CCTP748: Week 11

Kehinde Wiley: Artist Case Study for Mediology and Visual Culture

Kehinde Wiley at Roberts & Tilton, LA: The World Stage: Israel

[Gallery Press Release:]

Roberts & Tilton is pleased to present, The World Stage: Israel, the latest installment of Kehinde Wiley's colossal The World Stage series. Through Wiley's comprehensive exchange, the Artist's contemporary yet historical oeuvre accentuates international cultures and their denizens, evoking discourse on an ever-expanding examination of globalization. Kehinde Wiley, who traveled to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, discusses his connection and engagement with the world through The World Stage series:

After a while...I started to see certain patterns emerge, patterns such as ways of dressing, patterns of speech, a type of post-black urban sensibility that supersedes race, that supersedes tribal group. It is, in many ways, something to do with class affiliation. The positioning of Israel within The World Stage series is crucial and key in understanding the project given that each country is selected for its unique political and social importance in the world arena in the year 2011. The work included in The World Stage: Israel specifically concentrates on contemporary Israeli youth culture utilizing discotheques, malls, bars, and sporting venues as locations to scout participants. All of the models come from a full range of ethnic and social backgrounds. In addition, the work relies heavily upon a desire to see the decorative traditions that have come out of Israel, historically juxtaposed with some of the more contemporary modes of national and personal expression.

Kehinde Wiley, The World Stage: Israel
Kehinde Wiley, The World Stage: Israel

The Old Testament forbids any visual representation of God, and as man is made in the image of God, figurative references are noticeably absent in Jewish histories. Integrating Jewish imagery with both a contemporary and classical Western influence, each model's pose references art historical paintings created in the manner of the great masters. Intricate patterns and saturated colors appropriated from ancestral papercuts become the unifying foundation from which the Israeli men are elevated to a position of power extending into perpetuity. Throughout history, Jews from the lowest to the highest echelons of society created devotional papercuts, a tradition of Jewish folk art and culture, as a personal expression of faith. These ritual objects found in synagogue wall paintings, tombstones, book illustrations, and calligraphic and printed sheets fulfill religious and mystic needs. The hand carved frames created for The World Stage: Israel combine orthodox imagery of the Hands of Kohen (the blessing hands of a Kohen—a person descended from Aaron, the high priest) and the Lion of Judah (symbolizing power and majesty and often represented in symmetrical, confronting pairs.)

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The World Stage: Israel includes paintings and various works on paper. Past segments have included China; Africa, Lagos-Dakar; Brazil; and India. The World Stage: Israel is the Artists' fourth solo exhibition at Roberts & Tilton.

Kehinde Wiley was born in Los Angeles, received a BFA from San Francisco Art Institute in 1999, and a MFA from Yale University in 2001. His paintings are in the collections of over forty museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hammer Museum, High Museum, Walker Art Center, and Brooklyn Museum to name a few. Selected exhibitions include The National Portrait Gallery, Brooklyn Museum, and Columbus Museum, among others. Recent collaborations include Puma World Cup, BET, VH1 and USA Network. His work has been the subject of eight monographs to date, with a forthcoming Rizzoli publication scheduled for release in 2012.

Kehinde Wiley The World Stage: Israel
Published by Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California
Kehinde Wiley The World Stage: Israel catalogue documents the Artist's 2010 journey to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a collection of new portrait paintings from Wiley's multinational series, The World Stage. Format: Hardcover, 11.5 x 8.75 inches/29 x 22 cm. English/Hebrew, 64 pages, 40 color images. ISBN: 978-1-4276-1375-2. Available through DAP, Winter 2011.

Discussion points:
Think about the multiple institutions, mediums, and mediations enabling this artist's work.

--Martin Irvine

Zac Allard

The advent of visual culture studies grew out of an interplay between many, many disparate disciplines and fields. It has roots in such fields as cultural studies, visual rhetoric, Communications (TV, film production, advertising, graphic design), institutional theory, social network theory, and many, many more. One of it most important antecedents is Barthes’s essay, “The Rhetoric Image” where he tried to read the image as a text, and the corresponding field of visual semiotics. Sonneson writes that pictoral semiotics, “supposes that there is such a thing as a pictorial sign, or, more broadly (in a sense which will be specified in the second lecture), that there are pictorial meanings.” Visual semiotics (like linguistic semiotics) studies the visual as a system of signs with the idea that, “it is possible to construe pictures as signs signs (and/or meanings)” (Sorrenson). Visual culture has evolved since then to include (as mentioned earlier) many other aspects including the political, fine art, advertising, film, etc., etc,. Every writer seems to have his own definition of what visual studies entails.

