Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn (MIT Press)
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In recent years, visual culture has emerged as a growing and important interdisciplinary field of study. Visual culture regards images as central to the representation of meaning in the world. It encompasses "high" art without an assumption of its higher status. But despite the current proliferation of studies and programs in visual culture, there seems to be no consensus within the field itself as to its scope and objectives, definitions, and methods. In Visual Culture, Margaret Dikovitskaya offers an overview of this new area of study in order to reconcile its diverse theoretical positions and understand its potential for further research. Her aim is to show how visual culture can avoid what she defines as the Scylla and Charybdis that threaten it: the lack of a specific object of study (given its departure from the traditional hierarchies of art history) and the expansion of the field to the point of incoherence as it seems to subsume everything related to the cultural and the visual.
Dikovitskaya gives us an archaeology of visual culture, examining the "cultural turn" away from art history and the emergence of visual studies. Drawing on responses to questionnaires, oral histories, and interviews with the field's leading scholars, she discusses first the field's history, theoretical frameworks, and methods, and then examines four programs and courses in visual culture -- those at the University of Rochester, the University of Chicago, the University of California at Irvine, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Bringing together considerations of theory and practice, Dikovitskaya charts the future of visual culture programs in the twenty-first century.
experience: As a graduate student, I w orked on a project that com bined liter ary studies, literary theory, film history, and film theory; the proj ect was devoted to literary fem ale m odernists and th eir approach to the cinema, both in w ritin g and m aking films (D. R ichardson, G ertrude Stein, and others). It was an interdisciplinary project and th ro u g h it I began to realize that the field o f film studies was lim ited in its p u rv iew in that it did n o t deal w ith o th e r
an art-critical per spective to a broader interdisciplinary position and then to one that can be called cultural studies is quite specific to my engagem ent w ith contem po rary social questions— initially the AIDS epidemic, and then, related to that, contem porary sexual politics. I w ould hesitate to make any kind o f claims about h ow som eone w ho does w ork on the Renaissance m ight think about the field o f visual culture. Some o f the things that I w ould say about my w ork w ould
the boundary, and occupied the territory w ithin; thus did visual studies originate— from a willingness to be . . . I don’t know w h eth er I like the w ord “interdisciplinary” because it suggests some sort o f comparative study, but I can’t think o f a better one. T he ap propriate m odel is n o t one o f a kind o f comparative studies w herein diff erences are eradicated— the differences, say, betw een literature and art, text and image. T h e pioneers in visual studies all tried to point out
called it a “tactic w ith 186 A p p e n d i x w hich to study the genealogy and functions o f today’s life from the point o f view o f the consumer.” W hat is the relevance o f visual studies to the study o f historical art? Is it about the consumer, or is it about the onlooker or about the art critic, artist, etc.? JH: Visual studies can be about anything o f that sort depending upon the particular m ethodological and intellectual predilections o f the practition ers. I have a m
the consum er’s response to visual media. Accordingly, visual culture should concern itself w ith “events in w hich inform ation, m ean ing, or pleasure is sought by the consum er in an interface w ith visual tech nology,” em bracing all apparatuses designed either to be looked at or to enhance natural vision, from fine arts to cinem a and the Internet. M irzoeff further suggests that although heightened visualizing is an attribute o f ou r era, visual culture does n o t depend on pictures