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Visual Literacy

This guide is an introduction to visual literacy.

Visual Thinking Strategies

magnifying glass iconVisual thinking strategies are ways of attentively looking at images. These strategies could be applied to advertisements or even memes, but they are often best applied to art. The goals of these strategies are to observe the image and to identify evidence that support your observations. Learning to look at images takes time. A few questions can help you to transform how you observe and interpret visual information. 

Observation: What's going on in the image? What do you see or notice? What stands out? What's the narrative in the image?

Gathering Evidence: What do you see that makes you say that? What evidence do you see in the image that supports your claim?

Observing Again: What more can we find? What else do you see or notice? What else is going on?

You may participate in these visual thinking strategies in a cycle, observing and gathering new information each time you look. Consider how this cycle (or process) is similar to the research process. What connections can you make between visual thinking strategies and your own research process?


Visual thinking strategies are skills that can help you to develop your visual literacy. It takes practice, though. The books below can help you to get started in developing these skills. 


This LibGuide includes several pieces of artwork. Look at the gallery below and give visual thinking strategies a try. 


a painting of a dog

A King Charles Spaniel, c. 1866

Manet, Edouard. A King Charles Spaniel. 1866, The National Gallery of Art,

a painting of people fighting

Oedipus Cursing His Son Polynices, 1786

Fuseli, Henry. Oedipus Cursing HIs Son Polynices. 1786, The National Gallery of Art,

painting of actor posing dramatically in front of mirror

Actor Posing in Front of a Mirror, 1870s?

Daumier, Honore. Actor Posing in Front of a Mirror. 1870, The National Gallery of Art,

painting of dogs in snow helping man

Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler, 1820

Landseer, Edwin. Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler. 1820, The National Gallery of Art,

abstract self-portrait of a man

Self-Portrait, 1928, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig. Self-Portrait. 1928, The National Gallery of Art,,_Self-Portrait,_1928,_NGA_110412.jpg

a painting of woman and boy in the grass

Madame Monet and Her Son, 1874

Renoir, Auguste. Madame Monet and Her Son. 1874, The National Gallery of Art,