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An Introduction to Visual Communication

From Cave Art to Second Life (2nd edition)

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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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Introduction

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

Besides technological change, theories relating to the nature of symbolism, such as Suzanne K. Langer’s Philosophy in a New Key (1957) and Nelson Goodman’s Languages of Art (1968), combined with the cognitive theories of Jean Piaget (1971) and Jerome Bruner (1966), have fostered new ways of thinking about how visual images are used in cognitive development. Of particular importance is the work being done at Harvard’s Project Zero, founded by Nelson Goodman and later directed by Howard Gardner. Gardner’s research on cognitive approaches to creativity has provided an important insight into how the mind works, and his theories challenge the notion that language and logical symbol systems take priority over other types of expressive and communicative ones. For instance, Gardner’s (1983) notion of “multiple intelligences” does not privilege one mode of communication over another. By moving abilities such as spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences out of the domain of artistic talent and into the realm of cognitive experience, an argument can be made for the development of instructional techniques that enhance visual thinking.

A further argument for the study of visual communication can be...

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