Introducing Visual Culture: Ways of Looking at All Things Visual

Introducing Visual Culture:
Ways of Looking at All Things Visual


Emergence of a new paradigm for studying all forms of visual culture as parts of a cross-media system

Some Key Points to Consider

  • “Visual Culture” studies recognizes the predominance of visual forms of media, communication, and information in the postmodern world.
  • Has there been a social and cultural shift to the visual, over against the verbal and textual, in the past 50 years, and has it been accelerating in the past 10 or 20 years?
    • Or are our written, textual, and visual systems continuing an ongoing reconfiguration in a new (recognizable) phase?
  • Study of visual culture merges popular and “low” cultural forms, media and communications, and the study of “high” cultural forms or fine art, design, and architecture.
  • “Visual Studies” intersects with the notion of “mediasphere” in mediology, the study of media systems and media as a system.
  • Getting clear on terms: “visual” | “culture” | “system”
  • The “visual culture” approach acknowledges the reality of living in a world of cross-mediation–our experience of culturally meaningful visual content appears in multiple forms, and visual content and codes migrate from one form to another: 
      • print images and graphic design
      • TV and cable TV
      • film and video in all interfaces and playback/display technologies
      • computer interfaces and software design
      • Internet/Web as a visual platform
      • digital multimedia
      • advertising in all media (a true cross-media institution)
      • fine art and photography
      • fashion
      • architecture, design, and urban design
  • We learn the codes for each form and code switch among the media and the “high” and “low” culture forms.
  • The experience of everyday life can be described as code-switching or hacking the visual codes around us to navigate and negotiate meaning (see William Gibson, Pattern Recognition).
  • But: Important to deconstruct potential visual/textual binary opposition: most of our experience of media is a hybrid of texts, images, and sounds, rather than pure states of any one mode. [Barbara Kruger’s image/text art strategies: 1|2|3 | Ed Ruscha’s word art | ] 
    • Challenge is studying visual culture as a system, but not as a pure state of visuality (i.e. a system of visual meanings that are not purely imagistic–not formed only of images–but include texts and graphic design, design of functional object, architecture, logos.
    • Cases studies: W and Vogue | (examples of digital images, text, design)

Visual Culture and Institutions of Meaning
Visual Culture Produced by / Embedded in Social Institutions