    • Mirzoeff writes, “Visual culture is concerned with visual events in which information, meaning or pleasure is sought by the consumer in an interface with visual technology.”
      • This definition prizes the users of a specific technology.
    • Rogoff writes, “visual culture opens an entire world of intertextuality in which images, sounds, and spatial delineations are read on to and through one another, lending ever accruing layers of meaning and of subjective responses to each encounter with film, TV, advertising, art works, buildings or urban environments.”
      • Incredibly open definition. Not even limited to the visual in any substantive way
    • Bathes describes visual semiotics (a close antecedent of visual culture) as fundamentally concerned with, “How does meaning get into the image?” “Where does it end?”
      • He is prizing the meaning he believes tucked away in every image
    • Mitchell defines visual culture as, “the study of the social construction of visual experience.”
      • This is an incredibly political definition that emphasizes the primacy of society in shaping the visual experience
    • Irvine tackles the issue of defining visual culture pragmatically writing, “…it is helpful to try describing the field in terms of what it studies. In that case, visual studies is predominantly about film, photography, advertising, video and the internet. It is primarily not about painting, sculpture or architecture, and it is rarely about any media before 1950 except early film and photography”
    • Poster is here to bury “visual culture” not to praise it. He writes, “Certainly there are problems with the term ‘visual culture’. When one attempts to define it or give it coherence, difficulties immediately emerge.”
    • Jay describes visual culture by describing its emergence. He writes, “In particular ways, Visual Studies very clearly emerges specifically out of disputes in recent art history, film studies and cultural studies, born of questions, often historiographical in nature, of politics, ethics and practice.”

Academic and Professional Disciplines
Surrounding the Study of Visual Culture
Media Studies
Art History and Art Theory
Cultural Studies
Film Studies
Visual Rhetoric, Graphic Design, Literary Theory
Visual Arts (painting, photography, video, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, all hybrids)
Visual Culture: Objectifications, Legitimized Subject Matter
Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art and Representation
Sociology and Anthropology of art, media, and communication
Architecture and Design
Museums and Art Curatorship
Communications (TV, film production, advertising, graphic design)
Institutional Theory and Social Network Theory
and Complexity Theory

Clearly, this is a remarkably broad “field of study” (since the term discipline implies a sense of discipline to stay focused). The University of Iowa website for their department of Visual Communication Studies lists everything from “The Black Man on Our Screens and the Empty Space in Representation” to “Audiovisual Culture and Interdisciplinary Knowledge” to “Gestalt and Typography.” Obviously, the range of study in visual culture studies is nigh limitless, and every academic with a vested interest has his own definition. Given the free-form nature of the “field” (as much as it can be so defined), one of the more interesting question this professor Irvine prompts is, “Does the trend for "visual culture studies" make sense in the context of interdisciplinary theory that we have studied so far?” Certainly, there is value in teaching what I am going to call “visual literacy.” It is fallacious to assume as Mirzoeff does that this is, “a new visuality of culture.” That is assuming that visual culture was not always important. Poster refutes this romantic notion, “Does it mean that we use our eyes more than in the past? I think not. Does it mean that we translate experience from other senses into the visual one? Again I think not. The measure of distance in the Middle Ages was often ‘translated’ from numbers into visual expression. A standard of measure in certain villages was how far one could see a red bird in a forest” Another easy example would the domination of icons in the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

