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Visual Culture as an academic subject is a field of study that generally includes some combination of cultural studies, art history, critical theory, philosophy, and anthropology, by focusing on aspects of culture that rely on visual images.


Among theorists working within contemporary culture, this field of study often overlaps with film studies, psychoanalytic theory, gender studies, queer theory, and the study of television; it can also include video game studies, comics, traditional artistic media, advertising, the Internet, and any other medium that has a crucial visual component.

The field’s versatility stems from the range of objects contained under the term “visual culture,” which aggregates “visual events in which information, meaning or pleasure is sought by the consumer in an interface with visual technology.” The term “visual technology” refers any media designed for purposes of perception or with the potential to augment our visual capability.[1]

Because of the changing technological aspects of visual culture as well as a scientific method-derived desire to create taxonomies or articulate what the "visual" is, many aspects of Visual Culture overlap with the study of science and technology, including hybrid electronic media, cognitive science, neurology, and image and brain theory. In an interview with the Journal of Visual Culture, academic Martin Jay explicates the rise of this tie between the visual and the technological: “Insofar as we live in a culture whose technological advances abet the production and dissemination of such images at a hitherto unimagined level, it is necessary to focus on how they work and what they do, rather than move past them too quickly to the ideas they represent or the reality they purport to depict. In so doing, we necessarily have to ask questions about . . . technological mediations and extensions of visual experience.”[2]


The term "Visualism" was developed by the German anthropologist Johannes Fabian to criticise the dominating role of vision in scientific discourse, through such terms as observation. He points to an under theorised approach to the use of visual representation which leads to a corpuscular theory of knowledge and information which leads to their atomisation.[3]

Relationship with other areas of study[edit]

It also may overlap with another emerging field, that of Performance Studies. As “the turn from art history to visual culture studies parallels a turn from theater studies to performance studies,” it is clear that the perspectival shift that both emerging fields embody is comparable.[4] "Visual Culture" goes by a variety of names at different institutions, including Visual and Critical Studies, Visual and Cultural Studies, and Visual Studies.[citation needed] There has appeared analysis which applies method with computational media. For example, in 2008, Yukihiko Yoshida did a study called [5]Leni Riefenstahl and German expressionism: research in Visual Cultural Studies using the trans-disciplinary semantic spaces of specialized dictionaries.” The study took databases of images tagged with connotative and denotative keywords (a search engine) and found Riefenstahl’s imagery had the same qualities as imagery tagged “degenerate” in the title of Degenerate Art Exhibition, Germany at 1937.


Early work on visual culture has been done by John Berger (Ways of Seeing, 1972) and Laura Mulvey (Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975) that follows on from Jacques Lacan's theorization of the unconscious gaze. Twentieth-century pioneers such as György Kepes and William Ivins, Jr. as well as iconic phenomenologists like Maurice Merleau-Ponty also played important roles in creating a foundation for the discipline.

Major work on visual culture has been done by W. J. T. Mitchell, particularly in his books Iconology and Picture Theory, and by the art historian and cultural theorist Griselda Pollock. Other writers important to visual culture include Stuart Hall, Roland Barthes, Jean-François Lyotard, Rosalind Krauss, Paul Crowther and Slavoj Žižek. Continuing work has been done by Lisa Cartwright, Margaret Dikovitskaya, and Nicholas Mirzoeff.

In the German-speaking world, analoguous discussions about "Bildwissenschaft" (image studies) are conducted, a.o., by Gottfried Boehm, Hans Belting, and Horst Bredekamp.

Visual Culture studies have been increasingly important in religious studies through the work of David Morgan, Sally Promey, Jeffrey F. Hamburger, and S. Brent Plate.

