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Using Images

Visual Literacy

The basic definition of visual literacy is the ability to read, write and create visual images. It is a concept that relates to art and design but it also has much wider applications. Visual literacy is about language, communication and interaction. Visual media is a linguistic tool with which we communicate, exchange ideas and navigate our complex world.

In developing Visual Literacy we can learn to select, just as we do with written sources, the very best digital images we can find to use in our research and presentations, We must choose images carefully so that what we wish to convey does not fall short. By being visually literate we have the power to learn, to teach and to persuade.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when selecting images for your project or as a part of your research, written by Sydney Kilgore.


  • First, what do you want to communicate with the images you choose?
  • How do you plan to use the images – for a class presentation, for a blog?  Who is your audience?
  • Where are you going to find these images? What are reliable image resources?  Images in JSTOR are vetted to some extent. Flickr can be good for photography, but accountability? Government resources such as NASA can have good images that are copyright-free.  Beware - Fake images exist.
  • If the image is not a born-digital image, does the digital image surrogate approximate the original work of art in color accuracy, detail, etc. Do you know the pixel size for good resolution?  For presentations, the size is around 700 x 1000. Where do you find the pixel size for Google or Wikipedia images? 
  • Is the associated metadata informative & accurate?
  • How do you properly cite an image?  (To cite is also to “think” about the image source, which in turn might cause the choice of a better image from a better source.) Make sure your own citing practices allow you and others to find the image again.
  • What about copyright/licensing for an image? Are there legal, ethical, economical, or social issues that come with using the image?  You are at the University now and protected with educational use.  Using images in a Blog is different from images for educational use.  If you can, ask permission to use images. Be familiar with Creative Commons licenses.
  • How are digital images changing the teaching of art? High resolution, 3D scanning, zooming, virtual reality, forensics (searching for previously hidden details leading to new hypotheses about art works)
  • What biases are reflected in our digital libraries? – Less non-Western art?  Less contemporary art?  Each image database has strengths, but also weaknesses.
  • Are copyright concerns driving the digital train? Less contemporary art? Mesoamerican art?
  • Databases are only tools.  You must ask the right questions to get at the information.
  • Visual literacy had to do with what we see with our eyes as well as what we see with our minds.
  • No two people see alike – profoundly influenced by our “baggage” – our culture, gender, education etc.- so always expect and make room for other’s opinions about what they “see”  And don’t assume images are universally understandable.
  • Hardest thing for those of us involved with the visual arts is to not jump in and say what we know first, before we actually look. First, see what you see, not what you know -  “back out” of what you know to discover a work of art anew – then you can see it AND know it. 

Presenting Images

PowerPoint is the most common way to present images since the program is found on most computers.

Keynote is the Mac version of PowerPoint and must be purchased from Apple.

Slides is a free tool from Google that uses a series of slides to present, like Powerpoint.

Prezi is another free online presentation tool that uses a single canvas rather than a series of slides like PowerPoint does.

Canva is a free online tool that has multiple ways to present.



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Generic License.