However, this does not mean that there is no need for “visual culture studies.” Because while visual culture is no more pre-dominant than it ever has been, that does not mean that people have always been visually literate. There is value to understanding the nature of the visual world that surrounds us. There is often a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the pervasive visual. Photography (and now the emergence of post-photography) is a perfect example. For most of photography’s history it was read as a window of reality, a scientific index of a specific moment in time and space. Homilies like “the camera never lies” emerged. It became incontrovertible proof in the legal system. This is in spite of the photograph’s glaring distance from any sort of “reality.” For most of photography’s history, photographs were only available in black and white, yet people still attributed to them a “pure” sense of truth. Now, we are entering a period that can be described as “post-photography” where we now have images that appear just as “real” as photographs but have never passed through a lens and are generated entirely with a computer. However, when we look at that image of Avatar, we still still under the code of the “photographic real” (that never existed anyway). Therefore, it would seem that the study of visual culture could have a great value in light of the common misconceptions of something as ubiquitous as photography.
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Do you see in black and white?
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Possibly never passed through a lens

While the study of the visual clearly has a value to a species as ocularly oriented as ours, especially considering how common misconceptions of the visual are, it does not make sense in the context of our mediologically driven world to limit it to the study of “visual culture.” Poster writes that rather, “the need to introduce the term ‘audio-visual culture’ because ‘Our era is no longer one of images and signs. It is defined, rather, by simulacra.’ The issue at stake is profound, as Rodowick shows, because the shift to ‘audio-visual’, or, in my preference, media, disrupts the foundational system of binaries that restricts visual studies – idea/matter, form/content, time/space, and so forth. Media studies insists on the materiality of the field in a manner that helps to avoid earlier ontological constraints.” Visual studies is fine in its goals. There is no reason to get rid of those. They are deeply valuable. There’s a need to learn to read the image, but perhaps in our mediological world, it is fallacious to limit it to the visual. That is needlessly and falsely separating the visual from its brethren. Visual studies is valuable but should be expanded/redefined as one focus within “media studies” to really reach its full potential. Poster continues, “ The category of media studies, I contend, offers the best rubric for exploring visual culture in a manner that opens the field to the most troubling and provocative questions that face us in the present context. When media are fundamentally changing, as they are now, it behoves those of us concerned with visual culture to pose the questions in the broadest possible way.” In other words, to limit it to the study of the purely visual would be like brain surgeons not learning about the rest of the body. They are all intrusively connected in these new machines and media. The purely visual should be understood in its cultural context of the extra-visual. Sort of like Foucault’s Archaelogy of Knowledge insisted about taking a slice of a particular time.

How would you define Visual Culture Studies? Can you define it? Is its mercurial nature a strength or weakness? Given the nature of our mediological existence is visual culture--as field on its own--legitimate? Or, should it be subsumed into a broader mediological study? What is a more neutral term for post-photography?

Erin Coleman

"The most important tension between visual culture and studies in visual media is simply the reminder that visual culture does not begin with the invention of photography, cinema, or television. It is connate with the human species, and flourishes in nonmodern, non-Western, and nontechnological societies" (Mitchell, 543).

One thread woven throughout this week’s readings, central to some articles and peripheral to others, was the notion of globalization and its impact on cultural studies and identity formation, often in terms of movement away from a Euroamerican worldview. Mitchell writes of the proliferation of visual culture outside of the Western world, Rogoff speaks extensively on the notion of identity formation and national commemoration techniques, and Shohat and Stam focus on the emerging visual culture of the marginalized, colonized, “other.”

As we have seen, one of the hallmarks of the postmodern world consists in the breaking down of boundaries, binaries, and borders. Globalization, postmodernism, and visual culture studies are complementary, and largely inseparable. But does this make Visual Culture Studies inherently political? Democratic? Capitalist? Like its proper classification within the academic framework, the political or apolitical nature of Visual Culture Studies is the subject of much debate. On the one hand, Mitchell asserts that “Visuality, unlike race or gender or class, has no innate politics” (542). While on the other, Rogoff seems to argue that politics are inseparable from visual representation.

Though Barthes argues that pictures cannot be properly “read” without a linguistic anchor, the non-linguistic nature of visual culture is a huge part of the reason for its global reach and power. In the absence of a universal language, visual culture has become the primary form of global communication. In recent years, as the business world becomes increasingly international, advertisements, logos, and brands have become the dominant mode of global speech. And yet, the global spread of visual images raises another crucial question: is the visual universal or culture-specific? Can it be both?

