Visual literacy is the ability to carefully look at an image and craft an opinion or response. Images are powerful tools of communication. Our lives are saturated with images that are designed to evoke a certain response or sway our opinions. (Pictured above, students from Trinity Christian School learn how to “read” a painting while on a Holiday Tour with docent Nancy Miwa.)


Kindergarten students from Holomua Elementary learn about the elements of art during the Elements Tour.

The building blocks of visual literacy start with the basic elements of art: color, line, shape, space, form, value, and texture. At the Honolulu Museum of Art, we offer tours that help students build visual literacy skills. The Elements Tour, which focuses on the museum’s sculptures and colorful paintings, is a great starting point for younger students. During the tour students interact with their peers, think critically, and participate in hands-on activities in response to the art they see. Older students can hone their visual literacy skills through a variety of school tours including European and American Masterpieces.

Students experiment with color and how it affects mood during the European and American Masterpieces tour with docent Debby Cowland.

For visual literacy support in the classroom, teachers can use one of the six posters that the DOE has sent to all of its teachers on O‘ahu. These posters use art as a pathway to the Hawai‘i Common Core with easy-to-follow curriculum connections and discussion prompts on the back. They are available to all Hawai‘i-based teachers. Go to our teacher resources page to request posters if you haven’t received yours.

Launched in 2014, this poster project is a collaboration between educators at the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Department of Education, and Hanahau‘oli School.

Visually literate students can craft thoughtful responses to any visual image that’s thrown their way, be it an article from the newspaper or an image on social media. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!