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Art & Architectural History

Guide to resources in art and architectural history.

Visual Literacy-An Introduction


"Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media."

ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

Much like reading comprehension, critical thinking, evaluating information and resources, and other forms of information literacy, visual literacy embodies a set of core concepts that allow you to analyze the content and context of an image and use an image effectively. 

It’s important to evaluate images in order to avoid assumptions about what an image means.  A photograph doesn’t necessarily communicate the validity of what is captured more than a painting would. Artists intentionally leave information out or manipulate the world around them in the process of creation.

Further Reading:
Visual Literacy Toolbox, developed by University of Maryland College Park



Henri Matisse, French, 1869-1954 , Dance (I), oil on canvas, 8' 6 1/2" x 12' 9 ½," Museum of Modern Art   

Recognize and identify the elements of an image, the techniques, the audience, and the context (social, cultural, historical, and geographical) in which an image was made. Understand how a reproduction or manipulation of an original work alters its meaning and intent. 



A. Hoen & Co., Buffalo Bill: A Prairie Pic-Nic, n.d., ink on paper, 1/2 sheet H; 21 x 29 1/2 inches, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art: Circus Collection, accessed via ARTstor


From: via Wikimedia Commons. "A 1628 woodcut by Matthaeus Merian published along with Theodore de Bry's earlier engravings in 1628 book on the New World. The engraving shows the March 22, 1622 massacre when Powhatan Indians attacked Jamestown and outlying Virginia settlements. Merian relied on de Bry's earlier depictions of the Indians, but the image is largely considered conjecture."

Interpret the meanings of images. Read accompanying text or metadata if any is provided.  Analyze other like images to inform an interpretation. 


ARTstor OIV (Offline Image Viewer)

Use images effectively in presentations and papers, and understand how to cite visual material.