It has been stated that “images are the universal language”. They break down barriers and allow people to communicate that usually wouldn’t be able to. Whether it be due to a language barrier, a hearing impairment, or other factors. Images play a crucial part in our society whether it be through fine art, advertisements, or social media. Essentially, images are visual stories or representations that allow people to non-verbally communicate. Sounds pretty great, right? And it is, but of course there has to be a negative side to it. The power images hold is often abused due to our idolization of images, the ability to provoke and manipulate the viewer’s emotions, and the accessibility to easily alter photos. This is often seen in advertisements and the media. This is where the importance of teaching visual literacy comes into play.
By teaching a child to analyze and question every image they encounter, you are providing them with the power and the necessary tools to fight back against those who abuse the power of images. I recently read an article that talks about ways in which advertisers and marketers aim to specifically manipulate children. “Children today may be more media savvy and cynical about advertisements but marketers are becoming more adept at hiding their intent. The boundaries between advertising and educational or entertainment content are disappearing.”(Beder, 2017). Advertisers and marketers are targeting children when they are feeling the most vulnerable. In the article, it mentions how in 2017 a confidential internal Facebook document was found that revealed how Facebook was using complex algorithms to identify when teenagers were most susceptible. This was due to feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, anxious, etc. They were able to do this by monitoring the teenagers Facebook activity. As a future educator and parent this terrifies me. This is why it is so important to teach children how to be visually literate, to always analyze and think deeper about what they are looking at.
Now my question is, why isn’t visual literacy being taught throughout our educational system? I believe it plays an essential role in all aspects of education. It helps promote critical and divergent thinking, it expands vocabulary, and teaches students how to put meaning and thought behind their work. There is one place where visual literacy is commonly taught and that is in the art classroom. Art educators teach students how to read, analyze, and form an understanding of works of art. This is done by observing and analyzing visually (line, color, shape, form,etc), as well as, being able to form a concept of what the artist is trying to portray/why the artist created this specific work of art. Students are taught to examine their work as well, to find the purpose behind what they are personally making. Whether it be therapeutic, they really enjoy the texture and color of something, or they are making it as a gift. It engages them to think deeper into the meaning behind their art. What our educational system needs to realize is, this mindset doesn’t only have to pertain to art. We can use this framework for anything we read, see, hear, or write. It gives students a new perspective on how to see and understand the things they encounter, it teaches them to always ask why.
Beder, S. (2017). Business-Managed Democracy. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from http://www.herinst.org/BusinessManagedDemocracy/culture/consumerism/research.html