Benetton, the infamous Italian clothing merchant, known less for its clothes than for its provocative advertisements, was mentioned briefly in the Sonesson piece. The company’s marketing strategy, at once celebrated and condemned for its controversy and breaking down of social--especially racial--norms, serves as an interesting case study in the relationship of globalization and identity formation to visual culture. The image below is one of many ads in which the company showcases intercultural and interracial relationships in "provocative" ways. Another, more famous example, depicts an African woman breastfeeding a Caucasian baby. The response to these ads has ranged dramatically. Their meaning from the perspective of the company, however, is explicit. Notice in particular the description of their magazine Colors. The company states that: "Pictures are, above all else, COLORS' expressive medium: a method that is universal and reaches the greatest number of people with a strong and immediate impact." Benetton is a company that embraces the global reach of VCS.

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The proliferation of this global visual culture has not ceased conflict. In fact, one could argue (as many anti-globalists do), that its spread has increased violence throughout the world. Perhaps it depends on whether you interpret VCS as the spread and imposition of Western values on a global scale, or rather see it as an opportunity to move towards a “polycentric aesthetics” (to borrow the sub-title of Shohat and Sham’s essay on “Narrativizing Visual Culture.” 9/11 was mentioned both in the Mirzoeff’s introduction to The Visual Culture Reader as well as in the interview with Jay Martin in “On the Visual Turn.” Mirzoeff goes so far as to label it the “apogee of all such [visual] events.” Its legacy, to anyone who has watched television or read the news sometime in the last ten years, is everywhere. While in some ways the image of the World Trade Center attack has become taboo in America, the rest of the world (even Europe, with whom the U.S. is often grouped in this field) uses it freely. I remember being shocked at the frequency with which Italian television displayed the event in 2003-2004 (read: anytime Iraq, Afganistan, or terrorism was featured on the news).

So what is the legacy of 9/11 in VCS? Martin, in his interview, states: “I would only add that one immediate result is that the long-standing assumption of much cultural studies, visual or otherwise, that the hegemony of global capitalist culture must be ‘subverted’or ‘transgressed’ in the name of a more progressive alternative is now very hard to maintain in its naive form. Insofar as the hijackers hijacked the vocabulary of anti-globalization for their own not very progressive ends, it is necessary to recognize a new political/cultural landscape in which some of the old conventional wisdom no longer holds.” Martin seems to be of the mindset that (Visual) Culture Studies is inherently political, but argues that its politics have changed out of necessity since 9/11. Though not primarily a visual image, reflecting on VCS and globalization recalled in my mind a recent article published in Foreign Policy magazine: “The Dis-integration of Europe.” Among the memorable quotes is Sarkozy’s assertion that: "Multiculturalism is a failure. The truth is that in our democracies, we cared too much about the identity of the migrant and not sufficiently about the identity of the country that welcomed him.” Identity formation, especially in terms of nation, race, and culture, is central to VCS. What does this article, and the abruptly right-wing stance of Sarkozy, Merkel, and Cameron, contribute to the subject?

Finally, “Mapping Visual Studies” article highlights numerous strands of thought and study in the vast field of research. One that is particularly relevant for a discussion of its political implications is the subset of studies on “how images construct, memorialize, and haunt aspects of national cultural memory.” Rogoff addresses this topic head-on in her article “Studying Visual Culture.” I found her article the most ripe for discussion of all of the readings because of her thought-provoking, though undoubtedly highly controversial, approach to identity construction and commemoration. Most of us have probably never considered the existence of the Holocaust Museum--or any such monument, memorial, or other commemorative historical landmark--problematic, revisionist, or racist, but Rogoff argues exactly this. She makes a point of emphasizing her own hybrid, global identity--a mix of Jewish, German, and American construction--and proceeds to criticize the U.S. for its “re-whitening” of historical horror. According to Rogoff, the recent proliferation of Holocaust museums is little more than “a form of rewriting of the recent past in which a European account of horror would vie with the locally generated horror of slavery and the annihilation of native peoples. It also assumes the form of a ‘re-whitening’ of the migrant heritage of the United States at a moment in which immigration is constantly discussed through non-European and racially marked bodies" (25). What do you think about her characterization/analysis of national commemoration? Is her point valid or simply argumentative? Has the Holocaust replaced and lessened the earlier horrors of American history?

