Why Visual Literacy Matters

We’re living in an increasingly digitalised world of images. It is a fact. Constructed images  dominate the screens we use daily for communication, work, education and entertainment, often taking place of the written word rather than serving as an illustration to the text. Gallery spaces have been redefined by social media which have introduced us to a carnival of imagery, shaping and often distorting our view of reality, influencing our tastes, values and consumer choices.

The social media statistics are staggering. Each day, over a billion hours of video are watched on YouTube, 400 million pictures are uploaded and 8 billion viewed on Facebook, 95 million images are uploaded on Instagram, with 10 billion views on Snapchat. All in one day. With this constantly growing amount of uploaded and consumed visual messages, the time available to “digest” them gets drastically shortened, which makes reflection and analysis of the viewed material very limited. The mere fact that an image is presented becomes more important than active and conscious engagement with it, reducing what could otherwise be a more thought-through response or discussion to the bare evaluative “like”, or the lack of it. Also, it inevitably affects our attention span, ability to read longer texts and think critically.

We are no longer merely recipients of visual material but also active contributors to the shared pool of visual communication that, given the extent of Internet use, is exchanged without geographic constraints and with little theoretical insight into how the visual language actually operates. Like any other language, it has its vocabulary, grammar, syntax and cultural context and is the most universally used language, functioning beyond cultural, geographical, linguistic or any other differences. The better we know the language, the more fluent and competent we become at understanding visual communication and expressing ourselves through visual means. Understanding this is crucial in making us informed viewers and conscious consumers of (often manipulative) images. It also makes us more responsible and sensitive contributors to this global exchange of visual messages.

Using visual materials has invaluable potential in educational settings. As our brains process images quicker than words (we retain about 10-20% of verbal information compared to about 65% of visual information), using visuals in educational settings can improve learning by supporting long-term memory and make learning more accessible and engaging for children by stimulating their imagination and helping them express more complex thoughts and emotions. It can be very helpful in areas where verbal communication is insufficient or difficult, eg. in learning a second language, communicating more abstract ideas or helping those with restricted verbal skills to communicate what they are not otherwise able to express with words. This, in turn, greatly supports engagement, collaboration and communication for those at risk of exclusion due to their limited abilities or opportunities to have their say through verbal means.

Moreover, engaging with various forms of artistic visual expression can be a source of significant emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience which can help us recognise important aspects of ourselves. Visual literacy not only makes informed viewers, but also engaged viewers, bringing more enjoyment, creativity and inspiration into the process while building solid skills needed for effective communication and self-expression.

Keeping in mind that there is a human individual or group behind and in front of every visual message, we aim to build a platform for raising awareness and encouraging discussion on visual communication among people from all ethnic, age, educational and cultural backgrounds. We encourage those who can share their expertise in this field or otherwise support our work to join us in our mission to provide solid tools necessary for facilitating visual literacy to everyone who can benefit from it. 

If you would like to contribute to or benefit from visual education, be it in the form of educational materials, workshops, panel discussions, creative projects, social events, publishing ideas or any other forms of visual literacy activity, please do get in touch with us to see how we could best work together to support your need or idea.