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Visual culture

Let me show you that the ever maligned commercial visual culture is richer than it is generally believed to be and that most judgement of mass culture suffers from empty, superficial concepts. It is not mass culture which is poor, but the theory and theorists surrounding it. --Culture is War (1995) - Leo De Haes

Today, the "dumbing down" debate with regard to "visual" versus "written" culture has largely subsided, due to the rise of the internet, which is primarily a "word culture" (search, webpages, email). Cultural pessimism, however, continues to exist. [Jun 2006]

Oral culture and visual culture existed before written culture. [Jun 2006]

Parent categories: visual - culture

Illustrated newspaper was the television of its age and its age was the

Notes towards a critique of visual culture as an academic curriculum: Several curricula of visual culture have been taught at English and American universities since the 1990s. While it is true that in the post WWII era, television has known a phenomenal rise in popularity, it would seem to me that in the age of informationalism, we are again moving to a textual Gutenbergian culture. Email, messenger and search engines are the killer applications of the internet and these are all text-based cultures. Also, it is argued (Mirzoeff) that Modernism was a text-based culture, marked by the rise of novels and newspapers, I contend that it was very much a visual culture too because of the rise of photography and the illustrated newspaper, which was the television of its age and influenced impressionism to a large extent. To the defense of visual culture as an academic curriculum, it must be noted that the discipline stresses the importance of the visual in cultural consumption, an approach which I appreciate in music too; an example of which is Ocean of Sound by David Toop, which celebrates music as an expression of aural culture. Incidentally, music is the only culture I know that is not visual culture, music is the only art form which is invisible. [Jun 2006]

Visual culture in the 20th century.

Che Guevara by Alberto Korda (March 1960)

Che Guevara poster by Jim Fitzpatrick (1968)

It is interesting to note the direction of Che's gaze in the original photograph, as Fitzpatrick's version contains a small but significant modification. In the original, the eyes are focused on the area in front of Guevara, whilst in the drawing, the eyes are gazing towards the distant horizon. There is an epic, heroic significance in Che's pose; in the original image Che appears worried, tense, whilst in the interpretation his face is set in a pose of defiant pride. He appears to be looking towards the future. With this simple alteration the image of Che has come to overshadow the reality, and as such some criticise it as being nothing more than a memetic mass-produced symbol. [Jul 2006]

The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus') (1647-51) - Diego Velázquez

The Venus effect is a phenomenon in the psychology of perception. As shown in the illustration the natural assumption is that Venus is admiring her own reflection in the mirror. In fact if the viewer can see her face, then Venus would actually be looking at the viewer's face.

This psychological "trick" is often used in the cinema, where an actor will be shown apparently looking at himself in the mirror, with the camera just out of shot. In fact, the actor will be looking at the camera and just be pretending to see himself in the mirror. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_effect [Jan 2006]

Related: eye - film - film theory - gaze - image - mass media - media theory - painting - photography - picture - printmaking - printing - seeing - television - voyeurism - vision - visual arts - visual

Texts: Duchamp on retinal art

Compare: oral culture - written culture

1970s theorists: John Berger - Laura Mulvey

1990s theorists: Claire Pajaczkowska

Compare: print culture


Visual culture is a field of study within cultural studies focusing on aspects of culture that rely on visual representations. Among cultural studies theorists working with contemporary culture, this often overlaps with film studies and the study of television, although it can also include video game studies, comics, traditional artistic mediums, advertising, and any other medium that has a crucial visual component.

Writers important to visual culture include Stuart Hall and Slavoj Zizek. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_culture [Jun 2005]

Impressionism and journalistic illustration

Journalistic Illustration provided a ready source of visual stimuli for the experimental artists of the 1860s and 1870s that affected as well as coincided with their iconographic and, to a lesser degree, their formal interests.

Ever since the appearance of Meyer Schapiro's essay on "Courbet and Popular Imagery" in 1941, we have been expanding our awareness of the popular arts as a formal and iconographic influence upon French painting of the second half of the 19th century.' During the past four decades, the interconnected contributions of cheaply printed colored woodcuts, fashion plates, photography, Japanese prints, lithography, and journalistic illustrations of contemporaneous events, customs, and social types have been increasingly recognized.'

In the work of Anne Hanson and Beatrice Farwell, in particular, a vast repertory of images, mainly lithographic, has been brought for- ward as providing a pictorial storehouse from which artists re- peatedly drew. Whereas Hanson has concentrated her attention upon Manet,' Farwell has ranged more broadly, exploring the extensive precedents in the lithography of the July Monarchy and early Second Empire for the iconography of Courbet, Manet, Degas, and the Impressionist generation.' In the catalogue of her illuminating exhibition The Cult of Images, Farwell has assessed the results of this research correctly and forcefully.

