Communicating with Images


We can say so much with a single image that dozens of words can only hope to accomplish. In the late 19th century, Ivan Turgenev (Russian author of Fathers and Sons) aptly wrote , “A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.” In the west, we are more familiar with the proverb “A picture says a thousand words.” Both phrases refer to the idea that complex stories can be described with just a single still image, or that an image may be more influential than a substantial amount of text.

This is all well and tidy, but if a picture is speaking prose, what is it actually saying and to whom? Do all viewers of a picture receive the same thousand words? Of course they do not, and the reason why different people receive different messages when looking at an identical picture has to do with visual literacy. Loosely put, ‘visual literacy’ has to do with the experience of the workings of visual media partnered with a heightened conscious awareness of the workings.

There are four aspects to visual literacy, according to Paul Messaris:

-1- Visual literacy is a pre-requisite for the comprehension of visual media. In other words, for a person to understand what they are looking at, some form of education is in order.

-2- There are general cognitive consequences of visual literacy that are mostly positive. Watching television and other visual media for meaning may enhance the ability to receive meaning from other forms of communication.

-3- There is an awareness of visual manipulation. An improved understanding of visual media might make the viewer more resistant to manipulations attempted by television commercials, political campaigns, and print advertisements.

-4- Aesthetic appreciation can become more informed. For example, in the case of special effects in movies, an understanding of how these effects are produced can dampen the vicarious thrill a viewer receives.

Paul Messaris is associate professor of communication at The Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He has conducted research on viewers’ awareness of visual manipulation in movies and advertising, and on parent-child discussions about television. A preview of his book is available online through Google Books, Visual Literacy – Image, Mind and Reality and a link to purchase the book is here.

The Episcopal Church Image Shop contains official graphics and logos, together with shields, signs, symbols and photo galleries. These images are available for download in a variety of formats.

On View: Seek First, by Jan Neal.

About the Artists

Jan Neal works primarily in digital painting, design and photography with digital liturgical design and symbol as her primary areas of ecclesiastical artistic interests. Her work has been featured in Episcopal Life, the Morehouse Publishing Christian Planning Calendar, The Apostle,, Episcopal Church & Visual Arts, and in a Museum of Biblical Art presentation. She was also a curator and contributing artist for Visual Preludes 2006.

More of Jan’s work may be seen in ECVA’s archived exhibitions, and ECVA’s web site Contacts. She is Director for Exhibitions for ECVA and produces the publicity for her parish, Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

Marilyn Dale Marilyn Dale is a graphic designer, fine artist, marketing expert, and member of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts). The chair of the Art and Environment Ministry for her church, she’s designed large-scale liturgical fabric and acrylic pieces. She has written and designed brochures for her church, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies. Marilyn welcomes commissions in graphic or fine art and is available for logos, brochures, liturgical art ensemble design – vestments, banners and paramounts – as well as opportunities to provide workshops on the creation and management of an Arts Ministry.

Zhongxian Tang Zhongxian Tang was born in China; he received a BA in Fine Arts from Zhejian Fine Arts Academy and an MFA in Computer Arts from School of Visual Arts in NY. Previously he was a graphic designer for IBM US Business Trade Shows, and ABC News. Currently he is a liturgical designer for CM ALMY.

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