practices of lookingan introduction to visual culture by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright powerpoint by Donnie Taylor
Contents • Practices of Looking: Images, Power, and Politics • Viewers Make Meaning • Spectatorship, Power and Knowledge • Reproduction and Visual Technologies • The Mass Media and the Public Square • Consumer Culture and the Manufacturing of Desire
Practices of Looking • Everyday we are in the practice of looking to make sense of the world around us. • To see is a process of observing and recognizing. • To look is to actively make meaning of that world.
Practices of Looking • To look is an act of choice. • Looking is a practice much like speaking or writing. • Looking involves relationships of power. • Looking can be easy or difficult, fun or unpleasant, harmless or dangerous. • Looking can be conscious or unconscious. • Looking is used to communicate, to influence and to be influenced.
Practices of Looking • A single image can serve a multitude of purposes, appear in a range of settings, and mean different things to different people. • This image, of school children in the early 1940s who see a murder scene in the street, was taken by Weegee.
I. Representation • Representation refers to the use of language and images to create meaning about the world around us. • These systems have rules and conventions about how to express and interpret meaning.
I. Representation • Do systems of representation reflect the world as it is, as a form of mimesis or imitation, or do we construct the world around us through our use of the systems of representation? • Social constructionists argue that systems of representation do not reflect an already existing reality so much as they organize, construct, and mediate our understanding of reality, emotion, and imagination. • However, the distinction can often be difficult to make.
Is this image simply a reflection of this particular scene or does it produce meanings about these objects? Pieter Claesz, 1642
I. Representation • We learn the rules and conventions of the systems of representation within a given culture. • Many artists have attempted to defy those rules and conventions and to push at the definitions of representation. • Images such as this show the complexity of how words and images produce meaning in our world. Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1928-29
II. The Myth of Photographic Truth • The creation of an image through a camera lens always involves some degree of subjective choice through selection, framing, and personalization. • Despite this, photography has historically been regarded as more objective than painting or drawing. • The combination of the subjective and objective is a central argument about photographic images.
This picture was taken by the Mars rover Spirit on January 14, 2004. What scientific evidence can be derived from this photo? What other meanings can you infer about this photo?
II. The Myth of Photographic Truth • All images have two levels of meaning. • The denotative meaning of the image refers to its literal descriptive meaning. • The connotative meanings rely on the cultural and historic context of the image and its viewers.
II. The Myth of Photographic Truth • The term myth, as used by Roland Barthes, refers to the cultural values and beliefs that are expressed through connotations parading as denotations. • Myth is the hidden set of rules and conventions through which meanings, which are in reality specific to certain groups, are made to seem universal.
II. The Myth of Photographic Truth • Myth allows the connotative meaning of a particular thing or image appear to be denotative.
II. The Myth of Photographic Truth • The cultural meanings of and expectations about images are tied to the technology through which it is produced.
III. Images and Ideology • All images are produced within dynamics of social power and ideology. • Ideology is the shared set of values and beliefs through which individuals live out their complex relations to a range of social structures. • Ideologies often appear to be natural or given aspects of everyday life.
III. Images and Ideology • Ideologies are produced and affirmed through the social institutions in a given society, such as the family, education, medicine, the law, the government, and the entertainment industry, among others. • Images are also used for regulation, categorization, identification, and evidence. • Images often move across social arenas from documentary images to advertisements to amateur video to news images to art works. • Each change in context produces a change in meaning.
III. Images and Ideology • What ideological assumptions might be said to underlie the differences in these two magazine covers?
IV. How We Negotiate the Meaning of Images • We decode, or read, complex images almost instantly, giving little thought to our process of decoding. • We decode images by interpreting clues to intended, unintended, and even suggested meanings. • These clues may be formal elements of the image, such as color, shade, and contrast, or the socio-historical context in which it is presented.
What does this image mean? When and where was it taken? What kind of event does it depict? What is the advertiser hoping to communicate about its company to consumers?
IV. How We Negotiate the Meaning of Images • The process of interpretation is derived from semiotics, a theory of signs which is concerned with the ways things (words, images, and objects) are vehicles for meaning. • We live in a world of signs, and it is the labor of our interpretation that makes meaning of those signs. • The sign is composed of the signifier (a sound, written word, or image) and the signified (which is the concept evoked by that word or image).
What is the signifier, signified, and sign in this advertisement?
V. The Value of Images • What gives an image social value? • Images do not have value in and of themselves, they are awarded different kinds of value – monetary, social, and political – in particular social contexts. • For example, in the art market, a painting gains its economic value through cultural determination concerning what society judges to be important in assessing works of art.
Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises sold for $53.8 million in 1991. Why is this painting worth so much?
