What Is Visual Literacy? Martin Scorsese Has The Answer

scor1The concept of “visual literacy” is one that may be new to a lot of people, but it’s one that, as more and more information nowadays is being transmitted visually, especially to the younger generations, is becoming much more important.

So what exactly is visual literacy? At its most basic, it comes down to an understanding of the techniques of the film maker’s trade. I’m not necessarily talking about the truly technical side of it, the use of different types of lenses and that kind of thing, although that certainly can be a part of it, but more about the choice of shot that a film maker uses, the way they present that shot, and the effect that those decisions have upon the viewer.

Of course, I’m using the term film maker above, because this is primarily a film blog, but really this is something that applies to any kind of visual artistry: the color choices and textures used by painters, the lighting and angles and focus choices made by a talented photographer, and on and on.

Nor should we ignore the “artistry” that is regularly used to manipulate viewers in more commercial settings such as… well, such as television commercials.

scor2Anyway, back to the concept of visual literacy as it applies to film, and one recent concrete example: Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

On it’s face, Wolf is a movie that I really should not have enjoyed as much as I did. It’s a movie that is full of despicable characters doing despicable things. It is a movie that is completely over the top in terms of explicit language, drug use, nudity, sex, and violence. It’s a movie full of shots that cannot help but call attention to themselves and at times even brought me, as a viewer completely out of the film thinking “that is gorgeous, but why is it here now?”

It’s also a movie that had me completely enthralled from beginning to end, is high atop my “best of the year” list, and that I think completely deserves its Best Picture nomination for this year’s Academy Awards. And it’s a movie that has me wanting to go back to see it again, simply because I want to view it in the context of understanding just what it is that Scorsese  is doing, in the context of using every bit of his understanding of visual literacy, to bring out these seemingly contradictory feelings.

All of which brings me to the clip below in which Scorsese himself talks about the concept of visual literacy, gives it some meaning and context, and talks about its importance in all of our lives. Because if anyone has proven himself worthy of being a part of this discussion, of talking about this subject, it is the man who has proven himself a master of the art.

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