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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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Part I: Developing Visual Literacy Skills


PART I Developing Visual Literacy Skills Learning to become visually literate begins with an understanding of the basic elements used in visual statements . The syntax of visual communication is the arrangement of these basic elements into a composition . Arthur Asa Berger (1995) said that every visual element “conveys a great deal of information and gives a sense of the importance of what we are seeing relative to other images and events in the text” (p . 81) . The term media text refers to television, film, photographs, images, com- puter screens, and also printed texts . This chapter explores how the basic elements used in visual com- munication interact with one another to create visual effects that convey different ideas or feelings, such as harmony or tension, happy or sad, arousing or calming . Designers arrange and combine elements together to build visual hierarchies that draw attention to particular elements in the composition, and the relationship among these elements conveys meaning to the viewer . Basic Elements In visual communication, there are basic elements that construct a composition and follow rules of visual syntax . Visual syntax is the orderly arrangement of visual elements that makes up a composition and expresses an idea or evokes a feeling . All visual communication includes the basic elements of dot, line, shape, direction, volume, scale, and movement . According to Donis A . Dondis (1973), “The visual elements are manipulated with shifting emphasis by the techniques of visual communication in direct response to the character of what is being designed and the...

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