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Visual Literacy: How to Look at Art

Weekend All-Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, April 9, 2022 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2192
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Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912, by Giacomo Balla (Albright-Knox Art Gallery)

The ability to derive meaning from what we see is an essential skill in a culture saturated with images. Much like other forms of communication, it is a way of making a statement—but visually, not verbally. Once you understand this language, reading images, particularly art, is not only simpler but infinitely more gratifying.

Using outstanding works from the history of art as well as images from popular culture, art historian Nancy G. Heller focuses on how art communicates, how to analyze and interpret it, and how we can see it as a cultural product that reveals something about the society that produced it.

9:30–10:45 a.m.  The Visual Elements of Art

Think of visual elements as the vocabulary of art: line, shape, space, texture, and color.  These are the things in an artwork—no matter what kind or where it was made—that help determine its content.

11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  The Principles of Design

Principles of design guide the arrangement of art’s visual vocabulary.  Unity, balance, scale, and emphasis help explain why some arrangements work better than others.

12:15–1:15 p.m.  Break

1:15–2:30 p.m.  Iconography: Understanding Symbols and Meaning

Clues to meaning, communicated in the language of symbols, often exist within artworks.

2:45–4 p.m.  Is There a Correct Way to Appreciate Art?

Anxiety can underlie the art experience for some people: What if I don’t get it? Explore some frequently asked questions that can make every encounter with art richer.

Heller is professor emerita of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit*

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.

This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.