The IVLA conference in Leuven, Belgium (16-19 October 2019) started from a provocative, or even quite arrogant keynote by Brian Kennedy. He suggested that within the current condition of the visual, the IVLA should even consider changing its name! I don’t think it needs to go this far. Many papers presented during these two days have, indeed, indicated that the visual is currently understood more broadly – more as a (multi)sensory experience.
What is more, seeing does not only happen through our eyes. Instead, looking and seeing is fully embodied experience. I would like to know, however, where in our bodies we experience ‘seeing’?
Regarding the image, the act of seeing employs a number of senses as well as our (life) experience, knowledge, history, etc. However, what we see is not always ‘what’ and ‘how’ something is (as Nettie Boivin indicated in her paper). In another keynote, addressed by Alva Nöe, I noted a similar point: we do not achieve ‘seeing’ only by opening our eyes.
One of the most interesting initiatives toward development of visual literacy and reported at the conference is the “Power of Pictures” program in the UK. Charlotte Hacking, program leader, talked about the project that brings back picture books to primary education curriculum. The focus on visual literacy had positive impact on children’s literacy skills development. Elsewhere during the conference, it was also mentioned that children are naturally visually literate. This can be particularly observed in the drawing activities.
The conference provided me with a lot of inspiration, ideas for some new teaching activities as well as with more understanding where we are in terms of visual literacy theory and practice. I finally met people that I knew before only from online collaboration. Let’s see where this ‘embodied’ experience will lead me/us in terms of today’s and future visual literacy.