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A visionary, defined broadly, is one who can envision the future. For some groups, visioning can involve the supernatural.

Though visionaries may face accusations of hallucinating,[1] people may succeed in reaching a visionary state via meditation,[2] lucid dreams, daydreams, or art. One example of a visionary is Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century artist and Catholic saint.[3] Other visionaries in religion include St Bernadette (1844-1879) and Joseph Smith (1805-1844), said to have had visions of and to have communed with the Blessed Virgin and the Angel Moroni, respectively. There is also the case of the Targum Jonathan, which was produced in antiquity and served as the targum to the Nevi'im. It described the significance of the turban or a diadem to indicate a capability on the part of Jewish priests to become agents of visionary experience.[4]

Robert Jarvik has suggested: "Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them."[5]

Extended meanings[edit]

A vision can be political, religious, environmental, social, or technological in nature. By extension, a visionary can also be a person with a clear, distinctive, and specific (in some details) vision of the future, usually connected with advances in technology or social/political arrangements. For example, Ted Nelson is referred to as a visionary in connection with the Internet.[6]

Other visionaries simply imagine what does not yet exist but might someday, as some forms of "visioning" (or gazing) provide a glimpse into the possible future. Therefore, visioning can mean seeing in a utopian way what does not yet exist on earth—but might exist in another realm—such as the ideal or perfect realm as imagined or thought. Examples are Buckminster Fuller in architecture and design, Malcolm Bricklin in the automobile industry and Ada Lovelace in computing. Some people use mathematics to make visionary discoveries in the nature of the universe. In that sense, a visionary may also function as a secular prophet. Some visionaries emphasize communication, and some assume a figurehead role in organizing a social group. In other words, a visionary means that a person can see what something could be long before it actually happens.

In business[edit]

The ability to get a clear picture of the future is the reason the concept is also used in the business field to denote a leader who is able to anticipate future opportunities. For instance, there is the case of the American entrepreneur Steve Jobs who is often called a visionary[7][8] because he was ahead of his time, implementing new ideas that are pioneering in the technology field. Management experts do not equate this as an uncanny ability to predict the future but a capability of viewing the world differently, which allows an individual to identify patterns, trends, and opportunities.[8] Some conceive it as the ability to form a picture of what they want of the future and make it happen.[9]

There are authors who consider the concept of the visionary as one that is constituted by a set of acquired skills and, thus, a state that can be learned. For this reason, there are now training and educational programs that promise its learners that they can become visionary leaders. This is demonstrated by a growing body of literature that cites techniques, which can be obtained from courses in visionary thinking, for a person to reach beyond illusory boundaries.[10]

In art[edit]

Artists may produce work loosely categorized as visionary art for its luminous content and/or for its use of artistic techniques that call for the use of extended powers of perception in the viewer: (e.g. Gustave Moreau, Samuel Palmer, Jean Delville, Ernst Fuchs, the French Symbolist Odilon Redon, Brion Gysin, Max Ernst, Stanley Spencer, Edward Burne-Jones, Adolf Wolfli, Fred Sandback, William Blake, Hieronymus Bosch, and Henry Darger).

Visionary art can be incorrectly defined as a category of primitive art (art of those not formally trained) rather than describing people who have used their visions (or dreams) to create their paintings. Salvador Dalí is one artist who would exemplify visionary art that is neither religious nor primitive.


  1. ^ For example: Blom, Jan Dirk (23 June 2023). "Hallucination". A Dictionary of Hallucinations (2 ed.). Cham, Zug: Springer Nature. p. 319. ISBN 9783031252488. Retrieved 14 July 2024. In 1838 [...] Esquirol stated that 'A person is said to labour under a hallucination, or to be a visionary, who has a thorough conviction of the perception of a sensation, when no external object, suited to excite this sensation, has impressed the senses'.
  2. ^ For example: Greene, Eric M. (31 January 2021). "Meditation and Meditation Literatuire in Early Medieval Chinese Buddhism". The Secrets of Buddhist Meditation: Visionary Meditation Texts from Early Medieval China. Kuroda Classics in East Asian Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press. pp. 8–9. ISBN 9780824884444. Retrieved 14 July 2024. In the Chan Essentials and Methods for Curing [...] the meditator's journey is not psychological but visionary. [...] Successful meditation, as depicted here, is primarily an elaborate visionary journey.
  3. ^ Hildegard of Bingen, Visionary
  4. ^ Sweeney, Marvin (2014). Reading Prophetic Books: Form, Intertextuality, and Reception in Prophetic and Post-Biblical Literature. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. p. 392. ISBN 9783161523748.
  5. ^ Robbins, Pam; Alvy, Harvey B., eds. (18 February 2014). The Principal's Companion: Strategies to Lead Schools for Student and Teacher Success (4 ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press. p. 257. ISBN 9781452287546. Retrieved 14 July 2024.
  6. ^ BBC News | SCI/TECH | Visionary lays into the web
  7. ^ Kler, Nina. "'Steve Jobs Was A Good Speaker And A Visionary Leader Of Our Times'". BW Businessworld. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  8. ^ a b Zetlin, Minda (2015-07-16). "5 Ways Visionaries Like Steve Jobs Got That Way". Inc.com. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  9. ^ Duggan, William. "Steve Jobs: Visionary Or Opportunist?". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  10. ^ Crawford, Curtis (2005). Corporate Rise: The X Principles of Extreme Personal Leadership. Santa Clara, CA: XCEO, Inc. pp. 117. ISBN 0976901900.