Brittany Coombs

I was intrigued by Barthes' dissection of advertising images, namely his establishment of the three messages inherent in all ad displays: linguistic, coded iconic, and non-coded iconic. Of course my first move was to try to find ads and analyze them accordingly.

One interesting example I found is that of Christina Hendricks modeling a trench coat by London Fog, a company that claims to specialize in “attainable luxury apparel and accessories, with a classic metropolitan appeal.” The linguistic message is, as Barthes says it often is, both connotational and denotational: the ad text tells us the company name and the name of the model front and center, and in the bottom-left corner the company’s social media web addresses. This is denotational information. But what does the text connote? “London Fog,” as is noted in a Mad Men episode, sounds elegant, classic, timeless and important, even though in the ‘60s the company was only 40 years old, and for most of that time hadn’t even been called London Fog. Who hears the phrase “London Fog” and doesn’t think, if only for a split second, of a dreary overcast British harbor or street? It connotes cool.

Christina Hendricks, a.k.a. Joan Holloway
Christina Hendricks, a.k.a. Joan Holloway

Christina Hendricks wearing a trench coat is the coded iconic message, regardless of the fact that text is inlaid. What's more, Hendricks plays the redhead bombshell Joan Holloway on Mad Men, so it was probably no coincidence she ended up modeling a brand emphasized in the show. Her presence is postmodern – it plays to the widespread cultural understanding we have as people who have all heard of Mad Men and are aware it is a hip critical darling; and it takes a character from a show about advertising and puts her in an ad about the brand mentioned on the show. Even people who don’t like Mad Men will smile at the self-awareness. The non-coded iconic message – the super-literal “anthropological knowledge” – just shows us a woman and a trench coat. The left image could be selling hand bags, or girdles, or train travel; the right image could be pitching eyeliner, or bras, or a dating site like Ashley Madison. But thanks to anchorage, we know what the ad is trying to tell us.

The below ads, too, are interesting, and only understandable because of anchorage. Who would guess that the top ad is selling condoms if not for the "Happy Uncles" text? And the bottom one -- no one in a million years would guess it's a plug for PETA without the linguistic message. Also notice that both are connotationally working to counter taboos: you can be happy without a nuclear family of your own, and you can be as sexy as a Hollywood celebrity if you don't eat meat. Ads need all three messages -- linguistic, coded iconic and non-coded iconic -- to succeed.

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Switching gears, I was also struck by the writers’ differing opinions on the power of pictures in modern society. For instance, while Mirzoeff argues that virtual reality “is everyday life” and that the hegemony of text as the most respected or intellectual medium is fading, Barthes says that only “partially illiterate societies” are able to separable text and image, with Mitchell agreeing that it is just a “collective hallucination” that images and visuality define the modern age. I believe in the happy medium between Barthes and Mirzoeff. I think we are still essentially a writing-based society (I suppose I'm talking about just Anglo-society here), but I also think that visual culture is the defining feature of our age. TV, film and photography have helped make greater social change in the last 50 years than had happened in the previous thousand, so visuality seems emergent as the most effective way to catalogue human experience.

Suz S.

Visual culture seems almost misleading in title, in that it seems to be focused on the object of sight and not the "seeing" itself. But it really is interested in how our cultural experience is visualized and what it allows to be “seen.” One example is the study of a text—specifically a book—which has primarily been analyzed on the basis of content, readership, authorship and the construction of the marketplace. Where the book, the content has been privileged as more essential than the wrapper it’s in, under the auspices of visual culture studies, the very physical object of the book itself can be “seen” and analyzed. The variations of Wuthering Heights cover art below really show how cover art can change how we ‘read’ a book and how certain covers are marketed to specific audiences. The graphic design plays a large role in determining whether a book “catches our eye” or is passed by unnoticed.

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Discussions of book cover art also lend themselves to the exploration of the digital book realm (Kindles and cover art?) and also commerce—the majority of books in bookstores are sold from the stacks, where only the spine is seen, whereas in virtual libraries/e-commerce sites, books really are sold “by the cover.” It is not only an artistic representation of the cover art, but a marketing tool.