Differentiating Between Visual Culture Studies and Image Studies[edit]

While the image remains a focal point in visual culture studies, it is the relations between images and consumers that are evaluated for their cultural significance, not just the image in and of itself. Martin Jay clarifies, “Although images of all kinds have long served as illustrations of arguments made discursively, the growth of visual culture as a field has allowed them to be examined more in their own terms as complex figural artifacts or the stimulants to visual experiences.”[6]

Likewise, W. J. T. Mitchell explicitly distinguishes the two fields in his claim that visual culture studies “helps us to see that even something as broad as the image does not exhaust the field of visuality; that visual studies is not the same thing as image studies, and that the study of the visual image is just one component of the larger field.”[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mirzoeff, Nicholas. "What is Visual Culture?". The Visual Culture Reader (2nd ed.). ISBN 978-0-415-14134-5. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "That Visual Turn". Journal of Visual Culture. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Rarey, Matthew (2012). "Visualism". In Burns, James; McGuire, Kristi. Theorizing Visual Studies: Writing Through the Discipline. Routledge. pp. 278 – 281. ISBN 9781136159169. 
  4. ^ Jackson, Shannon. "Performing Show and Tell: Disciplines of Visual Culture and Performance Studies". Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  5. ^ Yoshida,Yukihiko, Leni Riefenstahl and German Expressionism: A Study of Visual Cultural Studies Using Transdisciplinary Semantic Space of Specialized Dictionaries ,Technoetic Arts: a journal of speculative research (Editor Roy Ascott),Volume 8, Issue3,intellect,2008
  6. ^ "That Visual Turn". Journal of Visual Culture. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  7. ^ "Visual Culture/Visual Studies: Inventory of Recent Definitions". Retrieved 2 November 2011. 

Further reading (Books)[edit]

  • Bartholeyns, Gil, Dierkens, Alain & Golsenne, Thomas (ed.) (2010). La Performance des images (1st ed.). Brussels: Brussels University Press. ISBN 978-2-8004-1474-4. 
  • Alloa, Emmanuel (ed.), Gottfried Boehm, Marie-José Mondzain, Jean-Luc Nancy, Emanuele Coccia, W. J. T. Mitchell, Horst Bredekamp, Georges Didi-Huberman, Hans Belting (2011). Penser l'image (2nd ed.). Dijon: Presses du réel. ISBN 978-2840663430. 
  • Dikovitskaya, Margaret (2005). Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn (1st ed.). Cambridge, Ma: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-04224-X. 
  • Elkins, James (2003). Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-96681-7. 
  • Ewen, Stuart (1988). All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture (1st ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00101-9. 
  • Fuery, Kelli & Patrick Fuery (2003). Visual Culture and Critical Theory (1st ed.). London: Arnold Publisher. ISBN 0-340-80748-2. 
  • Oliver Grau: Virtual Art. From Illusion to Immersion. MIT-Press, Cambridge/Mass. 2003.
  • Oliver Grau, Andreas Keil (Hrsg.): Mediale Emotionen. Zur Lenkung von Gefühlen durch Bild und Sound. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2005.
  • Oliver Grau (Hrsg.): Imagery in the 21st Century. MIT-Press, Cambridge 2011.
  • Manghani, Sunil; Jon Simons; Arthur Piper (2006). Images: A Reader. London: Sage. ISBN 978-1-4129-0045-4. 
  • Manghani, Sunil (2008). Image Critique. London: Intellect Books. ISBN 978-1-84150-190-1. 
  • Jay, Martin (ed.), 'The State of Visual Culture Studies', themed issue of Journal of Visual Culture, vol.4, no.2, August 2005, London: Sage. ISSN 14704129. eISSN 17412994
  • Mirzoeff, Nicholas (1999). An Introduction to Visual Culture. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-15876-1. 
  • Michael Ann, Holly & Moxey, Keith (2002). Art History, Aesthetics, Visual Studies (1st ed.). Massachusetts: Clark Art Institute and Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09789-1. 
  • Mirzoeff, Nicholas (ed.) (2002). The Visual Culture Reader (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-25222-9. 
  • Morra, Joanne & Smith, Marquard (eds.) (2006). Visual Culture: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, 4 vols. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32641-9. 
  • Plate, S. Brent, Religion, Art, and Visual Culture. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) ISBN 0-312-24029-5
  • Smith, Marquard, 'Visual Culture Studies: Questions of History, Theory, and Practice' in Jones, Amelia (ed.) A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945, Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4051-3542-9
  • Yoshida,Yukihiko, Leni Riefenstahl and German Expressionism: A Study of Visual Cultural Studies Using Transdisciplinary Semantic Space of Specialized Dictionaries, Technoetic Arts: a journal of speculative research (Editor Roy Ascott),Volume 8, Issue3,intellect,2008
  • Sturken, Marita; Lisa Cartwright (2007). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-531440-9. 

External links[edit]

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