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Newsweek Reports on the "Creativity Crisis" in America

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Affecting a generation of Americans, both children and adults,
“For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong – and how we can fix it.”

If you have school-age children this comes as no surprise. Children are spending more time in front of televisions and computers, and spending days in school being tested rather that taught. The long term effects are now being felt by a society that needs innovation more than ever to solve long-term problems.

What can you do? Read the article, learn, and reach out to the schools and children around you. Stay involved, and use books instead of television. Force your children outside (weather permitting) without electronics. Let them fail so that they understand how to creatively find solutions on their own. Encourage individuality.

Furnace recommends picking up a paintbrush and finding out where your imagination can take you! It’s a great way to spend a summer day. Just try to find a brush your own size…

What is Visual Literacy?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

What is visual literacy? When we have the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from an image, or information presented in the form of an image, it can be said that we have visual literacy. It can also be considered a vision-competency, says John Debes. Many are familiar with the value of linguistic literacy, as found in the printed word through books and journals, but the importance of visual literacy is growing as it delivers information without the need for the print.

When traveling, we see a sign with a bicycle and a red diagonal line through it. As someone who is visually literate, a traveler knows that the sign means something to the effect of “Please do not ride your bicycle here.” Likewise, if we see a sign with the picture of a child and a ball, with no red line through it, we understand it to mean “Children playing; please watch out for them.”

Several 21st century scholars, including Courtney Cazden, Allan Luke, and others advocate for the importance of both linguistic and visual literacies as modalities in the process of meaning-making. Implications, then, for classroom or home-schooling would be to incorporate the written word with visual information to provide a rich teaching and learning environment. For example, one might give kids a picture and asking them to write a caption or an empty cartoon and asking them to fill in the speech balloons to see what kinds of different interpretations emerge.
Exciting fields effective in visual literacy training include art history in all its glory: paintings, drawings, sculpture, architecture, even textile design and furniture design. Of particular delight to students in these fields are uses of color, texture, style, shape, size, and form. Who is not visually delighted when confronted with patterns of colors, which convey excitement, cheer, and suggest lively festivities?

In terms of learning tools, one visual tool used in teaching environment is PowerPoint, intended to present information visually. One expert on visual literacy, Edward Tufte, a Yale professor and an expert on the presentation of information graphics, offers us a challenge: Do the slides communicate? His interest focuses on the efficacy of the tool rather than simply the happy opportunity to have the tool.

Thus, visual literacy not only refers to learning through the visual experience but learning useful, helpful, and usable information! It is easier for a student to make meaning when not only information is provided but information that a child can use to make meaning of her or his world.

Learning is delicious in whatever form. In capable teaching hands, linguistic and visual literacy make wonderful partners. For the learner, integrating these with other modalities—such as music—continue to expand learners’ meaning-making capabilities.

Rhonda Robinson: Visual literacy for a digital age

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

 

As promised last week, welcome to Madcap Logic’s second podcast, and this time with our special guest, Dr.Rhonda Robinson from Northern Illinois University. Dr Robinson works with educational technology and assessment as well as teacher training for technology and has spent her career working around ideas of visual learning and literacy.

Originally an English teacher in middle school, Rhonda was very interested in media literacy and language arts and began to pursue media production in

her masters and doctorate degree. Beginning with ‘old media’, Rhonda’s techniques now span into the digital realm, encouraging students to analyze imagery from newspapers and also video, tapping into kids’ (and their teachers’) natural creative abilities.

Rhonda has used our Creativity Express program to teach her masters students color and composition, expanding their practical orientation to consider the aesthetic dimensions of the images they and their students create. Rhonda believes that we learn first through vision but the verbal orientation of schools has privileged verbal learners. Whether or not we have natural inclinations towards art, these skills can be developed over time. Images provide us with an easy door to learning, and it may be that we learn more through them than more literary or verbal texts because we have a reduced resistance to them.

Dr Robinson therefore, believes that visual literacy should complement and supplement other forms of literacy in education to aid diverse learners in the classroom. Teachers of reading in particular, have embraced this entire collection of literacies, as have teachers of science and mathematics. Integrating technology into the classroom, as opposed to having it shut out of the lesson or considered something different, is critical as visual literacy involves not only encoding or the creation of the image but also decoding, that is, how we select meanings for the same image and messages. This is increasingly important in a digital age with our ability to manipulate images!

We hope you enjoy our conversation with Rhonda! There is much to be learned from this fascinating conversation around the renewed importance of art and visual literacy in our contemporary times and its contribution to citizenship.

With thanks to lakewentworth for his art!

Art in 2009!

Monday, January 5th, 2009

At the end of our beloved 2008, we posted a series of 5 wishes for 2009 — we wanted arts funded, we wanted them in our schools, we wanted them for all (young and old, big and little) and we wanted to hold onto the arts of love and hope.

WOW – that’s a lot to accomplish in one year so we thought we would start with something fundamental – what is Art? Notice the capital letter. I ask this question of you based on my reflections over the last 48 hours — first, my 5 year old and I completed our questionnaire for his well child visit and he was asked to draw a person (I have never seen him do that – he usually does watercolors at school – highly impressionistic, kaleidoscopic whirls of color, with no body parts in sight!). Second, I read on the web that in my country of birth, a major art gallery had had one of its large concrete public walls graffiti-ed (is that a word?) on by the same artist twice in a month. When asked if they would be removing the artist’s poetry, the curator of the museum was disgusted — it was art, an expression of an artist’s love for someone else, how could he remove such an expression of human emotion? Finally, as a writer and as a mother, I was creating a blog, adding images, adding a trailer for a movie about something I was passionate about. Humming away, completely in flow (art as meditation), on my ‘piece of art’, I was completely floored when asked – so what purpose is that serving? Why are you doing that again? Hmmmm art. Art is something difficult to hold onto it seems.

