Though being a rather recent addition to the analysis of communication processes, visual literacy is gaining increasingly large significance. Defining it, however, may become somewhat tricky. Brian Kennedy defines visual literacy as “ability to construct meaning from images” (Kennedy, 2015). In other words, visual literacy is the ability to recognize the information that images contain.
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Kennedy’s definition, therefore, begs the question whether visual literacy depends on the cultural factor; particularly, one may wonder whether the levels of visual literacy can be compared when considering people belonging to different cultures.
Therefore, the same image may carry different meanings and a different number of meanings depending on the culture that it is interpreted in. Therefore, Kennedy’s definition begs the question whether the visual literacy of people belonging to a specific culture may be viewed as low due to the low number of ideas or concepts that they relate to a particular image.
The definition of visual literacy provided in the book, in its turn, can be viewed as less restricting in terms of the perception of images by the representatives of different cultures. According to Ryan (2012), visual literacy is the tool that “allows individuals to communicate with others about what they’ve seen and sensed and to feel a sense of understanding and perhaps even appreciation for it” (Ryan, 2012, p. 1.2).
The specified definition, however, also has its problems; being far broader than the one suggested by Kennedy, it may fail to encompass the concept of an individual interpretation of the information conveyed, which Kennedy’s definition offers.
The significance of visual literacy as a universal language, therefore, can hardly be overrated. Visual literacy is an essential communication tool, which helps get an essential and a rather long message across within a relatively short amount of time.
Moreover, when considering the images that are considered universal and, therefore, have a fixed meaning, visual literacy may be viewed as a tool for international communication and a method of removing language barriers. Instead of translating the information from one language to another, the use of visual literacy allows adopting a universal approach to data sharing, therefore, making sure that the information transferred to the participants of the communication process is not going to be distorted.
The use of visual literacy may, therefore, affect the process of communication and global understanding to a considerable degree. By using the images that are interpreted in a similar way by a variety of cultures, one is likely to attain impressive success in global communication and avoid numerous misconceptions. The lack of visual literacy, in its turn, is likely to lead to the use of controversial imagery that may be viewed as questionable by one of the parties involved and, thus, trigger international conflicts.
Although the interpretation of visual literacy as a universal language may be viewed as reasonable, viewing visual literacy as the ability to perceive images through the lens of one’s culture is a more appropriate definition. The fact that visual literacy can be used as a communication tool stems from the above-mentioned property of visual literacy to view images, colors, etc. as the carriers of pieces of information; hence, Kennedy’s definition warrants more trust than the one suggested in the textbook.
Nevertheless, the property of visual literacy mentioned above can be deemed as crucial. An essential skill that predisposes the existence of a human being in the society and creates premises for successful communication, visual literacy needs to be developed so that the number of misunderstandings occurring in the course of intercultural conversations should be reduced to zero. Therefore, the definition of visual literacy is likely to become increasingly complex with the evolution of the humankind and the progress of the communication processes.
Kennedy, B. (2015). TEDxDartmouth – Brian Kennedy – Visual literacy: why we need it. Web.
Ryan, W. (2012). Visual literacy: Learning to see [Ashford University Library version]. Web.