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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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Chapter 3: Perspective, Vision, and Culture


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Perspective, Vision, and Culture

As described in the previous chapter, basic shapes can help to make meaning out of a visual message. Shapes can create meanings on both intellectual and emotional levels. Using a symbol dictionary, shapes and images are similar to words that have denotative meanings. In contrast, just looking at a shape can evoke emotional feelings. Perspective also works with emotions and logic. On a logical level, perspective is read as three-dimensional space. People need to learn how to read the lines in the image. Unlike the ways in which we formally learn reading words, people learn to read perspective informally through our culture. For instance, parents often point to images in pictures and say the name of the object for their children. In addition to culturally learned aspects of understanding visual messages, our physical perception of visual images also influences the way in which we see and perceive visual messages. The structure of the eye shapes our understanding of visuals along with our cognitive processing.

Graphic images can be cognitively understood by reducing them down to basic shapes. Basic shapes are the building blocks of composition, and they can also be arranged into schemata to convey information to the viewer. A schema is the organization of information and the rules that govern its use. “Schemata represent the structure of an object, scene or idea” (Solso, 1994, p. 116). For example, a variety of “how to” drawing...

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