Barthes says that the function of the linguistic message in regards to surrounding iconic imagery is to anchor and relay. “…in every society various techniques are developed intended to fix the floating chain of signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs; the linguistic message is one of these techniques” (Barthes) Barthes mentions that text anchors the image in an understood field. I wonder if cover art is the complementary flip side of that, in that it “anchors” the viewer in understanding the contents of a book and it signifies the swath of text within in the same way that linguistic captions help guide the viewer to indentify and understand the object of the gaze.

Sonesson says that “the sign character of pictures is contained in the uses to which pictures are put.” Of course, that is why book cover art can only be seen and ‘read’ through its use-value as a signifier of the text itself. One cannot separate the two for without the placement of the title, the artwork is a distinctly displaced image, one that no longer connotes a meaning. But it is more than that—cover art helps us understand the object as book, as contemporary, as situated in a genre—even the variety of Wuthering Heights covers tells us how to “read” the book through the lens of the artwork. Even the typeface and placement of the words on the page give meaning to our understanding of the work.

"Rather than myopically focusing on the visual to the exclusion of all other senses, as is often alleged, visual culture examines why modern and postmodern culture place such a premium on rendering experience in visual form” (Mirzoeff, pg. 6) Graphically designed cover art is de rigueur, and increasingly a marketing tool to attract buyers to the material book over the digital edition. Wuthering Heights is out of copyright and can be downloaded for free on many e-readers—yet consumers will pay for the visual, for an especially beautiful book, because it helps us ‘see’ the act of reading, and it is also a way readers to frame how others see them. In public spaces, covers are the face of a private act of reading and who and what we read—and the form it’s in—says something about us.

Stephanie Stroud

While reading about "fine art", I was side tracked by researching Jackson Pollock. (Here's the link I clicked on). I'm reminded of the time my dad announced that Pollock's paintings were the equivalent of strapping a 3 year old into a high chair, giving him a bowl of spaghetti and mounting the resulting spaghetti splattered table surface on the wall as "fine art". I actually asked him to remind me of his opinion on the matter for this post. He writes:

I do not have an appreciation of his work either because I don't understand it or because it's meaningless. I went on line to find commentary that I agreed with (I say it that way because of course I could find commentary that says whatever I want). Robert Coates a long time art critic for the New Yorker said that many of Pollock's paintings were "mere unorganized explosions of random energy, and therefore meaningless."

The attachment is Pollock painting in 1950. If there was painting done in your kitchen project, did they use tarps?


This morning I read another article that immediately caused me to wikipedia Samuel Irving Newhouse, Jr . Serendipitously, I stumbled upon information that SI Newhouse, Jr – chairman and CEO of Conde Naste Publications, personally worth $4 billion – is a "notable art collector", one of the top 200 in the world, according to Art News. The prize piece in his collection? Jackson Pollock's drip painting entitled No. 5, 1948, which Wikipedia states is one of the most valuable paintings in the world.

In the context of the readings, a few things come to mind. First, my father is not part of the "fine art community". Secondly, Robert Coates *is* part of the fine art community. Third, SI Newhouse, Jr, Robert Coates' boss, is also part of the fine art community. Is SI's opinion as, an art collector, more valuable than Coates', as a critic? Does the fact that SI is part of our country's "top 1%" give his opinion more value? Does my dad's opinion mater at all? Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is art, regardless of a person's artistic status. In other words, fine art critics have varying opinions of Pollock and laypeople have varying opinions of Pollock (and other "fine art"). Deciding who's opinions matter and who's don't, is of of great interest to me. To be honest, I think I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the notion of hierarchies existing in such a realm of subjectivity.

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Joshua Weaver

In a visual culture based on the myopic senses, there's an equally strong perception of that not in view. "Finally the field of vision is sustained through an illusion of travel." (Rogoff, 22) "A photograph necessarily shows us something that was at a certain point actually before the camera's lens…" (Mirzoeff, 5) Advertising and capitalism utilize the transcendence of the visible as a means of both commodifying and creating. Capitalism runs on the concept of the mass subject, stratifying the individual into various, clearly defined categories. The ability to allude to a seemingly intangible group of peers through metonymic symbolism is an important mechanism in advertising.


