Thursday, July 3, 2008

Visual Language, Visual Explanations

Edward Tufte has several excellent books about expressing complex ideas visually. "Visual Explanations" (right) includes stories about how clear visual explanations can be critical to our lives. It includes famous examples of poor visual communication such as the confusion brought about by poor design of the Florida presidential election ballot and the misleading graphics used by experts to determine the fatal Shuttle launch when the O-rings failed. These are examples of instances in which poor visual communication had wide-spread, disastrous results.

Robert Horn's book, "Visual Language" (left above), is purposely done in a "clip art" style so beginners don't think they have to have special drawing skills to do clear, accurate visual communication. He contends that visual language may become the global language for the 21st century. He explains, and demonstrates in the design of the entire book, the importance of text, images and graphics working together for clear visual communication.

Looking at these works, one is prompted to say "But that's not art!" What we have referred to in the past as "Art" education today has been expanded to include not only fine art but visual culture, design, and visual communication. Art Education today is not only about the aesthetic, self-expressive side of fine art but includes the full range of visual learning.

Language teachers introduce students to the power of words; mathematics teachers the power of numbers; and art teachers introduce students to the power of images, objects, places and experiences used not only for personal self-expression (fine art) but for understanding visual culture, designing innovations, and communicating basic information.

The domain of the "Art Teacher" is no longer just "Art" but the whole of the visual world including exploration, recreation, application, and communication.

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