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Sunni Brown

Author, Chief Infodoodler, sunnibrown.com


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Why is visual literacy discouraged in most cultures & WHAT CAN WE DO to change that?

This LIVE CONVERSATION will open at 1PM ET/ 10AM PT on Monday, October 31th! Join me!

Visual literacy, if described as the ability to communicate via doodling, drawing, and sketching or described as the ability to display complex information in visual language formats, is often a literacy missing in adults despite it being a universal and natural inclination in children. Why does it disappear? And more importantly, what can we do to alter this course?

**ADMIN UPDATE: Sunni Brown has asked to extend her Conversation for two weeks. She will be jumping in to catch up with responses over the next two weeks. Happy posting everyone!


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  • Nov 7 2011: I believe there are a number of factors that keep us from moving forward as a culture focused on mastering visual literacy. First, sadly, drawing/doodling/etc. are not practiced everyday for communication in most social/learning settings, nor is it encouraged on a daily basis in classrooms/social settings.

    Second, many people are intimidated by creating art in any capacity because of the fear of failure and/or ridicule.

    As a social experiment, ask anyone over the age of 11 to draw an unfamiliar object or animal while you watch them. Take note of how many times each person does one or all of the following: erase, retry, make excuses for their short comings, give up, "x" out their work, or deny the challenge outright. I wonder how many people will apologize for their drawing not being "perfect" when they finally finish and show you.

    The arts are also commonly mistaken as a frill added onto our education system; not as something that will super charge it. But I believe the tide IS turning.


    Maybe people simply miss the fact that visual language is a system of patterns not too different from the patterns found in language arts, science, and math. All of which are used to report back our findings from observing our surroundings in nature to record history, help predict future patterns, or mimic them for our civilizations' better good.

    As a visual learner, I understand the basic form of visual language as a straight line and a curved line (a single letters/number) that can be manipulated into a shape (word/number) which we combine with other shapes and lines to create an image (sentence/equation) to serve a specific purpose whether it is to pose a question, answer a question, or explore a thought. Artistic process and the scientific process are the same to me. If we bring total awareness to these shared patterns, nonvisual learners may finally understand it.
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      Nov 9 2011: "Artistic process and the scientific process are the same to me."

      Short story... My old elementary school holds an art and invention show together in the same space every year. This is a collaborative effort between two specialists, the art teacher and the science teacher of a progressive school. (Yes, science is a specialist along with library, art, music, and sports [physical education]) Students get to show off their art works and share their inventions both kinds of work convey great ideas.

      The connections between art and science mirror each other. Theory, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion, and then repeat based on your findings are how artists and scientists inform their work. There is a lot of discovery, accidental answers to unasked questions, and unknown outcomes. Original ideas are crushed or altered by pursuing a painting or experiment. Some might damn this as 'failure' or as a 'mistake' and judge it to be 'bad.' I argue otherwise and find it essential to learning. Anyone who is free of error does not exist. The more mistakes a person makes the greater lived experience they have earned.

      Finding the strength to be brave enough to face failure is not as difficult as ridicule from others. Critical cruelty from the exterior world can work its way into the mind of anyone. Even lies can become beliefs after routine battery from peers especially during adolescence.

      Overcoming negative feedback from others and especially yourself is the greatest challenge we face in order to try. Shutting down and running away seem to be safe places to be, where these kinds of feelings appear to 'go away.' These feelings actually anchor in and dig deeper, keeping people from pursuing their dreams and ideas. The real struggle is letting go of them and not finding comfort or familiarity in their pain.

      My question at this point is how to address it? What can be done to alter, adjust, or advance through these challenges? Where does it come from, is it learned or taught?

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