This is the course website for COMM 460, Visual Communication, taught by Adrienne Massanari in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This is our main course communication space. We’ll be using Blackboard mostly as a grade repository, but this is the main space for accessing readings, assignments, policies, announcements, and also contains a blog where students to which we’ll all be contributing over the course of the semester.


Instructor: Dr/Prof Adrienne Massanari; amass@uic.edu

Class meetings: Tues/Thurs 12:30-1:45 in BSB 1169

Office hours: Tuesdays/Thursdays, 11:00-12:00; other times by appointment; also available via Skype (amassanari) and Google Hangouts/chat (hegemonyrules@gmail.com)

Office location: BSB 1150B

Course hashtag: #uic460

Course description and learning objectives

Images surround us. From Instagrammed photos to Snaps to iOS games, from movies to photographs to LOL cats to advertisements, we interact with countless images on a daily basis. And yet, most of us spend little time actually analyzing images to understand their “meaning” or the ideological work they do. We simply move from image to image, interface to interface, advertisement to advertisement, often without considering the artist’s intention, the context and means by which the image was created, and what deeper truths they may contain.

This is not an art class, although we will be analyzing artistic images and reading some work written by artists and art historians. Nor is it a film class, although we will discuss the language of film and consider how films are different from/similar to moving images. And it’s not a new media class, although we will examine the ways in which interface technologies complicate matters even further. This is a class about understanding images in the broadest sense and the visual culture(s) in which we all live.

By the end of this semester, you will be able to:

  • Define some of the elements of visual culture;
  • Describe some of the ways in which images reflect/impact our sense of self and Other, our community(s), and global culture;
  • Analyze images from many different media using multiple theoretical frameworks (semiotics, feminist, psychoanalytical, etc.) to better understand their meaning and authorial intention;
  • Explore the ways in which images can be (mis)used to do ideological work; and
  • Create and present your own research applying concepts we’ve discussed in class.

No prior knowledge of visual communication is assumed.


This course requires one text available from your favorite bookseller:

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics: The invisible art. Northhampton, MA: Harper-Perennial.

Other course readings are available as PDFs on the course website. Please be sure to bring printed or electronic copies of the articles to class to facilitate our discussions. Be sure to take notes and write marginal comments as you read – we will be relying heavily on class discussions and this will help you contribute meaningfully.


The prerequisite for this class is COMM 301. If you have not met the prerequisite, you must drop this course. Any work you turn in will not be evaluated. If you have not had any work evaluated, and you appear on the roster when final grades are allocated, a grade of F will be given.

Course syllabus – PDF