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An Introduction to Visual Communication

From Cave Art to Second Life (2nd edition)


Susan B. Barnes

Technological changes have radically altered the ways in which people use visual images. Since the invention of photography, imagery has increasingly been used for entertainment, journalism, information, medical diagnostics, instruction, branding and communication. These functions move the image beyond aesthetic issues associated with art and into the realm of communication studies.

This introductory textbook introduces students to the terminology of visual literacy, methods for analyzing visual media, and theories on the relationship between visual communication and culture. Exploring the meanings associated with visual symbols and the relationship of visual communication to culture, this book provides students with a better understanding of the visually oriented world in which they live. From cave art to virtual reality, all visual media are discussed with methods for evaluation. Student-friendly features such as boxed topics, key terms, web resources, and suggestions for exercises are provided throughout.


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x people and places . Although this notion may seem strange, consider how many people who live alone watch television while they eat . Or, think about the ways in which people talk about their computers . Similarly, Joshua Meyrowitz’s (1985) research on television and space, Gumpert and Cathcart’s (1986) seminal book Intermedia, and current theories relating to the Internet presented in Strate, Jacobson, and Gibson’s (1996) Communication and Cyberspace described the blurring boundaries between physi- cal space and mediated cyberspace . Of growing importance in the contemporary media landscape is visual communication . Contemporary culture is dominated by visual imagery, especially images created, distributed, and con- sumed through digital technologies . This has led many scholars to argue that contemporary culture is a visual one . Nicholas Mirzoeff (1998) defines visual culture as a concern with visual events in which individuals seek information and meaning through interaction with a visual technology, including magazines, television, computer screens, and virtual reality . In contrast to this trend, Western culture has tended to privilege the spoken and written word as the highest form of intellectual practice . Visual representations have tended to be viewed as talents rather than forms of intelligence . But, the wide- spread usage of visual imagery is currently challenging the hegemony of the word . As a result, the study of visual forms of communication is more important than ever . Scholars have recognized the changing role of visual imagery in culture . For example, E . H . Gombrich (1999) asserted that there is an overriding demand for images in Western culture...

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