In the 21st century literacy has acquired a new dimension and expanded its own definition to encapsulate a changed reality crystallized into codes and modi operandi that can no longer be dismissed or predicated as peripheral.
We live in a society whose discourse is defined more and more aggressively by visual images. The ability to deconstruct the meaning and hidden codes of visual images is no longer a luxury or a specificity left to expertise; rather it is a literary requirement no less than it is to be able to read and write. The old expression a picture is worth a thousand words has never been as immanent as today.
When as art teachers we ask our students to analyze and interpret visual images, we ask them not only to learn the codes and modi operandi of a language that defines our society—far more important—we ask them to learn a universal language that knows no national or international borders, which puts no limits to the interpretation of reality, expands beyond race, sex, religious or political and cultural domains.
It is the very complexity of visual images, which conceals infinite levels of encryption and an equal multitude of interpretation, that makes them suitable propagators of egalitarian messages. In decoding visual messages the student learns that in art all opinions and interpretations are equally true; thus the student develops a mindset apt to absorb and process the multifaceted perspectives that make the very fabric of a global society.
At a time in their life when developing a sense of identity and place in the world, through the investigation of art making and the processes of discovery that such investigation initiates, the young student comes to define a critical awareness of the self. Through visual arts the student develops a sense of judgment, and acquires an almost imperative level of assertiveness. Yet, this confidence cannot be mistakenly associated with conceit, or intransigence; because it derives from the very understanding that there are no right and wrong answers and that there is more than one solution to a problem, more than one way to infer meanings to the affairs of the world. Indeed, through art the student acquires an assertiveness that is the epitome of a democratic school of thought. Thus, he develops the skills necessary to face unknown situations and manage them with control and determination, by creatively elaborate solutions to unforeseen problems while performing with resolution and self-confidence.