V. The Value of Images • Fine art objects are also valued because it can be endlessly reproduced for popular consumption on posters, postcards, coffee mugs, and t-shirts. • Hence, the value of the original results not only from its uniqueness but also from its role in popular culture.
A Bold Bluff, 1903, by C.M. Coolidge sold with another ‘dogs playing poker’ painting in 2005 for over $590,000.
V. The Value of Images • The value of a television news image lies in its capacity to be transmitted quickly and widely to a vast number of geographically dispersed television screens.
VI. Image Icons • An icon is an image that refers to something outside of its individual components that has great symbolic meaning for many people. • An image produced in a specific culture, time, and place might be interpreted as having universal meaning.
Raphael, The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505; Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936 • How do each of these images represent different icons of motherhood?
VI. Image Icons • Andy Worhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962) comments on the star’s iconic status as a glamour figure and a media commodity. • He emphasizes that cultural icons can and must be mass-distributed in order for them to have mass appeal.
VI. Image Icons • When images acquire status of icons, they also can become the object of humorous or ironic interpretations. • Through cultural appropriation, Madonna acquired the power of icons and reflected ironically on their meaning in the climate of the 1980s and 1990s.
Viewers Make Meaning Chapter 2
Viewers Make Meaning • Meanings are produced through a complex social relationship that involves at least two elements besides the image itself and its producer: (1) how the viewers interpret or experience the image and (2) the context in which an image is seen. • Works or art and media rarely “speak” to everyone universally. • Just as viewers create meaning from images, images also construct audiences.
I. Producers’ Intended Meanings • Artists, graphic designers, filmmakers, and other image producers create advertisements and many other images with the intent that we read them in a certain way. • However, people often see an image differently from how it was intended to be seen.
The visual clutter of the context alone may affect how viewers interpret these images, in addition to juxtapositions with other images.
I. Producers’ Intended Meanings • This does not mean that viewers wrongly interpret images, or that images fail to persuade viewers. • Rather meanings are created in part when, where, and by whom images are consumed and produced. • An artist or producer may make an image or media text, but he or she is not in full control of the meanings that are subsequently seen in their work.
II. Aesthetics and Taste • The criteria used to interpret and give value to images depend upon shared concepts of what makes an image pleasing or unpleasant, shocking or banal, interesting or boring. • All viewers interpret two fundamental concepts of value – aesthetics and taste. • Aesthetics refers to philosophical notions about the perception of beauty and ugliness. • Taste is something that can be learned through contact with cultural institutions that instruct us in what is in good taste and what is not.
How do museums and other cultural institutions influence our interpretations of taste?
II. Aesthetics and Taste • The notion of connoisseurship refers to one who is considered to be an authority on beauty and aesthetics and is more capable than others to pass judgment on the quality of cultural objects. • Thus, taste is not inherent in particular people, but rather is learned through exposure to social and cultural institutions that promote certain class-based assumptions about correct taste.
II. Aesthetics and Taste • The distinctions between different kinds of culture have traditionally been understood as the difference between high and low culture. • Traditionally, high culture has meant fine art, classical music, opera, and ballet. • Low culture was a term used for comic strips, television, and initially for cinema.
How have divisions of high and low culture been criticized in recent years?
III. Reading Images as Ideological Subjects • When taste is naturalized, it embodies the ideologies of its context and time. • In the 1960s, French Marxist Louis Althusser argued that “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” • In other words, ideology is the necessary representational means through which we come to experience and make sense of reality.
III. Reading Images as Ideological Subjects • The process of interpellation refers to how we are constructed by the ideologies that speak to us everyday through language and images. • According to Althusser, we are not so much individuals but rather we are “always already” subjects.
III. Reading Images as Ideological Subjects • Althusser’s concepts of ideology have been influential, but can be seen as disempowering. • How much agency do we have in our lives?
III. Reading Images as Ideological Subjects • In the 1920s and 1930s, Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci introduced the concept of hegemony to understand the plurality of ideology. • Hegemony emphasizes that power is not wielded by one class over another; rather, power is constantly negotiated and changing among all classes of people, who struggle with and against one another in the economic, social, political, and ideological arenas in which they live and work. • Counter-hegemonic forces are political movements or subversive cultural elements which emerge and question the status quo in ways that may not favor the interests of the marketplace.
Barbara Kruger’s work functions as a counter-hegemonic statement. Who is the “you” of this image?
IV. Encoding and Decoding • All images are both encoded and decoded. • An image or object is encoded with meaning with meaning in its creation or production and when it is placed in a given setting or context. • It is then decoded by viewers when it is consumed by them. • These processes work in tandem.