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ARTHIST 2A03 Visual Literacy

Academic Year: Fall 2015

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Angela Sheng


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 425

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23156


Office Hours: Wednesdays 1-2 pm or by appointment

Course Objectives:

This course aims to assist students—through readings, lectures, discussions, and assignments—to understand current thoughts on visual literacy and to situate visual literacy for themselves in terms of their own goals in studying art history and/or communications in the short and long term.

This course is designed to open discussion on the meaning and space of visual literacy in our multicultural society. Thus the presented material ranges more broadly than the content of traditional courses in either art history or communications. During the term there will be a significant proportion of lectures and discussion devoted to the political, social, and economic construction, distribution, and consumption of cultures and visuality. The course will begin with a general assessment of visuality, visual studies, and visual culture. It will then focus on the relationship between visual literacy and spirituality or the lack thereof. Supplemented by films, the lectures form an essential component of the course. Both the films and lectures provide students with material that is not found in any text but that will serve as the basis for term assignments and tutorial discussions.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Barnet, Sylvan. 2015. A Short Guide to Writing About Art (Pearson Education).

Preble, Duane and Sarah. 2013. E-text REVEL Preble’s Artforms,11th Edtion (Pearson Education).

Messaris, Paul. 1994. Visual “Literacy”: Image, Mind, and Reality (Westview), available online from Mills Library: XX(254108.1)

Students will pay for materials such as paper, cardboards and color crayons or pencils or watercolors or acrylic, etc. for making presentations.


Method of Assessment:

Details on Avenue

5-page (1250 word-count) written assignment due September 16, 10%

Group presentation with written submission on September 30, 20%

Online assignments in REVEL, Chapters 1-9, completed by October 28, 10%

Online assignments in REVEL, Chapters 10-14, completed by December 1, 10%

Group presentation with written submission on November 25, 20%

Final, 30%

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Additional materials will be posted on Avenue.

September 9    Introduction: Students sign up for group presentations

Four Aspects of Visual Literacy (Messaris)

The Language of Visual Experience, Chapter 1 and 2 (REVEL)

September 16  5-page written assignment due

The Interpretation of Still Images (Messaris)

The Language of Visual Experience, Chapter 3 (REVEL)

September 23 

The Media of Art, Chapter 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 (REVEL)

September 30 Group Presentations

Art as Cultural Heritage (REVEL)

October 7

The Interpretation of Film and Television (Messaris)

Film Analysis

(October 13     TERM BREAK, NO CLASS)

October 21

The Media of Art, Chapter 10 (REVEL)

Film analysis

October 28      Completion of online assignments in REVEL, Chapters 1-9
General Cognitive Consequences of Visual Literacy (Messaris)

Film Analysis

November 4

The Media of Art, Chapter 11, 12 (REVEL)

November 11 

The Media of Art, Chapter 13, 14 (REVEL)

November 18 

Awareness of Artistry and Manipulation (Messaris)

November 25  Group Presentations

The Modern World (REVEL)

Postmodernity and Global Art (REVEL)

December 1, no class, Completion of online assignments in REVEL, Chapters 10-14

December 2

Other Questions, Other “Literacies” (Messaris)

December 8     LAST CLASS

Review and Conclusion

Other Course Information:

REFERENCE: Mills On Reserve

Adams, Laurie Schneider. 2002. Looking Art. N 66 .A32 2002

Elkins, James. 2003. Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction. Routledge.

N 72 .S6 E45 2003

Galdwell, Malcolm. 2005. Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking. Little, Brown and Company. BF 448 .G53 2005

Messaris, Paul. 1994. Visual Literacy: Image, Mind, and Reality. Westview Press.

LB 1068 .M47 1994

Morgan, David. 2005. The Sacred Gaze: religious visual culture in theory and practice. University of California Press. N 7790 .M667 2005

And ONLINE: Online

N7790 .M667 2005 EB

Ross, Rupert. Dancing with a Ghost: Exploring Aboriginal Reality. Penguin. Chapter 6: “Being Indian is a State of Mind.” KE 7722 .C75 R68 2006

Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. 2001. Practices of Looking: an Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford University Press. HM 500 .S78 2001

Visser, Margaret. 2000. The Geometry of Love: Space, Time, Mystery, and Meaning in an Ordinary Church. Harper Flamingo Canada. NA 5620 .S158 V58 2000

Talreja, Sanjay and Nurjehan Aziz (eds.). 2004. Strangers in the Mirror: In and Out of the Mainstream of Culture in Canada. TSAR Publications FC 95.5 .S77 2004

Please note:

When necessary, additional information and references will be posted on Avenue to Learn.