Visual literacy in bark paintings: Narrative, figurative and stylistic vocabularies

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    What is visual literacy? In December, the National Museum of Australia will launch its premier exhibition Old Masters: Australia's Great Bark Artists. The exhibition will showcase 122 bark paintings from Arnhem Land's three major stylistic regions - western, eastern and central - and is sourced from the Museum's extensive collection of works. With over 2000 works from across the country, the National Museum in fact has the largest collection of bark paintings in the world. First and foremost, Old Masters asks visitors to see these works as art in order to move the conversation away from simply seeing the works as ethnographic materials. However, in the manner of art historians, one needs to learn how to 'unpack' an artwork in order to determine what the design elements are and how to interpret - or read - those elements. This exercise can be called building up one's visual vocabulary - learning how to 'see' a painting beyond just the aesthetics. Like most languages, fluency in visual literacy takes time and immersion in the language is key. Old Masters provides such an emersion for Aboriginal bark paintings.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)17-20
    Number of pages4
    JournalArt Monthly Australia
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


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