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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. The meaning of a work of art is grounded in the viewer's experiences. It is inherently subjective and personal. But that does not make it arbitrary. Even though there is no right answer, there are plenty of wrong answers which means that uncritical viewers can be led by the nose. 

In this course, students will learn to do visual analysis to interpret the meaning of works of art from different cultures and times (including our own).  Visual analysis is a skill and, like all skills, requires practice. In the process, students will engage with art rather than just reading about it and have a chance to practice the critical thinking skills relevant to evaluating the images that bombard us day in and day out. 


READINGS AND TEXTS: Available online:

Meredith Visual Literacy Workbook (VLW) PDF—(Primary text)

Download the PDF to make it easier to use for the weekly reading assignments. 

Michael Baxandall Patterns of Intention (PDF)

Mihalyi Csiksentymihalyi Finding Flow chapter 2 (PDF)

Mihalyi Csiksentymihalyi Why we need Things (PDF)

John Dewey Art as Experience excerpt chapter 2 (PDF)

Meredith: Hermeneutic Bestiary


John Berger Ways of Seeing (part one)

Nigel Spivey How Art Made the World series

Austin Kleon Steal Like an Artist







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.


  • Weekly Reading and Viewing assignments related to topic for the week
  • Class exercises and critiques will provide the basis for class discussion
  • Weekly Blogs to practice writing about art with peer comments providing feedback
  • Weekly learning Projects: With a few exceptions, you will be working on leaning projects in class
  • Final Research Project:  Virtual Art Exhibit
  • Regular attendance is very important. If you aren’t in class, it makes it hard for you to makeup the work especially the learning projects. 


I am trained as a painter-printmaker as well as a philosopher and art historian. I have been an artist since 1980. I do mixed media work in a postmodern style I call DADA Kitsch. I am very interested in the contemporary art forms of animation and graphic novels which use visual language to tell stories.  In my Art History dissertation, I argued that making and interpreting are two sides of the same creative act.  I wrote the Visual Literacy Workbook which is the primary text for this class based on my dissertation. This year I received The UNM Golden Paw award for best practice course design for the 100-level online version of this course.