Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Visual Literacy is the Challenge for 21st Century Schools

Schools should focus more on the visual than the art in their visual art classes. "Art" education in schools should be about visual literacy not just about visual art. Visual Literacy includes art but it also includes visual culture, design and visual communication.

Visual literacy includes visual science as well as visual culture. The two main domains of knowledge were identified by C.P. Snow in 1959 as the "two cultures" of Science and the Humanities. Art has always been identified with the Humanities but today we recognize that visual literacy is part of the sciences as well as the arts.

What do we mean by visual science? Take a look at the photo of the eclipse of the sun by the moon that took place on July 22, 2009. It was the longest total solar eclipse that Earth will witness in the 21st century. This composite of 31 images from the eclipse shows the solar corona, the wispy "atmosphere" of the sun peeking out from behind the moon as well as the cratered, rayed surface of the moon itself.

While the image is very beautiful it is visual science not art. Science students need visual skills as much as art students do. They should not be denied access to visual learning just because the only visual classes offered in schools are for visual artists. Schools need to provide cross-disciplinary classes in visual literacy that include visual communication, design, and visual culture as well as art.

Creating and analyzing images like this is essential to 21st century learning. Visual literacy in the form of visual communication and design should be part of every students' education every year along with visual art and visual culture.

Click on the heading above to hear an interview with Felice Frankel, a visual scientist who uses photography to visually communicate complex concepts.

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