What Do You Mean By That?

By April Newton

The COMM 2100 (Visual Communication) students have been hearing, talking and thinking about “meaning” a lot this semester. I have been trying to get them to understand that everything they see has meaning, whether explicit or implicit. We have looked at the expected mediated images like photography, graphic design and film and we have also talked about the visual messages conveyed through architecture, fashion and fine art.

About a month ago, the students were given a blank piece of 8 1/2 x 11 card stock paper. It’s a little thicker than typical printer paper and it has a slight texture to it. The sheet was a true white color and utterly blank. I asked them to attach some sort of meaning to the paper. They could do anything they wanted to it including drawing or painting on it, turning it into a collage, cutting it up or turning it into pulp and reforming it into something completely new. I told them their only requirement was that they had to actually use the paper but after that, the sky was the limit in terms of conveying some sort of meaning.

They turned in their projects last week and some are truly incredible. I’m deeply impressed by their interpretation of the assignment and their ability to think beyond their 8 1/2 x 11 boundaries. I sifted through some of them before the teaching assistants took them to grade and I saw pamphlets, origami, complicated collages, animals with moving parts, photographs and more. One student turned her project in as a link to a YouTube video where we found she had cut up the paper into the characters in a sort of cartoon.

The other really compelling thing has been the papers they turned in to accompany the project. They were asked first to write a paper that explained the meaning of their own piece and then write a paper with their interpretation of another student’s piece. What I found, in my initial perusal of those second papers, was a much more critical eye than I expected. They are able to make evaluations of their peers’ work that is fairly sophisticated and goes beyond “I liked it”. They seem to understand that the visual world has far more depth to it than just what we, quite literally, see on the surface and are really thinking about the messages they receive. It is deeply gratifying to me to see that analysis and, I hope, an eye-opening (pun only sort of intended) experience for them.

April Newton is a a freelancer writer and a lecturer in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University.

0 Responses to “What Do You Mean By That?”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

Flickr Photos

Follow us on Twitter


%d bloggers like this: