Visual thinking: (Arnheim, 1969)

Creating art and viewing art both require visual thinking. Creation poses problems of selection and organization;

viewing poses problems of attention, decoding, and interpretation.

To make an object visible, one must grasp its essential traits. (P. 296) The artist understands how to make thought visible using visual elements.

When viewing a work of art, assume that every work of art is a statement or a series of statements. Every visual pattern makes a declaration about the nature of human existence and the world.

This message cannot be directly be translated into words, any more than a symphony can be translated into words. But you CAN talk about what you see in a work of art, and point to what you are seeing (connect your interpretation to the visual evidence in the work). Analyze HOW the artist conveys their message.

View art on its own terms, looking at how shapes, line, color, texture, space, value interact another; how the work guides the eye and establishes focus, movement, balance, and harmony.

Graphs & Diagrams:

1. Make sure you can "read" what they are saying. What is the overall message? How is it communicated visually?

On a diagram, what does each element represent? What relationships are shown?

On a graph:

What do the x-axis and y-axis represent? Does y-axis start at zero? If not, evaluate the magnitude of differences against the whole scale.

2. Now look for what is NOT shown. What selection choices did the person make? What did they chose NOT to show you?

3. How might missing information change the message?

Analyzing a political cartoon:

1. Identify the main message of the cartoon and specify which visual elements convey this. (Often, cartoons also rely partially on words & title to indicate what represents what)

2. Now look at the details. Which convey important information?

3. What is the political position of the cartoonist on this issue? What evidence in the cartoon supports this?

4. If you wanted to change the cartoon to support a different position, what would you change?

Difference Between Art and Scientific Diagrams


A diagram that represents a logical relation is both highly abstract and very general.

The same diagram can be drawn in somewhat different ways and yet represent, and be understood as representing, the identical information.


Art always relies on abstract relations as well, but the impact and message is highly specific.

The abstract relations of visual elements are always essential to conveying thought and emotion. Art is particular, not general; if you change a line, a shape, a color, a relationship, the content changes.