What is Visual Culture? Why is this such an important concept to understand? When will I need to reference this in my work? Who are some important artists, designers and theorists in this field? Where is visual culture seen in contemporary society?
Seeing is believing! Visual sense is very central to how we understand the world, we understand visuals first before we understand linguistic skills and so visuals are very powerful. Visuals have the potential to portray an important message very quickly to a certain group of people easier than a text on the same topic can.
Culture consists of lots of different elements: religion, tradition, etc and visual culture looks at how a certain culture responds to visual elements and also how a visual element can embody a certain culture. For example, cups of tea, bulldogs and red post boxes are all parts of British visual culture.
In contemporary society, we use technology, more than ever before – to expand our senses and to express ourselves. We are no longer limited to just what we actually see, the world of social media, photography and groundbreaking technology like virtual reality goggles has expanded our creative horizons. Visuals have never been more important that what they are now, the possibilities of creating imaginative concepts through imagery has no limits in this technological age. Images dictate the way that we understand things, looking at something is so much more relatable than having to read and research something.
We all think we know who Steven Hawkins is. We’ve read about his extraordinary work and his incredible brain but once we watch a film about him – ‘The Theory of Everything’, we understand different parts of him: his illness, his love life and his education. You can see him in a new found light, he is a person with a backstory, something we wouldn’t usually know about somebody without knowing them personally. Knowledge is power.
By using a film to tell the story of Steven’s life, the people who are learning about Steven has expanded. It’s not just intellectual people who have a keen interest in his work that want to learn about him anymore. Due to the romanticised version of his life events and to the high profile actors in this movie, younger audiences are tuning in to watch and learn about his life. This power is different to an autobiography, being able to see his life unfold on screen, in a cinema, through the talents of incredible actors, makes the audience connect to Steven on a highly personal and emotional level. This is a prime example of how a visual element (a film) can influence a new culture (younger audiences) and educate them in an appropriate way – some younger audiences are much more likely to watch a blockbuster film rather than read an educated article about his life.
Knowing an image of something is not necessarily understanding it. Visual studies gives us the power to analyse images and to further understand them.
Andy Warhol started off making multiple print images out of car crashes in his early career along with images of controversial electrical chairs. The idea of this was to show how tragic visuals are constantly on television, being played over and over again in an attempt to scare their audiences. However, in the same breath, seeing things repeatedly can also make you immune to these types images, so Warhol produced fresh images, repeated multiple times, turning them into a visual joke, like a friend at a pub who tells the same bland joke over and over. Warhol used potraits of young celebrities who had tragic lives, like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
Doing this portrays the idea that these icons became products on shelves – so commercialised and constantly plastered onto everything that they ironically turned into insignificant, boring faces: showing that the media as a society has an issue with obsessing over famous people.
Visual culture is about analysing images, finding deeper meanings and linking context to images.
Visual culture is also concerned with visual events in which information is departed, meaning and pleasure is sought by the consumer in an interface with visual technology.
- people are consumers of images (same way as chocolate or coffee)
- images are actually a product – sold to the consumers
- images are advertising a product/concept
- culture is:
- mutually constructed (everybody actually chooses to support this idea and contributes to it)
- patterned (certain series of predictable behaviours)
- arbitrary (not based on natural laws, they are made up by humans, for example standards of beauty – it’s made up, it’s not learnt)
- internalised – habitual
- culture in a way is a comfort zone (familiar)
- home comforts (creatures of habit)
- when something becomes controversial it will evolve and become something different
- people sometimes adjust their views to fit in with what the masses think
VISUAL CULTURE IS A TACTIC WITH WHICH TO STUDY GENEALOGY (the way that something evolves and develops), DEFINITIONS (what we define as culture now) AND FUNCTIONS OF CONTEMPORARY EVERYDAY LIFE. (What are the main visuals we use NOW?)
- Visual culture is a study of…
- dominance of visual media
- visual communication and information
- all visual products of a culture (very geographical) at a certain time, in a certain place:
- fine art
- functional design
- popular culture
- mass media (newspapers, magazines, television)
- media as a system (looking at how it functions)
- the cultural value of images, not the aesthetic
- looking at images for why they FUNCTION
TV, FILM, VIDEO, ONLINE VIEWING, PRINT IMAGES AND GRAPHIC DESIGN, PHOTOGRAPHY, GAMES, SOFTWARE DESIGN, TV, NEWS, ADVERTISING, DIGITAL PLATFORMS, INTERNET, MULTIMEDIA, INTERCONNECTIVITY, LOOK AT THE VISUAL ASPECTS OF IT, ARCHITECTURE, URBAN DESIGN, FASHION, FINE ART, PUBLIC SPACES (PARIS AND AMSTERDAM), INSTALLATION – IT IS ABOUT WHO SEES WHAT AND HOW ARE WE SEEING…
“The realisation that spectatorship (the look, the gaze, the glance, the practices of observation, surveillance and visual pleasure) may be as deep a problem as various forms of reading…” – The Gaze
Visual Construction of the social code is learnt:
- societies construct images according to their perspectives on morals and values
- we navigate or negotiate meaning (how do we find meaning in images)
- examine the relationship between culture and visuality
- images are not stable (they change over time, 1980s could be an act of rebellion, whereas today it’s feminism)
- context influences meaning (see the same image in USA compared to Britain compared to Africa?)
- our social norms are actually constructed
- we take the meaning from images and interpret it, and either follow it or go against it
- a world picture
- we experience the world as a picture and as you walk around a place we see what we can photograph, what has meaning, what can i post on social media?
- by photographing the world we are understanding history as a series of pictures which can be coded and biased, could falsify the world
- images are shaped according to power and ideology
- ideologies are shaped by those in power
- affirmed by family, education, medicine, law, the government, entertainment, industry etc
- systems of representation use rules and conventions about how to express and interpret meaning
- it is about investigation relationships of power
- Roland Barthes describes the cultural beliefs and values in images as myths
- the myth is the hidden set of rules and conventions that shape an image