Visual Art and Literacy

Can the study of visual art help a learner improve their literacy? Literacy means more than the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute using written text. It also enables people to “develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society” (UNESCO 2004; 2017). Visual art is an important, if underrepresented, part of our society. Understanding and communicating with visual art, or visual literacy, is a valuable skill in an increasingly visual world. In essence, we can learn to “read art”. Discovering, observing and questioning works of art can be incorporated into a literacy curriculum to improve literacy, give greater access to cultural works and make cross-curricular connections.

“Students who analyze painting, sculpture, photography, or architecture have greater opportunities to hone their observation, writing, speaking, and listening skills—all without the hurdle of decoding written text.” – Rachel Zindler

English language learners may benefit from analyzing artwork and discussing more complex ideas through the visual language of art. A close examination of art even reflects the early stages of close reading. Examining composition, technique, or inferring meaning from a painting is similar to analyzing text.

Including visual art in literacy instruction is not only beneficial for children. Encouraging lifelong learning that includes the arts benefits adult learners as well. Learning about visual art helps to inspire imagination and develop new perspectives. Analyzing a photograph could help develop critical thinking and aesthetic judgement.

Visual art analysis not only helps build some of the same skills required for literacy, but also opens the door for people of all ages to engage with and appreciate art in our community. Visual art, and other forms of artistic expression, can have a meaningful place in literacy learning.

Feeling inspired? Below are some resources to help you incorporate art into your literacy instruction.

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