How Do You Look?

Duke University Libraries and the Nasher Museum of Art challenge members of the academic community to consider how they think about the visual world by asking “How do you look?”

Visual literacy is an increasingly important skill, and learning to think critically about images is an essential component of a 21st-century education. By providing the tools and experiences needed to perform effectively in this visual world, we empower students and scholars to search out their own answers.

Duke Libraries provides access to world-class resources with significant holdings of images that can be accessed freely and a wealth of information about the many ways images are utilized and interpreted, both in the contemporary world, as well as historically.

The Nasher is an interdisciplinary nexus and a laboratory where students and scholars can investigate, explore, and test knowledge. Confronted with a different kind of source material–image rather than text–viewers are challenged to look at concepts and issues in a new way.

For more information about visual literacy at Duke, explore our links or contact us:

Nasher Museum:
Marianne Wardle, Academic Program Coordinator (
Juline Chevalier, Curator of Education (
Molly Boarati, Academic Program Assistant (

Duke Libraries:
Lee Sorensen, Lilly Library, Visual Studies, Art, and Dance Librarian (
Diane Harvey, Head, Library Instruction & Outreach (

Credit: Pieter van Slingeland (attributed), "Allegorical Portrait of a Lady" (detail), c. 1675. Oil on canvas, 20 1/8 x 15 1/8 inches. Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift in honor of Marilyn M. Segal by her family, 1998.22.10.

How can I use visual materials in my teaching?

Find images through Duke Libraries

Explore the Nasher Museum’s collection online

Discover activities for teaching

Contact Nasher Museum to arrange a class visit
Molly Boarati, Academic Program Assistant (

Learn about Visual Thinking Strategies

Contact someone to talk to your class about using images and artwork in their research:
Library: Lee Sorensen, Art and Dance Librarian (
Nasher: Marianne Wardle, Academic Program Coordinator (

Credit: Artist Mickalene Thomas strikes a pose in front of her 2007 photograph "Lovely Six Foota," part of the Nasher Museum's permanent collection. Gift of Christen and Derek Wilson (T '86). Photo by Dr. J Caldwell.

What fun art events are happening?

Get involved at the Nasher

Nasher Facebook page for Duke Students

Nasher Museum Exhibitions, Facebook, Events Calendar, Blog, and Twitter!/nashergirl

Duke Events Calendar

Franklin Humanities Institute

Visual Studies Initiative

Center for Documentary Studies

Arts of the Moving Image

Credit: Students experience Jaume Plensa's 2004 installation of iron letters and wire, "Glückauf?" Loan, courtesy of the artist and Richard Gray Gallery. Photo by Dr. J. Caldwell.

What is visual literacy and where is it at Duke?

Visual Literacy: 
The ability to recognize and understand ideas conveyed through visible actions or images (as pictures). (Merriam-Webster)

“Visual literacy is the ability to find meaning in imagery. It involves a set of skills ranging from simple identification--naming what one sees--to complex interpretation on contextual, metaphoric and philosophical levels. . . . Visual literacy usually begins to develop as a viewer finds his/her own relative understanding of what s/he confronts, usually based on concrete and circumstantial evidence. It eventually involves considering the intentions of the maker, applying systems for thinking and rethinking one's opinions, and acquiring a body of information to support conclusions and judgments. The expert will also express these understandings in a specialized vocabulary.” (Phillip Yenawine)

Research Visual Literacy at Duke Libraries

Expand your Visual Literacy at the Nasher

Other places at Duke to find Visual Literacy:
Franklin Humanities Institute
Visual Studies Initiative
Center for Documentary Studies
Arts of the Moving Image
MFA program in Experimental and Documentary Arts

Need some Visual Literacy to write a paper? Look here.

Sources on Visual Literacy across the curriculumVisual Literacy Bibliography.pdf

Other Resources:
International Visual Literacy Association
Association of College and Research Libraries Visual Literacy Competency Standards

Credit: Visitors to the exhibition "Displacement: The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art" take in Liu Xiaodong's 2005 painting "Hotbed." Photo by Dr. J. Caldwell

How can I understand more about an image?

  • Look long. Spend more time looking than you usually would. Do nothing but look for a full minute. Try 5 minutes.
  • Look close. What do you see? Describe it with the most vivid words you can think of.
  • Look again. Try drawing it.
  • Look critically. What do you think of it? Why do you think so?
  • Look thoughtfully. What do you think the artist meant?
  • Look into it. Do some investigation into the artist, the subject, or the medium.

Duke’s LibGuide to Visual Literacy

Duke’s LibGuide to researching works of art

Thompson Writing Center Guides
Art History and Visual Studies
Visual Analysis

Formal Analysis (understanding the visual makeup of an image)

Art Criticism and Formal Analysis

Visuals and design

Credit: Visitors at the opening event for "Building the Contemporary Collection: Five Years of Acquisitions" take in Dan Perjovschi's "Postcards from America," 1994-1995, an installation of 72 postcards (ink and graphite on paper mounted on cardboard). The work is part of the Nasher Museum's permanent collection and a gift of Kristine Stiles. Photo by Dr. J Caldwell.

How do I find and cite images?


Explore the Nasher Museum’s online collection

Duke Libraries’ image resources

Duke Digital Collections


Find examples on Duke Libraries’ Visual Literacy page

Credit: Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, "Portrait of Miss Mary Lillian Duke (Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle, 1892-1960)" (detail), 1911. Oil on canvas, 83 x 44 3/8 inches. Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Mr. Nicholas D. Biddle.

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