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Reading the visual is “…the ability to see, to understand, and ultimately to think, create, and communicate graphically…” (Thibault et al. 2012). It involves reading images, gestures and any other signs other than words. Ability to read the visual leads to visual literacy, a state at which one can look at an image and analyze it as per the intentions of the creator. Visual literacy helps an individual to carefully look at an image and understand the deeper meaning intended. Once equipped with these skills, an individual can, therefore, critically analyze various images that may include, “…photographs, paintings and drawings, graphic art (including everything from political cartoons to comic books to illustrations in children’s books), films, maps, and various kinds of charts and graphs...” (Thibault et al. 2012). Pictures, drawings, graphics and other various kinds of art are all intended to convey ideas, opinions, and information that can be gathered, contextualized, and validated only by applying visual literacy.  

Skills and Abilities

Reading the visual involves several skill levels. This include the ability to identify the subject and element details of an image through observation and science inquiry while involving the necessary critical thinking required in image analysis as is done to any artwork. Having done the above, the visual literate has to understand how to deconstruct the message intended in the graphical presentation the same way this is applied in mathematical problem solving. Deconstruction helps in evaluating the elements present in a given image and in understanding how these elements relate with the whole (Morgan 1997). The various discerning points of view or bias are always important factors to consider in analyzing works of art as they help in understanding the perceptions of the artist and his or her mental state at the same time. This helps in reading the piece of art even more easily.

Image Presentation

For this presentation, the following image shall be used for analysis.

From observation, it is true to say that the above painting depicts two scenarios representing two different meanings. The first scenario is the obvious one that comes out at a casual glance. It shows the face of a balding old man with a thick brow and moustache looking sternly at an angle in a virtual surprise or bewilderment. However, a closer look reveals the second scenario. It depicts a shepherd in thick cotton attire tending his sheep on a windy, cloudy day that appears like a typical day in autumn. In the background, there are two bamboo-walled thatched cabins. This piece of art is unique in that it is rich in content, meaning, and creativity. The two distinctively different representations by this single image may have been intentional or accidental for the artist who painted it. However, the arrangement of elements in the image clearly indicates a deliberate attempt to develop an image that has two different meanings depending on one’s analysis (Colombo et al, 2004). This is true, considering that the positioning of the two cabins and their windows is what helps develop the images of two eyes and a thick brow of the old man’s face. Again, the attire and sitting position of the shepherd helps develop the image of heavy moustache. The dry tree stump is positioned in a manner that helps create the sketch of the face and the nose while the cloudy grey sky highlighting the theme of a cold and probably a windy autumn day also helps create the stunned forehead of the old man. The footpath between the cabins and the shepherd is used to create the natural effect, feel, and texture of an old man’s face. However, the sheep that help create a case for the shepherd do not seem to add any more value to the image of the old man (Jewitt, 2006).

This, therefore, is an indication that the whole piece of art was the culmination of a mind rich in imagination. It appears that every detail in the painting was meant to help create two images in one. The artist had to consider this while placing each element at the position that he did. Placing the elements at different positions than they already appear as above would have distorted the initial idea, and the artist would have failed in the intended presentation.  

Themes in the Image

An autumn day: A typical day of autumn is grey and colourful due to changing colours of tree leaves and the undergrowth. It is normally cloudy and cool while the sky is grey ad cloudy. This theme in the image helps grow the content of the two scenarios in a very intelligent manner and helps advance the intention of the artist.

Earth colours: The use of earth colours in the image, notably the brown colour, has helped in creating the intended natural setting of the day as it helps bring to existence the face of a stunned old man.  

The Counter Argument (Relationship between Seeing and Being in the Image)

While it may be true that the artist above wanted to bring out a sense of two images in one, it would also be possible that he created one image and the second came up unintentionally. It may be that what is evident visually is not what it is in reality. The artist’s idea may have been different from what a critical analysis brings forth (Thomas 2001). This may explain why the presence and position of the sheep do not appear to have any role in the image of the old man.   

The image above comes out as a powerful tool in helping to understand the concept of visual reading. Though it is not certain if the artist painted the two images on purpose, or it was sheer coincidence; the use of visual techniques and skills has made it easier to understand every aspect of consideration that the artist had put in place. This has helped in deconstructing the artist’s ideas and the themes put into consideration which in turn have helped in coming up with the impression of two images in one (Kress 2004).

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