Visual Culture isn’t Just Visual: Multiliteracy, Multimodality and Meaning

Paul Duncum
Pages 252-264 | Published online: 21 Dec 2015

Key Concepts

Multisemiotic nature – is not simply how one interprets discrete sign systems, but how meaning is extracted from how sign systems interact with each other (Fairlough)

Multiliteracy refers to two phenomena that are of concern to art educators.: (1) post-structuralist insight that any cultural site (..) can be understood according to multiple readings generated from the multiple positions from which one views, reads, or hears, (2) All cultural sites, but especially ones like television and the Internet, include a range of modalities

The adoption of visual culture is part of a much broader movement within the sciences, social sciences, and humanities to conceptualize the visual as part of a general theory of communications

Despite mistaken attempts by some semioticians to reduce the visual to language (..) visual does exist as a mode of both representation and communication that is independent of the verbal. Visual images exist as a relatively autonomous semiotic mode in which meanings are transported, made and remade with refer-ence to no other mode but the visual

The visual deals with factors that language is patently ill equipped to handle, namely the visually salient elements of their subjects and of their spatial relations with each other.
Kress and Ivis long ago demonstrated that the development of modern science, especially medicine, was only possible after the invention of the printing press which permitted exactly repro-ducible images, and today, from X rays to satellite surveillance, there is no substitute for visual imagery

The term literacy is used to refer to the making of meaning with commu-nicative modes. Multiliteracy is now employed to mean the making of meaning through the interaction of different communicative modes, or, “the multimodal relations between different meaning-making processes that are now so critical in media texts and the texts of electronic multimedia”

social semiotic literacy grounded in social, including historical, contexts

The “rise of the amusement society,” leisure time has been greatly expanded, and much of it is spent enjoying cultural forms that are, again, multimodal.

Gardner’s (1983) theory of multiple intelligences has proved (..) theoretical support for justifying equal bur separate emphasis on different ways of thinking and communicating.

“one does not read the language and then the pictures and then listen to the sounds; rather, one takes them in as a gestalt, a whole,

Nodelman (1988) puts it, of pictures showing what the words do not tell and the words telling what the pictures do not show,

In 1934, Walter Benjamin predicted that there would be an increasing inter-dependency of words and images, and he called for a citizenry equipped with a critical faculty with visual and verbal communication.