense of vision. Looking at three different cases in Oliver Sacks An Anthropologist on Mars; Seven Paradoxical Tales, “The Case of the Colorblind Painter”, “To See and Not See”, and “Prodigies, our understanding of “Visual Literacy” is altered. Sacks uses the tales to expand our ideas of what it means to be visually literate.
The first case is about an artist, Mr I, who becomes colorblind after a car accident. Mr. I is an accomplished painter and has had many years of success prior to his accident. The accident causes an anomaly in the brain erasing all sense of color from his vision. After the accident he sees the world in only four shades: black, grey and white. Prior to Mr. I’s accident he was most likely considered visually literate he had all of the faculties to judge color, line, shape and volume. After his accident these abilities are severely altered. His change in vision causes him to slowly disassociate colors with their names and red looks black and skin looks grey. When he begins to paint again he tries to use color and his compositions are unsuccessful, they do not contain the balance perviously obtained. After more consideration he begins to use only monochromatic colors to paint with and his paintings are successful again. In Mr. I’s case being visually literate in its traditional sense does not apply, because of his handicapped...