While taking account of the artists' commitment to paint what they saw, in accordance with Realist theory, she affirms the parallel role of popular imagery: In view of the wide range of Realist subjects already treated a generation earlier in popular lithographs, this simple view of artists setting out to paint the contemporary scene from the life is no longer convincing. The pattern was already there. It is naive to suppose that Degas was unaware of Gavarni's and Beaumont's "rats" behind the scenes at the Opera, since they appeared every day in Le Charivari. By the same token, it must be assumed that any artist whose youth was spent in the 1830s, '40s or '50s grew up in the constant presence of a plethora of images that were bound to appeal to visual sensibility and the urge to draw. It was the first generation of artists so affected. --Joel Isaacson, http://www.msu.edu/course/ha/446/joelisaacson.pdf [Dec 2004]

The gaze in visual media theory

The concept of gaze (often also called the gaze), in analysing visual media, is one that deals with how an audience views other people presented. This concept is extended in the framework of feminist theory, where it can deal with how men look at women, how women look at themselves and other women, and the effects surrounding this. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaze [Dec 2004]

Oral, visual and written culture

Written vs. Visual Culture
Humans existed before the invention of writing some 5,000 years ago. In fact, tens of thousands of years ago, the earliest attempts to record messages depended on making pictures. Thus, visual culture preceded written culture.

Oral culture also came before written culture. In preliterate societies, the ancient lore and legends, as well as the knowledge necessary for carrying on human life and affairs, were passed on orally. In these societies, the most important roles, next to the king's or leader's at least, were those of the storytellers and those who passed on the lore of the culture through dance and picture making. --Lloyd Eby, 1999, In the Mind's Eye: Our Emerging Visual Culture via http://www.worldandi.com/public/1999/September/visual.cfm [Jun 2006]

See also: oral culture - visual culture - written culture

The Visual Culture Reader - Nicholas Mirzoeff

The Visual Culture Reader - Nicholas Mirzoeff [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

In response to rapid changes in the emerging interdisciplinary field of visual culture, this thoroughly revised and updated second edition of "The Visual Culture Reader" brings together key writings as well as specially commissioned articles covering various visual forms including photography, painting, sculpture, fashion, advertising, television, cinema and digital culture. The volume features an introductory section tracing the development of visual culture studies in response to globalization and digital culture, and articles grouped into thematic sections, each prefaced by an introduction by the editor. Each thematic section includes suggestions for further reading. Thematic sections include: introductions/provocations/conversations; plug-in theory; imagining globalization; the space of the digital; cinema after film, television after the networks; spectacle, display, surveillance; technofeminism; visual colonialism; identity and transculture; and the gaze and sexuality. Taken as a whole, these 63 essays provide a comprehensive response to the diversity of contemporary visual culture and address the need of our postmodern culture to render experience in visual form.

Visualizing Theory: Selected Essays from V.A.R., 1990-1994 (1994) - Lucien Taylor

Visualizing Theory: Selected Essays from V.A.R., 1990-1994 (1994) - Lucien Taylor [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description

Visualizing Theory is a lavishly illustrated collection of provocative essays, occasional pieces, and dialogues that first appeared in Visual Anthropology Review between 1990 and 1993. It contains contributions from anthropologists, from cultural, literary, and film critics, and from imagemakers themselves. Reclaiming visual anthropology as a space for the critical representation of visual culture from the naive realist and exoticist inclinations that have beleaguered practitioners' efforts to date, Visualizing Theory is a major intervention into this growing field. Attending to quick and dead imagery, to mobile and still art-ifacts, to the narrative and fetishistic alike, the contributions move variously between theorizing visuality and visualizing theory, eliciting reciprocities between these two modes of experience and cognition.

Covering a vast and heterogeneous field, Visualizing Theory contains essays on modernism and montage in a ethnography and film; on paranoiac space and exilic subjectivity; on films and memory; virtual reality and dis-appearing worlds; Indigenous Media and their lure of authenticity; ethnographic film and cine-ipsography; the disenchantment of the eye and the Surrealist crisis of ocularcentrism; on modernity and its resurgence of mimesis; on Dziga Vertov and the perceptual reconstruction of social identity; African tourist art and its simulations of postmodernity; and on the work of such imagemakers as Victor Burgin, David MacDougall, Jean Rouch, and Trinh T. Minh-ha.

