Q: Explain why the process of looking closely and thinking critically about visual texts is important to art and design practices
In order to answer this question, I think it’s first appropriate to think about and explain the idea of ‘critical thinking’; what does it require of us? What does it do for us? “The term critical thinking in a broad sense can include all of the following: Creative thinking; Analysing; Problem-solving; Reasoning; Evaluating” (Wallace et al. 46). So, firstly, becoming a critical thinker requires these things of us: we must begin to think laterally and think about things in a variety of ways. “Doing something critically, in a critical way, means that you consider it actively, you engage with it” (Annals & Cunnane 15). To think critically is to engage your brain, and ultimately this will allow us more options when it comes to assessing, valuing and judging our own and others’ work, as well as creating artwork that involves a deeper thought process.
Thinking critically about visual texts is key in forming our own art practice, and making sure our art is relevant and meaningful. An example of this is Nick Kapica; in a lecture for the Communications in Creative Cultures paper, he revealed to us his working methods. He takes photos of visual texts around the world within the urban landscape, and collates these for future use. He assesses the visual aspects of each image and uses elements he finds interesting. The critical thinking here is key in not only assessing the material, but in being able to look for it in the first place. Often when you look at a space or an object, we don’t think of it as a visual text, but thinking critically and creatively you open yourself up to a range of possibility for what a visual text, and essentially art, can be. Within our own art practice this will allow us to think broadly about what could be art – and different ways of saying that. In the same way, when we find a visual text, critical thinking allows us to ask different questions and find out more about the text; who’s the intended audience? What was the initial reception from this audience? How does the work use artistic conventions to convey an idea? In doing this, we learn to apply these questions to our own work, and so make it more purposeful.
An important aspect of thinking critically is context, and its ability to change the way and depth with which we see a visual text. As an analogy, take Migrant Mother, the most famous photograph to come out of the great depression, by Dorothea Lange:
In itself, photography is the documentation of a time, feeling and/or emotion. Without knowing the desperation of the Great Depression, would this image have as much impact? In “Reading Texts”, Ruszkiewicz and co suggest that, “Uncovering the context of a work breathes new life into it.” (Ruszkiewicz et al. 34). Context becomes key to assessing the importance and relevance of art and design because, “We read every text wanting to know how it connects with the world, both now and in the past.” (Ruszkiewicz, et al. 32). The reason context is such an important part of thinking critically is that it is the most human way we connect with the artwork and this is a valid way of assessing – although we want to think critically and make sure that the processes undertaken in making the art are “logical and convincing” (Wallace et al. 47), the relevance to society of an artwork will always remain an important part of how we value and assess work.