What is “Visual Literacy?”

    The term “Visual Literacy” was first coined in 1969 by John Debes, one of the most important figures in the history of IVLA. Debes’ offered (1969b, 27) the following definition of the term:

    “Visual Literacy refers to a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning. When developed, they enable a visually literate person to discriminate and interpret the visible actions, objects, symbols, natural or man-made, that he encounters in his environment. Through the creative use of these competencies, he is able to communicate with others. Through the appreciative use of these competencies, he is able to comprehend and enjoy the masterworks of visual communication.”

    However, there are many more definitions of the term. In fact, each visual literacist has produced his/her own! Understandably, the coexistence of so many disciplines that lie at the foundation of the concept of Visual Literacy, thus causing and at the same time emphasizing the eclectic nature of it, is the major obstacle towards a unanimously agreed definition of the term.


    Maria D. Avgerinou, Ph.D., O.E.T.
    Educational Technology & Psychology
    The Hellenic Open University