Why visual literacy is important

Bailey Freestone

Visual literacy is the ability to look at the world around you and analyze what is being seen to give it a deeper meaning. While students look at their surroundings, they rarely take it in and understand the true meaning behind what they are seeing.

“Most people spend about six seconds looking at a piece of art before they move on,” said Nancy Girard, the University Museums’ educator of visual literacy and learning. “A statistic says that a goldfish has an attention span of seven seconds. I thought that was interesting that a goldfish sometimes gives something more attention than we do.”

Visual literacy doesn’t seem like it’s something that can be taught, and is sometimes easier said than done. Iowa State University Museum’s staff tries to integrate visual literacy into the university’s curriculum. Girard is the head of this program and occasionally gives tours, leads events and is a guest lecturer on campus to help educate the Ames community on becoming visually literate.

Not only does being visually literate help make sense of the world around us, but it also helps teach critical thinking. Girard said, according to a statistic, 90 percent of college faculty think critical thinking is the most important skill for a student to learn, but less than 50 percent of those faculty members will teach critical thinking skills in their classes. Girard hopes to help teach these skills by sharing her combined knowledge of art and visual literacy.

“It’s not just about art, it’s really about communication, it’s about having conversations, it’s about discovery and that critical thinking component,” said Girard. “But we just help teach it through art.”

The University Museum’s visual learning and literacy program is designed to teach people that if they have the right skills and enough patience, they are capable of seeing the world from a different perspective. The museum’s staff believes that if enough time is spent looking at a piece of artwork, one can really learn and appreciate the art in ways not thought of before.

Becoming visually literate requires much practice. Girard recommends that everyone take a second to put down their cell phones while walking on campus to look around, and possibly notice all the little things not normally noticed while walking blindly from building to building.