Many advertisements utilize commodified language alongside symbolic imagery to convey static groups of consumers with similar interests, hobbies, concerns, etc. One of the most common advertised binary dynamics is that of gender. Through common, recited visuals, women are continually shown the way to beauty, often in attempts to be sought after by men. Conversely, men are shown how to be irresistible to women. Each of these groups simplified into a mimetic group of identicals to whom the viewer has no myopic or tangible contact. For the women, the group of bachelors are neither on screen nor in the room -- but through linguistic and visual cues, their transcendent presence is known.


Sex in advertising highlights a transcendental other that's not only congealed into a single entity, but perceived as one. Similar to Barthes' theory, sex in advertising draws upon numerable cultural and perceptual cues. Through these advertisements', we understand the cultural allure of sex, while also understanding that this product will take us closer to the cultural properties of sex. Furthermore, the parody assumed in the advertising (particularly Axe and its ability to make men literally irresistible) advertising is yet another level of connotation within the imagery of the advertisement. The WonderBra ad uses linguistics as relay in a connotative manner -- by buying this bra, you're essentially calling all men. There also exists an ambivalence between the context of an advertisement and the content within an advertisement. For instance, this Calvin Klein Jeans advertisement, which ostensibly depicts a sort-of rape. However, the connotative representation of the image through its context as an advertisement for jeans seems to disclaim any real depiction of violation, all in the name of couture. (Albeit, still depicting such an image in an ostensible fashion.)


Ariel Leath

The “visual experience” is a rather interesting topic. What constitutes a real “experience,” when looking at stuff is what we do every day? Right now I am looking at my computer screen, at a word document, at pixels, at a moving vertical black line and magic letters that appear at my command. We look at buildings, but does that mean we are also looking at the people within, the ideas and decisions being made inside, or even the codes inherent in the architecture?
Visual culture studies are important when it comes to these questions. The authors provided for background and context today all seemed to view the study of the visual experience differently, but most seemed to value it as an umbrella-style system of studying all of the visual elements that are coming together, ever-merging in our society.
For instance, if my bland computer screen was to all of the sudden change from my Word document to a flashy advertisement, my visual and therefore emotional experience would change. I would be annoyed, distracted, and confused, rather than focused and interested. Though visual studies has little to do with my computer screen, this transition can be explored in something that does: art vs. advertising, a topic on which many people have already touched or expanded.
A new trend in large-scale outdoor advertising is to use existing structures to create a visual experience unlike any other: that of the building becoming the advertisement, rather than being its host
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The aim of these advertisements is to, no doubt, draw attention. It is creative and shocking and potentially a conversation piece, a take-away from a day’s worth of visual stimulation. Though not considered “art,” to most, the visuals of these ads are as stunning and thought-provoking as some art pieces. Now, in comparison:

Christo and Jean-Claude have been installing outdoor large-scale artworks for decades, each as impressive and grand as the last. Interestingly, these pieces can be compared to the advertisements in many ways.
1) The Visual Experience, the “take-aways”: What is taken away from the two types of building modifications? The dialogue used to discuss the two is inherently different, if not contradictory – yet, they can instill a sense of shock and wonder that feel the same, emotionally. When one is viewing a Christo & Jean-Claude, one realizes the artistic impact that is being made on that community. When one is viewing an ad, the story changes to more of a practical amusement and interest. What happens, then, when the ad becomes the art?

This advertisement by AT&T directly alludes to Christo & Jean Claude’s work, attempting to translate the feeling of the art to the advertisement with as little jarring as possible.
2) Exposing the physical-ness of our society: Both the art and the advertisement use structure as a tool. This, effectively, changes the system of signs generally used to describe structure. By cloaking the building, either literally in sheets, or metaphorically in advertising signs, we are forced to think of the buildings are vehicles for messages rather than separate systems.
3) Contrasting high and low “culture forms”: Advertising has different “high” and “low”
levels depending on its subject matter and client, but contrasting art and advertisement that has similar form highlights the disparaging language between the two. Are the graphic and design aspects of the advertising lost in the over-arching realization that it is an advertisement, rather than an art installation?