Contributors: Homi Bhabha, Marc Blanchard, Victor Burgin, Jane Collins, Hal Foster, Martin Jay, Ludmilla Jordanova, Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Catherine Lutz, Dean MacCannell, David MacDougall, Alan Macfarlane, George Marcus, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Henrietta Moore, Rachel Moore, Bill Nichols, Christopher Pinney, Peter Redfield, C. Nadia Seremetakis, Paul Stoller, Marilyn Strathern, Susan Suleiman, Michael Taussig, David Tomas, Elizabeth Traube, Eliot Weinberger, Annette Weiner

About the Author
Editor of V.A.R., Lucien Taylor is a filmmaker and photographer living in Berkeley, California. His two most recent productions, co-directed with Ilisa Barbash, are Made in U.S.A., a film about sweatshops, child labor and homework in the Los Angeles garment industry, and In and Out of Africa, an ethnographic documentary about fakery, taste and racial politics in the African art market.

See also: Daniel Brown - visual culture - anthropology - Routledge - culture theory

The Eye's Mind: Literary Modernism and Visual Culture (2001) - Karen Jacobs

The Eye's Mind: Literary Modernism and Visual Culture (2001) - Karen Jacobs [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The Eye's Mind significantly alters our understanding of modernist literature by showing how changing visual discourses, techniques, and technologies affected the novels of that period. In readings that bring philosophies of vision into dialogue with photography and film as well as the methods of observation used by the social sciences, Karen Jacobs identifies distinctly modernist kinds of observers and visual relationships.

This important reconception of modernism draws upon American, British, and French literary and extra-literary materials from the period 1900-1955. These texts share a sense of crisis about vision's capacity for violence and its inability to deliver reliable knowledge. Jacobs looks closely at the ways in which historical understandings of race and gender inflected visual relations in the modernist novel. She shows how modernist writers, increasingly aware of the body behind the neutral lens of the observer, used diverse strategies to displace embodiment onto those "others" historically perceived as cultural bodies in order to reimagine for themselves or their characters a "purified" gaze.

The Eye's Mind addresses works by such high modernists as Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and (more distantly) Ralph Ellison and Maurice Blanchot, as well as those by Henry James, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nathanael West which have been tentatively placed in the modernist canon although they forgo the full-blown experimental techniques often seen as synonymous with literary modernism. Jacobs reframes fundamental debates about modernist aesthetic practices by demonstrating how much those practices are indebted to the changing visual cultures of the twentieth century.

See also: visual culture - Modernist literature - vision

Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century (1990) - Jonathan Crary

Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century (1990) - Jonathan Crary [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Observer provides a dramatically new perspective on the visual culture of the nineteenth century, reassessing problems of both visual modernism and social modernity. This analysis of the historical formation of the observer is a compelling account of the prehistory of the society of the spectacle."

About the Author
Jonathan Crary is Professor of Art History at Columbia University. A founding editor of Zone Books, he is the author of Techniques of the Observer (MIT Press, 1990) and coeditor of Incorporations (Zone Books, 1992). He has been the recipient of Guggenheim, Getty, Mellon, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

See also: visual culture - 1800s

Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (1994) - Martin Jay

Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (1994) - Martin Jay [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Long considered "the noblest of the senses," vision has increasingly come under critical scrutiny by a wide range of thinkers who question its dominance in Western culture. These critics of vision, especially prominent in twentieth-century France, have challenged its allegedly superior capacity to provide access to the world. They have also criticized its supposed complicity with political and social oppression through the promulgation of spectacle and surveillance.

Martin Jay turns to this discourse surrounding vision and explores its often contradictory implications in the work of such influential figures as Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, Guy Debord, Luce Irigaray, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida. Jay begins with a discussion of the theory of vision from Plato to Descartes, then considers its role in the French Enlightenment before turning to its status in the culture of modernity. From consideration of French Impressionism to analysis of Georges Bataille and the Surrealists, Roland Barthes's writings on photography, and the film theory of Christian Metz, Jay provides lucid and fair-minded accounts of thinkers and ideas widely known for their difficulty.

His book examines the myriad links between the interrogation of vision and the pervasive antihumanist, antimodernist, and counter-enlightenment tenor of much recent French thought. Refusing, however, to defend the dominant visual order, he calls instead for a plurality of "scopic regimes." Certain to generate controversy and discussion throughout the humanities and social sciences, Downcast Eyes will consolidate Jay's reputation as one of today's premier cultural and intellectual historians.

See also: Modernism - vision

Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision (1993) - David Michael Levin (Editor)

Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision (1993) - David Michael Levin (Editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
This collection of original essays by preeminent interpreters of continental philosophy explores the question of whether Western thought and culture have been dominated by a vision-centered paradigm of knowledge, ethics, and power. It focuses on the character of vision in modern philosophy and on arguments for and against the view that contemporary life and thought are distinctively "ocularcentric." The authors examine these ideas in the context of the history of philosophy and consider the character of visual discourse in the writings of Plato, Descartes, Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Benjamin, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Derrida, Foucault, Gadamer, Wittgenstein, and Habermas. With essays on television, the visual arts, and feminism, the book will interest readers in cultural studies, gender studies, and art history as well as philosophers.

See also: Modernism - vision

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