Skip to main content

Visual literacy

Why Visual Literacy is important

"With the emergence of fake news articles and ‘deepfake’ videos on social media within the past 2 years, it is now imperative more than ever to incorporate techniques to teach students how to evaluate images into the classroom. By turning a critical eye towards these types of images and learning how to critically read digital images, students can increase their visual literacy skills and their critical thinking skills in tandem. Both of these sets of skills are necessary for students to become discerning citizens who understand the role images play in communication today."

Dana Statton Thompson (2019) Teaching students to critically read digital images: a visual literacy approach using the DIG method, Journal of Visual Literacy, 38:1-2, 110-119, DOI: 10.1080/1051144X.2018.1564604

What is visual literacy?

Visual Literacy is being aware of how we experience images, video, and other forms of multimedia. Images must be evaluated in a similar way to written texts.  Like text, images can be used accurately, deliberately, misleadingly or carelessly. Some images, like texts, can be interpreted in different, sometimes contradictory, ways.

Visual literacy is not just restricted to art history and film studies it is important for everyone. Maps can show geographical information much better than a verbal or textual description. Charts and graphs can clearly describe the growth or decline of population, financial performance of a company, etc. Cartoons can sum up a viewpoint or opinion.

Images are everywhere in increasingly vast quantities. They entertain, influence, manipulate and persuade us. Some images are used to fill an otherwise blank space.  It is easy to view images passively without thinking about them or even just not notice them. 

It is important that you reflect critically on any images that you come across in your research and even when casually searching the internet and other visual media just as you would to written text. This guide offers you the skills to question why the author of a document has chosen particular images and why you react to them in the way you do.

A definition of visual literacy

Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and 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.

- The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

Are You vsually literate?

A visually literate person is someone who can:

• Determine the nature and extent of the visual materials needed

• Find and access needed images and visual media effectively and efficiently

• Interpret and analyze the meanings of images and visual media

• Evaluate images and their sources

• Use images and visual media effectively

• Design and create meaningful images and visual media

• Understand many of the ethical, legal, social, and economic issues surrounding the creation and use of images and visual media, and access and use visual materials ethically.

- The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

Use the menu on the right to look at the different topics and see how aware you are and how you can improve your visual literacy.. 

Accessibility statement