Blog: Mark Tucker

Are you visually illiterate? Don't know what that means? Mark Tucker, founder and Creative Director of the Street Theater Art (START) Project and the annual Festifools event, would love to explain it to you. He blogs this week about public art, community/university engagement, and improving Ann Arbor's visual literacy.

Mark Tucker - Post 2: Curing Visual Illiteracy

Most people understand the far-reaching negative consequences created by high rates of verbal illiteracy, but many of those same people are completely blind to the enormous impact that visually illiteracy also has on our lives. Think about it. Of all our senses, our sense of sight is always on, full blast, unless we have a visual impairment. We're able to ignore or block out sounds, tastes, and touch when necessary, but our brains are constantly recording, filing, sorting, filtering, and responding to visual stimuli (and remixing and replaying much of it while we sleep). As an art teacher for mostly non-art majors at the University of Michigan, I've found that when my students discover that they have the capacity for visual literacy, it's like giving sight back to the blind. It doesn't change one's intelligence, per se, but it removes the blindfolds on their imaginative capabilities. In short, they can finally "see," and have brand new access to their "inner vision" as well.

Because we haven't measured rates of visual literacy, we've probably been suffering for a long time without knowing it. Worst of all, we're passing on our visual illiteracy, and all of the ills that come with it, directly to our children by offering minimal or zero arts programming in our public schools. Consider this: In the BEST public schools in the country, kids only get about 50 minutes of art per week. And of that 50 minutes a relatively small portion of the time is actually spent in the creative/imaginative mode.  In the worst schools, it has been years since they've had any art programs whatsoever.

In the same way that verbal literacy leads to the development of higher-level cognitive skills, learning to draw, paint and sculpt leads to the development of higher levels of creativity and imagination--attributes that are harder to quantify, but no less essential to our well-being.  Seeing yourself as a creative being, rather than a consumer of someone else's creativity, is crucial to one's self-esteem and self-identity. Being the originator of an idea, rather than the recipient of someone else's ideas, can't help but make you feel more positive about yourself, and about your future possibilities. Without creative outlets, lack of self-confidence and feelings of inadequacy -- of "ordinariness" -- can take over.

FestiFools may not be the cure I alluded to earlier, but it can certainly act as a litmus test for whether or not a community functions better,(i.e. is happier), as a result of being exposed to this visually stimulating and, hopefully, more visually literate set of experiences.