Ontelevision,“messages” issometimesacodeword for“advertisements”as in,“We’llberightback
after these messages.” This helps us
remember that messages are often
intended to persuade us rather than
inform us. Students need to learn that
all messages have a sender, and that it
is important to know the identity and
intent of that sender.
Visual Media Contain Messages
The analysis of media messages is
called “media literacy” which, for art
teachers, can be thought of as being
included in the “criticism” domain
of Discipline-Based Art Education
(DBAE). The intent of media literacy
is to create critical viewers. In media
literacy, students learn that media
messages are constructions crafted
and selected for a particular purpose.
Students are taught to understand that
these messages construct the way we
look at the world—we are shaped by
the messages we see.
We are not passive receivers of messages, however. The way we see messages is determined
by our culture, our
values, and our perspectives. Students
have to learn that
have commercial purposes or, in the
case of campaign ads, political purposes. Someone wants us to buy what
he or she is selling whether it is a
product, service, place, idea, or person.
Objects Send Messages
Not all messages take the shape of
words or pictures. In design education,
students learn to understand, inter-
pret, and create messages in the form
of images, objects, places, and experi-
ences. A person’s choice of objects like
clothing or car, for example, sends a
message about him or her as a per-
son. Do they want to be seen as rich,
smart, sexy, sensible, thoughtful, or
caring? What messages do the people
intend to send and
do the messages
match the real-
ity? Designers are
experts at creating
products that send
messages we want to see.
Places Convey Messages
Places can also convey messages. A
bank or a government building often
conveys messages of power, impor-
tance, stability, tradition, or trustwor-
thiness. Over time, the placement of
buildings has conveyed what is impor-
tant in a culture. In some communi-
ties the tallest buildings were once
churches. Today they may be govern-
ment buildings, and in other commu-
Designers are experts at
creating products that send
messages we want to see.
Cathedral of Notre-Dame, general view from northwest, Chartres, France. ©Davis Art Images.
nities they may be financial buildings.
Buildings sometimes send messages
of power and wealth by how tall they
are and where they are located in the
Experiences Contain Messages
Designers have learned to create
experiences that contain messages we
like to receive. Games, theme parks,
children’s museums, virtual environments, and other ways in which we
interact with people, places, or things,
come with messages. Some people fear
that these messages will negatively
shape behavior if they include violence, bad language, drugs, alcohol,
smoking, and other unhealthy behaviors.
Educating Rather than Censoring
In a country built on the principle of
freedom of speech, it is difficult to
protect students from certain messages, so it’s a good idea to educate
them to be in control of their lives
rather than being under the control of
powerful visual messages.
The challenge for our students,
the future designers, is to create useful, safe, sustainable, and compelling
designs that bring fulfillment and
inspiration to our lives and create a
world of enchantment in which we
would all love to live.
Martin Rayala teaches at Kutztown
University in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
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