Visual Literacy



Visual Literacy
Terry Thompson
Ringling College
of Art and Design
Lakewood Ranch
High School
Visual Literacy
Reading a Painting
* What elements of Art did the artist use (line,
* What kinds of things do you see in
shape, space, form, texture, color)?
the work?
* What principles of design are used (rhythm,
movement, balance, proportion, variety,
* How would you describe them?
emphasis, and unity)?
* What information can you get from
* Where does this piece fit in the context of art
the credit line?
* What do you think this piece is about?
* Does the title fit?
* Pretend you can climb inside. How does the
painting feel?
* Would you agree with the choice of medium and
* Does the date make a difference?
* Why do you think other people
should see this work?
* What would you do with it if you
owned it?
* What is worth remembering about
this picture?
Writing an Art Critique - the Feldman Method
Adapted from Edmund Feldman’s Aesthetic Criticism (as set out in Varieties of
Visual Experience,1972).
• Description:
• List everything you
see. Be objective, do
not make guesses, and
don’t let your feelings
about the work
influence you during
this step.
• Notice fine details as
they are the visual
clues the artist gives
you to understand the
meaning of the
Michael Cheval
• Analysis: Look at how the elements of Art were used by the
artist (line, shape, space, form, texture, color). What principles
of design were used (rhythm, movement, balance, proportion,
variety, emphasis, and unity)?
Writers use
word choice
Artists use
elements &
The Maids
of Honor
• Interpretation:
What do you
think this piece
is about?
Does the title
Pretend you
can climb
inside. How
does the book
Would you
agree with the
choice of title
and writers
difference does
the date make?
by John Everett Millais
~Why do you
think other
people should
see this work?
~What would
you do if you
owned this
~What is worth
about this
• Judgement:
Vladimir Kush
Now let us practice
The Arnolfini Portrait
1434, Jan van Eyck
Type Oil on oak panel of 3 vertical boards
Dimensions 82.2 cm ₒ 60 cm (32.4 in ₒ 23.6 in);
panel 84.5 cm ₒ 62.5 cm (33.3 in ₒ 24.6 in)
Location National Gallery, London
Teacher notes
• Analysis: Northern Renaissance. What is going on
in the Flemish city of Bruges at this time and in
northern Europe? What elements of art you you
notice, and principles used? Dig into the imagery
and history.
• Interpretation: Make Meaning; The patron or
Arnolfini had a purpose in commissioning the piece.
He wanted to say something, what. The artist also
had a mission or message he wanted to convey.
• Research:
Change it up!
Draw the story
as I read it to you.
Our story begins in Paris in the year 1816. The French monarchy had been
restored to the throne by the English who had, a year earlier, famously sent
Napoleon's into exile after Waterloo. In a show of support for the newly
reinstated king, the Brits offered the French the port of St. Louis, in Senegal
on the African west coast. St. Louis was a vital trading base, and a fine place
to stop if you happened to be on your way around the Cape of Good Hope. To
take possession of the port, the new government prepared a fleet of ships to
transport the French Governor and his soldiers, and a few other gentry to the
seaside village. They also appointed Frigate-Captain Hugues Duroy de
Chaumereys to lead the little armada to its destination. In spite of his
impressive name, de Chaumereys was an inappropriate, that is to say, dismal
choice for the job. He was fifty-three, and hadn't been to sea for twenty-five
years. Even then, he'd never commanded a ship, let alone a fleet.
Schmaltz wanted to reach St. Louis as fast as possible, by the most direct
route. Unfortunately, this would take the fleet dangerously close to the
shoreline. There were sandbars, reefs and a whole gamut of tricky
navigational problems the entire length of the African coast including the
notorious Arguin bank.
Our story continues:
Eventually, everyone was forced to abandon ship. The wealthy and well connected were
given space on the lifeboats while the rest, 149 people, were forced onto a makeshift
raft which was tied by a rope to one of the lifeboats. At some point, the raft was either
intentionally or accidentally cut loose. What followed was a two week nightmare of
stormy seas, brutal murders, insanity and cannibalism. Just fifteen men survived the
ordeal, and five of them died shortly after their rescue.
The tragedy became a major news event and scandal of its day. De Chaumereys was
court-martialed, then acquitted because the French feared ridicule from the British for
putting de Chaumereys in charge in the first place.
Two years later, the artist Théodore Géricault revealed his massive (16’x23’) painting, Raft
of the “Medusa” (see Louvre site for details and a larger image). Géricault had
thoroughly researched the subject by reading a pamphlet written by two of the
survivors; he went to hospitals and morgues to study the dying and the dead (and
even severed body parts which he let decay in his studio) and he set a raft out on the
sea to see how it rode the waves. He also worked from live models and interestingly,
the artist Eugène Delacroix was one of them. He is the corpse lying face down, arms
outstretched, in the center of the composition.
Please do a quick sketch of your images you imagined as this tragic story was conveyed
to you.
Compare your drawing to this
Romanticism 1800-1880
Romanticism was basically a reaction against
Neoclassicism, it is a deeply-felt style which is
individualistic, beautiful, exotic, and
emotionally wrought.
Although Romanticism and Neoclassicism
were philosophically opposed, they were the
dominant European styles for generations,
and many artists were affected to a greater or
lesser degree by both. Artists might work in
both styles at different times or even mix the
styles, creating an intellectually Romantic
work using a Neoclassical visual style, for
Great artists closely associated with
Romanticism include J.M.W. Turner, Caspar
David Friedrich, John Constable, and William
In the United States, the leading Romantic
movement was the Hudson River School of
dramatic landscape painting.
Obvious successors of Romanticism include
the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the
Symbolists. But Impressionism, and through
it almost all of 20th century art, is also firmly
rooted in the Romantic tradition.
Teacher Notes
Romanticism originated in the latter part of the 18th Century and
was the dominant cultural movement in European painting, music
and literature throughout most of the 19th Century. It permitted the
evocation of strong emotion, including trepidation, awe, and horror,
as legitimate aesthetic experiences. Romanticism emphasized
imagination and feeling. Rather than relying exclusively upon
sensory experience, the Romantics believed that important
elements of knowledge could be gained through intuition.
Individual human imagination was recognized as a critical authority
which permitted freedom from many classical notions of form in art,
and allowed the overturn of many previously held social
conventions. The movement contained a strong element of
historical and natural inevitability in the representation of its ideas.
Romanticism stressed "awe of nature" in both art and language.
•  Setting
•  Characters
•  Plot
Language for your lesson
Critical Thinking Across Disciplines
From The Florida Standards for
Language Arts
From Scientific Thinking for
Students and Faculty, The
Foundation for Critical Thinking
From Edmund Feldman’s Varieties
of Visual Experience
Recognize and
understand key ideas
and details
Analyze the meanings
of individual phrases
and the overall
structure of a text
Make logical
inferences and
determine central
Evaluate the argument
and compare to others
Gather and organize
relevant data
Use abstract ideas to
interpret data and
come to conclusions
Test conclusions
against established
criteria and assess
their implications
list some
words that
trigger a
Let’s all google
“words that paint
pictures” see how many
interesting & descriptive,
words you can find.