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The Importance of Visual Literacy

Hoagland University of Minnesota Duluth
George Hoagland, assistant professor in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies  

George Hoagland, assistant professor in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, sees the immediacy of culture. She is curious about the world — the world right now — and her research and teaching approach reflect it.  

Hoagland came to UMD through the Diversity Pre-Doctoral Teaching Fellowship Program, which provides University of Minnesota doctoral candidates the opportunity to teach, write their dissertation, and be mentored by senior faculty. She arrived at UMD in fall 2011, defended her dissertation in 2012, and has been on the faculty since then.

"UMD is a special place," said Hoagland, who taught on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus for 10 years. "My students are so friendly, I find it exceptional." Hoagland credits UMD's 20-plus connected buildings for fostering connections. "This isn't a school where you are isolated in one building. I walk through the halls and hear a constant chorus of people saying, 'Hi' to me." 

Hoagland is a popular teacher, perhaps because of her varied interests and her seemingly insatiable curiosity. In the past, Hoagland's inquisitiveness has led her beyond the classroom to research topics including "Power, Violence, Language," "The Politics of Identity," "Visions of Utopia/Dystopia", and even "Cramped Spaces." 

Hoagland's curiosity is evident in her dissertation: Reading for the Minor: Methodological Considerations in the Work of Paul Beatty, Erika Lopez, and Beau Sia. In this work, Hoagland analyzes the role of authority and the the minority voice. The way she looks at three literary works presents an interesting technique for examining literature, art, film, or even social settings. By defining the viewpoint of the dominant culture and the position of authority, she shows how the minority voice emerges more clearly and takes on more importance. 

Hoagland pays attention to how humans take in information through visual literacy; how they read an image and understand what's being communicated by that image. She is interested in Julie Mehretu, the Ethiopian-born, New York-based artist who was recently awarded the prestigious MacArthur "genius" grant.

Hoagland asks the question, "How does society 'read' Mehretu's work." Mehretu's abstract paintings are more than huge, sometimes spanning the length of a city block. They are composed of layers, characters, architectural drawings, graffiti, comic books images, air-brushing and ink wash. In summer 2013 one of Mehretu's paintings brought in over $4 million at a Christie's auction, sold in a lot with the art world's most famous artists: Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and others. There are many ways to "read" this situation. Mehretu's work is being read by collectors and the public. The scene at the auction is being "read" as the media presents images of the work, the buyers, and the auctioneer. Hoagland see the evidence of how the world is changing though what it values. She challenges her students, friends and colleagues to pay attention to how visual literacy helps us interpret society.  

In fall 2013, Hoagland taught film and media studies. Spring semester 2014 she is teaching two new courses, one on queer theory and the other on race, class, and gender in U.S. literature.

What's next? It may surprise you. She is interested in the wild creatures that live near gigantic shopping malls!


Those Who Can, Duluth

Story by Cheryl Reitan. January, 2014.

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Cheryl Reitan,

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