Visual Literacy

Why is it that when you’re flipping through the pages of a magazine, walking through an art gallery, or browsing on the Internet, some images capture your attention more than others? Why are you drawn to particular photographs, advertisements, political cartoons, or protest posters?

You might think that an image you’re drawn to just “works.” But if pressed for more particulars, you might answer that your eye is drawn to a specific element in a photograph, that the images and text in an advertisement speak to each other in interesting ways, or that a protest image conveys a sense of motion and mood. What may be less obvious, however, is that your reading of an image or visual message is greatly influenced by the artist’s or designer’s compositional choices.

It’s important to consider, then, how certain compositional choices enable an artist to effectively reach his or her target audience. The unifying elements of an image include balance, perspective, proportion, emphasis, color, texture, motion, tone, shape, visual weight, and typography. Visual analysis asks us to consider both the architecture of a visual message (i.e., its ethos, logos, and pathos appeals), as well as the effectiveness of the artist’s compositional choices.