And so I turned to my old friend, wise distributor of words, the dictionary. What is art? I asked it. Here is what it said, imagine a staccato machine-like voice —

” \ˈärt\. Function: noun. Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin art-, ars. Date: 13th century.

1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation <the art of making friends>
2 a: a branch of learning: (1): one of the humanities (2)plural : liberal arts b: archaic : learning , scholarship
3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill <the art of organ building>
4 a: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects ; also : works so produced b (1): fine arts (2): one of the fine arts (3): a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b: the quality or state of being artful
6: decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter.”

Righty-o then.

My dictionary friend then added, ” art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power; skill stresses technical knowledge and proficiency (OK….); cunning suggests ingenuity and subtlety in devising, inventing, or executing (uh-oh….); artifice suggests technical skill especially in imitating things in nature (definitely not to be confused with art) whereas craft may imply expertness in workmanship.”

So which one was my son being asked to fulfill in that questionnaire?

Whatever it was, it was different to “a personal, unanalyzable creative power” as suggested by my dictionary friend. Hmmm. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? When we revisit our five wishes we now begin to see them as follows – we want this power funded, we want it sustained in our schools and education (after the word educare, to lead out), we want everyone to possess this power or have access to it and we believe that two of our strongest emotions — love and hope, are its wellsprings. Over the next few months, we will be working some more with this vision of art in this blog and speaking to some fine scholars of visual literacy and active agents in making this power of art available to all, especially encouraging it in our younger generations. We will also explore ways to recover this power in our everyday lives with those big/little/old/young people we love and we will see what kind of thinking, minds and characters emerge as a result.

We look forward to your company on this journey!

With thanks to Denis Collettejbrownell for, well you know, art…..

Let’s start 2009 with Art!

How Artists See

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Colleen Carroll knows the value of visual literacy. The mother of three girls and an educator found herself creating the art book that didn’t exist. Actually a series of them.

How Artists See, a popular 12-volume series of art books, was written and designed to teach children about art. But not at all like the boring dusty volumes filled with dates and facts.  Each of these simple books take children through a familiar subject, animals, heroes, feelings, weather, etc. Young readers are encouraged to come up with their own ideas and responses, prompted by everything from cave paintings to contemporary art. The open-ended questions in the book stress individuality, and encourage one’s own. Children relate to various artists, empathize with their feelings, culture, tools, times.  Through this lens, they see how the work came to be.

Carroll, who started college as a photography major, soon went on to Art History.  She eventually taught sixth-graders in Southern California, and found no visual arts instruction (or music, dance, and drama). That led her to develop an art appreciation curriculum that dovetailed with the world cultures social studies curriculum. The kids loved it.

 But how did all this start?

“One of my earliest memories of art is looking through a monograph on the Italian master, Leonardo da Vinci. The book was a tome: it was absolutely huge and must have weighed 20 pounds. Every so often my father would hoist it off the shelf and let me flip through the pages. While I was too young to read the text, the plates captivated and mesmerized me. The power of the artwork spoke to me and touched my spirit. Even though I didn’t know who made the beautiful pictures, somewhere deep down I knew I was communicating with a genius.”

By creating the series Carroll makes Da Vinci, and other geniuses accessible to the young. As an art educator, Carroll knows firsthand, the importance of the arts.

“Great art is a powerful visual tool that stretches across many barriers: language, class, race, and literacy, to name a few particularly wide ones. Exposing young children to art sparks the imagination, and when shared with a parent, teacher, caregiver or even a peer, promotes dialogue, vocabulary growth, and critical thinking. Introducing young children to art from a broad range of cultures and time periods builds background knowledge and teaches them that there is a bigger world beyond the one that they know. Interacting with art can help young children grasp abstract concepts, such as hope, justice, and courage. In an increasingly visual world, early experiences with looking and talking about art build visual literacy and analytical skills: skills that are becoming more and more important to possess.”

 Sharing art with children is so simple, yet rich. Carroll lives her life like she teaches it.

“When I was completing the research for my new book series, How Artists See, Jr., the time had come to choose the final images for the volume which looks at dogs in art. I had already done the first cut, but was having difficulty selecting from the fifty or so images left on my list. My kindergarten daughter happened to be home from school with a tummy ache, so I asked her to help me. Spreading the prints out on the living room floor I said, ‘Honey, come on down here and pick out your favorite pictures.’ Within minutes she had the prints in a neat stack, her favorites at the top and least favorites at the bottom. Without prompting, she began to tell me why she liked some dogs better than others, and what certain ones looked like to her (critical thinking and evaluation, expressive language). I share this anecdote to illustrate how fun, educational, and easy it is to share art with young children. Their innate curiosity and imagination, paired with rich imagery is, indeed, a potent learning tonic.”

Lucky girls, Carroll’s three.

 “That Leonardo book? It’s now on my bookshelf within arm’s reach of my own children.”

Maybe this holiday is a good time to gift your own family with a special art book. Visit the art section of a local bookstore and let your children explore. See what they find interesting. You might just be surprised.

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