I thought I would just add an example of a visual culture that is synthesizing and mashing virtually the entire media encyclopedia. Metal heads are notorious for their fastidious genre taxonomy but at least black metal is black metal and distinct from those idiosyncratic nuances of death metal, doom metal, thrash metal, speed metal, and grindcore. Witch house seems to suffer from a synonymic taxonomy syndrome. In the age competitive clever tweets this new genre goes by many names: Witch house, skrew gaze, rape gaze, drag, drag house, haunted house, crunk, grave wave, triangle core, etc. A recombination of goth, industrial, new wave, shoe gaze, and hip hop flavors of DJ Screw this new genre attacks web images, video, audio, and type faces like a hungry carcinoma. The videos are like if Satan and your home movies had a love child. The artists names are either represented by netspeak of some unutterable cultic symbol. The major players are: GR†LLGR†LL, †‡†, white ring, salem, modern witch, d/r/u/g/s, oOoOO, ▲▲▲ \\, 
TENSE, , Mater Suspiria Vision, PWIN ▲▲TEAKS, tearist, twYIY<ght>ZoNe. It is one of the only music genres to be accompanied by an equally dubbed and unique visual culture. The technologies necessary for witch house are many: Anolog camcorders, ATD converters, the Internet, DJ software, effects pedals, and equipment, photo/video editing software, and in short everything necessary to make every dubbed image or sound. Above I mentioned the musical ingredients thrown into the rape gaze cauldron, but its ideological aftertastes are Christianity, Satanism, the occult, punk, nihilism, and postmodernism. Witch house fashion is a hybrid of LA/Brooklyn hipster and goth and is trickling its way up to celebrity wardrobe. In short, witch house is what happens when some people try to do something novel with a low budget - but this does not mitigate witch house's exponential success. However, maybe the elitist attraction to these cultures is the possibility that ingenuity with a low budget says more about cognitive potential than ingenuity with a huge budget.

How does a culture on the fringes of youtube with video hits in the hundreds ripple through so many forms of mediation and have such a strong web presence?

Can we afford to study a visual culture like witch house without devoting equal analysis to a greater media culture?

How does a mediological analysis of such a mashed culture work? Do we trace the material history of the images in witch house collages or the praxis of the bricoleur? Both? How could we describe witch house's techne? is it necessary to analyze cultic, religious, satanic, and mystic techne or just punk/postmodern (obviously witch house is not satanic practice)?

Here's some stuff:

Seepage into other cultures
Live Performance

Lily Hughes

Why study visual culture? Why now? What forces have aligned to give the image a place along side text in the academy? Of course, it is always worth questioning to what extent the image has found equal footing-- I am, after all, typing this post.

But I have a degree in film and have spent a great deal of time studying visual culture, and I don't think it was time wasted, well, perhaps the 3 hours I spent watching Way Down East could have been put to better use. For the most part, however, I find visuals as relevant to academia as text (philosophy/history/ literature), or, for that matter science. The image is political and powerful, Barthes tells us that, the image is also progressive and awe inspiring, the image is critical, conforming, regressive, productive, constructed, deconstructed, fleeting, and permanent. Visual Culture has the daunting task of unpacking this. Not only interpreting the image but also the context of the image. For this reason, investigating Visual Cultural is as much an historical exercise as a contemporary one.

Technology has shifted the methods of visual consumption, which I think explains, in part, Visual Studies somewhat recent jump into the academy. For example, it is unlikely that someones first exposure to the Mona Lisa was in the Louvre. So, what difference does this make? How does watching cell phone coverage of a natural disaster on youtube shift social concepts of distance? Is the creation of avatars online altering perspectives on identity? How does product placement shape the Culture Industry? Who has the final say on what an image is, or, perhaps more importantly, what an image does? The image is here to stay (as if it could ever leave?!) and visual studies, despite what some authors may say, is not 'just' about photography, film, television, or advertising. While purely aesthetic commentary has a place in Visual Studies, this is only part of the story-- to fully understand the importance of Visual Culture, questions of meaning must always be in circulation. v=hTXJyo5Vry4 v=Q5GDcs8i2ng