Visual Literacy coverWhat counts as visual competence? What is a visual education?

Visual literacy has no limits. It is not just the understanding of canonical fine art, or the business of advertising, but also the entire visual world. This is a sample of Trinitite, a unique mineral formed by the atomic text explosions at the Trinity site in New Mexico. It is fused greenish desert sand.

Science had to be specially invited into this book, because all the contributors to the original conference came from the humanities. In fact almost all the theorizing on the unity or coherence of the university is done in the humanities. This book has one essay by people who study the sciences.

Visual Literacy

(New York: Routledge, 2008)

Visual Literacy is intended to survey the meanings of the expression, and related notions such as visual competence. Some contributors are interested in the theory of literacy when it pertains to the visual; others in its rhetoric; and others in its implementation at college and secondary school level. The book is intended to serve as a resource for conversations about what comprises minimal or desirable visual ability, competence, or literacy in a university or secondary-school setting.

This book is an edited volume, with contributions by Barbara Stafford, W.J.T. Mitchell, Jon Simons, Jonathan Crary, and others. It was the product of a combined conference and exhibition of the same name, which has generated two other books: Visual Practices Across the University and Visual Cultures.


The text that is uploaded here is the Introduction, the only part of the book I wrote.

Another example of an unusual kind of visual literacy, or competence. What is this? Everyone will be able to identify it as a potsherd, but only a few people will be able to guess at its provenance. It is an Iroquois potsherd, collected in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York, in an old Iroquois garbage dump.
Scroll down for some examples of the terms of the languages of literacy.

The verb “to see” in a Chinese-English dictionary. Note the three distinct forms of the verb.

The verb “to see”  in a German-Latin dictionary. The dictionary begins with ten Latin synonyms.