What do we mean when we say 'visual literacy'?

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Taught by Sam Holleran

Sam Holleran is an urbanist, interdisciplinary artist, writer, and design educator. He works at the intersection of art, urban design, and civic engagement. He has researched design labs, flag culture, 19th century political cartoons, and medieval marginalia. 

Sam works as a Design Educator at the Center for Architecture and the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and previously worked at the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP). In 2015, he was the Participatory Design Fellow with the Design Trust for Public Space, working with the Queens Museum of Art and the NYC Parks Department to engage communities surrounding the Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

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'Visual literacy' is a catch-all term that's used a lot in arts education and the humanities, but what is it really? This presentation traces the history of “visual literacy” campaigns and their application in a wide variety of programs within design education and the social sciences. 

The presentation will chart several major campaigns from the U.S.—sponsored by libraries, major universities, and NGOs —that sought to define and improve visual literacy. These public interest initiatives shifted the notion of “literacy” from the mass literacy campaigns of the 1960s, to the arena of the visual in the 1970s. In the push for the public to become savvy “knowers” of images, we see a change in the way graphic media is created and visual space is perceived.

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