Definitions and Introduction

Definitions and Introduction

“A visual is something seen, excluding words.”[1] By its original definition, ‘art’ (from the Latin ars meaning ‘skill’ or ‘craft’) is “the product of the effective application of a body of knowledge and a set of skills.”[2] Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes ‘art’ as “1. skill acquired by experience, study, or observation … 4 a. the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also; works so produced.”[3] Merrion-Webster also defines the word “aesthetic” as “1. pleasing in appearance, 2. appreciative of, responsive to.”[4]

From earliest times humans have documented that which is most important to them through visuals using the basic elements of art. The elements of art which include line, shape, value, color, form, texture, and space are ‘tools’ artists use to create works of art,.Visual illustrations are some of the first and oldest communication methods predating written language.Ancient cave paintings such as Bhimbetka are located “in Madhya Pradesh, where the earliest known traces of human life in India were found.Stone age rock shelters and paintings date back 9,000 years.”[5] Bhimbetka along with Lascaux (15,000 B.C.), Chauvet (30,000 B.C.), and others around the world tell the visual narrative of animals, humans, and hunting via line, shape, color, etc. It is Interesting to note that the ancient artist signed his artwork by tracing of his hand as there was no way to write his/her name. These two-dimensional visual images, which portray their three-dimensional world, speak of the importance of art and its message in the communication world of primary oral cultures.

Communication history starts before time began. “In the beginning God created….And God said…. And God saw…that it was good.”[6] God created humans in His image and spoke with them. Humans communicated with God and with each other. They communicated by speaking words, drawing images, and eventually writing speech. Gutenberg’s printing press encouraged more reading. Drawings, paintings, sculpture, architecture, and symbols continued. Photography, electronic recordings of visual image and sound, along with moving movie images and computers changed the size of our world.Today, cell phones, downloaded images from the Internet, and nanosecond communications flood our senses daily. In the words of Ravi Zacharias, noted Christian apologist, “Media is here and we are in it. […] You and I are now products of the electronic image culture.”[7]

Aristotle said that the mind never thinks without a picture.[8] Leonard Sweet, the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University, says, “image-driven is not distinctive to post-modern culture, but to the human mind itself…first, humans think in images, not words.”He describes post-modern culture as a visualholic culture.[9] These images are a language and are critical in the multi-media/information age, thus the emergence of the field of visual literacy.“Visual literacy is the ability to understand and use images…to think, learn, and express oneself in terms of images.”[10]


[1] Saunders, D. J. Visual Communication Handbook:Teaching And Learning Using Simple Visual Materials.London: United Society for Christian Literature (1974), p.10.
[2] “Art.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art. 1 (10 March 2006). See also ArtLex.com.
[3] “Art[2,noun] .” Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary. http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary. 3 April 2006 p. 1.
[4] “Aesthetic.” http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/aesthetic. 3 April 2006.
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhimbetka “Bhimbetka”
[6] Genesis 1:1-25The Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1989, pp.1-2.See also www.hti.umich.edu/gci/k/kjv/kjv-idx?type=DIV1&byte=1477 as of 03 April 2006.
[7] Zacharias, Ravi. Mind Games In A World Full Of Images. Audio-cassette T-160. Radio Broadcast 29 Dec 2002, part 1 of 3;05 Jan 2003, part 2 of 3;12 Jan 2003, part 3.
[8] Sweet, L. Post-Modern Pilgrims. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers (2000), p.87.
[9] Sweet, pp. 92-93.
[10] Lamb, A. “Visual Literacy”.Information Inquiry For Teachers. http://eduscapes.com/info/visuallit.html09 March 2006.