Fiction and Poetry

Visual Illiteracy, a short story

“There’s something strange about visual literacy. It seems you either have it or you don’t.” Jack was musing again, speaking with that far away look in his eyes, a half-full martini in his hand.


“There’s something strange about visual literacy. It seems you either have it or you don’t.” Jack was musing again, speaking with that far away look in his eyes, a half-full martini in his hand.

“Is it cultural? I mean is it part of a social DNA that gets passed on from generation to generation building up in the collective unconsciousness? Take the Chinese. They’re one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, with great structure, order and wisdom and yet they have no visual design sense! Go into any Chinatown anywhere and what will you find?”
I looked at him while trying to think of something witty to say.
“I’ll tell you what you’ll find: cacophony, noise, filth! And they way they talk it sounds like they’re cursing at each other.

“Jack I think you’re lumping in a huge population with a smaller…”
“Yes I know what you’re going to say, they’re speaking Cantonese and yes, the northerners have a much more polite language, but seriously, why send over the most illiterate?  The chaos even spills over into even the way the language looks! I mean, I don’t speak or read Chinese but I can tell you the vast preponderance of clashing styles makes for just a cloud of clutter! It’s ridiculous. Go to Hong Kong, even better, go to Mongkok which is in the Guiness Book of World Records for being the most densely populated place on earth. It’s like living in Blade Runner. It’s packed with people, rats and signs! The signs are the worst part of it, I felt like I was suffocating the whole time. I had to ask my boyfriend at the time, to just hold my hand to guide me out of there – I couldn’t even open my eyes!

Meanwhile, you go to Japan or Korea and you see an almost opposite attitude. They get it! There’s a reverence for beauty. They understand design! They know what negative space is and heartily embrace it!
I can’t read it either but it’s effect is one of order, hierarchy, respect. It makes the Chinese look like backwards barbarians!”

Some would call Jack a racist, but having known him for a while, I would say he was just an observant guy, someone who could see the stuff behind the curtain. A self-taught typography buff, he now felt he could hold court on the societal benefits of good letter spacing, kerning and emotions of fonts.

I was also used to his near perfect record of having a new cultural epiphany at 5:30 pm, halfway through his second happy hour drink. And now that he was on the museum board, he felt beyond reproach, after-all he was representing these cultures to the world.

There was the sound of glasses clinking and we looked up to see the servant bringing in another round of martinis.
“Thank you Chung, can you please check with the cook on dinner?”
“Yes of course sir.”
The servant was an elderly Chinese gentleman.
“You see, I even had to teach Chung here how to have some eye for design. When he got here, he would put the most hideous outfits together, I just had to send him back! I mean how could I have him serving guests looking like some coolie?”

“Did you know I have some Chinese blood?” Jack said.
“What?” I said surprised.
“Yes, I’m not joking. It was a bit of shock to me at first too. But then I started to think about how it all started to make sense. I too struggled with my fashion sense. I too had this feeling of otherness. My mother, God rest her soul, even told me once how I used to get teased for having “chinky eyes!” I guess I outgrew that.” He laughed.
“But I am proof it is over-comeable. Is that even a word? I’m living proof that one can develop good taste, a judgement for balance and design and “chinkiness.” He giggled.

“So I guess I’m contradicting my earlier statement of either having it or not. But anyway, have another drink. Let’s toast my new appointment shall we?”
I raised my new glass even though my old one still had 3/4 of the drink left.
“To the newest and most wonderful Board member, Jack Carpenter.”
We clinked glasses and I took a sip. Jack practically guzzled half of his.
“Those friggin’ gooks have no idea what they’re in for!” Jack slurred.

© Copyright 2014 Andrew Ingkavet.

By ingkavet

Andrew Ingkavet is an educator, author and entrepreneur.
His belief that learning a musical instrument builds skills vital to success in life has led to a thriving music school in Brooklyn, NY. Internationally, Andrew helps music teachers with the Musicolor Method, an online curriculum/training as well as a 5 star-rated book,The Game of Practice: with 53 Tips to Make Practice Fun. He is also founder of 300 Monks, a music licensing company.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.