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Fine Art as Global Perspective: The Art of Visual Literacy

Ruth Meredith,
Core: Fine Arts

Our media based society is saturated with visual images. Art is used to sell ideas, objects and ways of life. We can be exploited by the persuasive expressiveness of visual language. The power of art to shape our imaginations means that visual literacy should be treated as a critical thinking skill that is as important as reading and writing.

There is a vast difference between someone who is visually literate and someone who simply knows what they like, but too often, this goes unnoticed. Sure, each viewer is entitled to their own interpretation of a work. After all, the meaning of a work of art is grounded in the viewer's experiences making it inherently subjective and personal. But that does not make it arbitrary. Even though there is no right answer, there are plenty of wrong answers and this means that uncritical viewers can be led by the nose.

In this course, we will be learning to interpret the meaning of works of art from different cultures and times (including our own) using the process of visual analysis. Visual analysis is a skill and, like all skills, requires practice. This project based course will allow for this practice and help you develop the kind of critical thinking relevant to the images that bombard us day in and day out.

Ruth Meredith Visual Literacy Workbook (Primary text) Available through course website
Michael Baxandall Patterns of Intention (PDF)
Mihalyi Csiksentymihalyi Why we need Things (PDF)
Roland Barthes The Photographic Message (PDF)
John Dewey Art as Experience excerpt chapter 2 (PDF)

This course will be web enhanced because I have included a lot of material from the Internet including a Virtual Art Gallery related to each week’s topic. Links to all texts, video lectures and works in the art gallery will be available through learning module for the week. Assignment details and links will also be posted in the Learning Module for the Week.

Regular attendance and participation
This course is project based. Because it engages your right brain, learning-by-doing is a very important part of the course. That is why the primary text for the class is a workbook rather than a text book.
The learning projects were designed for people who have NO art experience so I do not grade them as creative ‘art’ projects. I provide detailed ‘user friendly’ instructions for all learning projects. The main assignments are listed below.
• Learning Project essays are ‘hands on’ exercises designed to help you experience right brain thinking. Most of the 5 exercises will be done in class. Each learning project includes a short reflective essay describing your experience in doing the project. I provide extensive comments on these assignments which can be resubmitted for full credit if you didn’t get full credit on your first try.
• Learning Project Blogs provide practice in engaging with different ways of looking at art. Comments from other students in the class will provide feedback on your posts. Over the course of the semester you will complete 10 of these ‘minds on’ exercises.
• The ‘Virtual Exhibit’ research project is a variation on a standard research paper. The most important difference between that familiar kind of assignment and the Virtual Exhibit is the presentation format. You will be using PP to create a virtual exhibit space including images of works of art, information labels and a short catalog essay.

Ruth was trained as a painter-printmaker as well as a philosopher and art historian. Her dissertation in Art History was a combination of philosophy, art history and visual art and dealt with the question of how we make meaning. She wrote The Visual Literacy Workbook the class will be using in this course based on her dissertation work. She argues that making and interpreting are two sides of the same process. Ruth does mixed media work in a postmodern style she calls ‘Dada Kitsch.’ She is very interested in the contemporary art forms of animation and graphic novels.