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Education and Visual Literacy

March 16, 200816 March 2008

Special Issue: Visual Arts Summit

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A number of participants indicated that more can be done to make Canadians – especially children – more visually literate. “Images are everywhere, but people aren’t necessarily visually literate.”

In the school system, there has been a move away from an integrated approach to arts education. Some participants felt that Canadian art history, taught by professional artists, should be part of the core curriculum. Others saw a need for specialized art teachers from kindergarten to grade 12. “Infect the children with art.”

Participants also expressed the need for more artists and more funding for studio space, school residencies and work with teachers. For students, hands-on experience can be very important. However, some practitioners have found resentment for artists in the school system.

One participant noted that the arts are not systematically evaluated in most provincial education systems. Numeracy, literacy and science are often tested and measured, but not art.

Visual literacy is seen as an active, complex process, but children can learn it over time. “Literacy, visual or other, has to do with finding interest in a work of art and honing one’s sensibilities. As visual literacy develops, it brings a sense of joy and connects to critical thinking about the work. Visual literacy brings dimension to everything visual, not only art.” One participant noted that university art galleries are doing “remedial work” to make up for the lack of arts education in schools.

Two participants engaged in an exchange regarding the visual literacy of audiences. The first participant indicated that: “Audiences know a lot. Viewers bring multiple points of view to bear on a work of art: the artist’s, the curator’s, and their own personal experiences as well. Personal experience cannot be underestimated.”

The second participant argued that, “to unlock personal experience, people need tools, and not only art historical tools. The role of the teacher in the understanding of art by children is crucial.”

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