The Chinese proverb about pictures being worth a thousand words is truer today than ever. Control dials are being replaced by screens with icons on automobile dashboards; the printed page, by video. As Fortune Magazine put it recently, pictures are doing most of the talking these days.
What is the impact of all these images on the way we learn and live? Do we really see what’s going on? Do we know how to read, write and comprehend visual language?
Such questions will be examined during a conference Nov. 5-8 presented by the Toledo Museum of Art and the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA).
Speakers from fields as varied as medicine and pottery-making will examine the latest research on applied visual learning and communication during the four-day event which explores the theme The Art of Seeing: From Ordinary to Extraordinary.
IVLA, formed in 1969 to provide a forum for the exchange of information related to visual literacy, is an association of researchers, educators, designers, media specialists and artists. While definitions vary, in popular terms visual literacy is the ability to read and comprehend visual language. When we are visually literate we can read and use images as well as think and learn with images.
According to Toledo Museum of Art Director Dr. Brian Kennedy, the importance of visual literacy skills extends far beyond classrooms and museums. He contends it is important for people in every field: doctors and nurses; reporters and police officers; plumbers, geographers, bus drivers and cooks.
“We need to teach people how to see; how to slow down, take their time and pay attention. Understanding what we see could save a life, solve a criminal case or help prepare for a natural disaster,” Kennedy said. Or, he added, “Simply improve our personal relationships by making us better communicators.”
The Toledo Museum of Art is a fitting location for the international conference because of its emphasis on visual literacy, which is reflected as a key component of the organization’s strategic plan and incorporated in everything from class offerings and docent training to exhibition planning and public program design. The Museum has a website dedicated to visual literacy, vislit.org.
“Looking at works of art is one way to strengthen visual literacy skills. That’s because artists are adept at visual language and visual storytelling, making their works rich sources of layered visual meaning,” Kennedy said.
Keynote speakers at the November conference range from a noted plastic surgeon who reconstructs faces that have suffered traumatic injury to artists whose knowledge of historical visual symbolism influences their work today. The speakers include:
Dr. David Howes, Ph.D., director of Concordia Sensoria Research Team (CONSERT) at Concordia University in Montreal, whose research focuses on how senses are formed by culture and what the world is like for societies that emphasize touch or hearing rather than sight;
Magdalene Odundo, a celebrated Kenyan-born British studio potter and expert on the history of pottery and its meaning to societies through the ages;
Joseph M. Rosen, M.D., a professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Dartmouth College who treats those with multiple devastating injuries;
Philip Yenawine, author of Visual Thinking Strategies (2013), former director of education of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and now director of Visual Understanding in Education, a research entity that develops programs for schools using art to teach critical thinking and communication skills;
Lynell Burmark, Ph.D., an authority on visual literacy and experienced K-12 educator, is co-founder of VisionShift International, an associate in the Thornburg Center for Professional Development and an author whose books include Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn;
Stephen Apkon, founder and former executive director of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, and author of the book The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in the World of Screens; and
Aminah Robinson, a Columbus, Ohio, artist who creates multi-textured works of sculpture, books, rag paintings, paintings on cloth and books. Her art is grounded in the African concept of Sankofa, learning from the past in order to move forward.
For more information about the conference and registration to attend, visit vislit.org/welcome.