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Re: Visual Culture / Long

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From: Vivian Komando (komandv_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Jun 21 2001 - 09:01:54 PDT


Visual Culture was one of the topics I heard addressed at
the NAEA. I was very interested in this as I was working
on a paper on Identity. Here is an excerpt from my paper
addressing Visual Culture:

Identity In a Technological Society
Spring 2001
Vivian Moreira Komando

"The newest phenomenon or paradigm for the modern world
symbol system is defined as visual culture. Visual
culture is that which is producing a rapid flow of new
and global images through technologies, which
over-stimulate and hyper-saturate our visual world. This
visual culture has created a type of voyeurism where one
must separate the good from the bad, and interpret
constantly changing images. It appears as if everyone is
watching and it represents what is wanted or desired.
Our world has become ocular centric. (Tavin, 2001.)
Contrary to the Sprite commercial, image is everything,
and it is how we define, create, and continually reinvent
ourselves. From this point of view, visual culture
possesses a certain power to visually attract and
manipulate the viewer.
Visual culture asserts in imagery what is hard to
explain. It thrives in a consumer-based economy. We are
surrounded by artfully, seducing imagery. It is aesthetic
persuasion that influences everyday life. This imagery is
multi-leveled and multi-sensory i.e. Cascade, Sheer,
Pampers, Secret, Bounce, etc. For age groups of four to
fourteen, three thousand dollars per year are spent for
advertising per person. Stereotypes are heightened and
become artifacts for exploring identity. The Corporate
Structure offers and defines imagery of status, identity,
and morality. (Chapman,2001)
 In campaigns of aesthetic persuasion, mass art is
attached to marketable value. Mass art also re-defines or
creates a new multiculturalism. Social issues are
present, or reduced to lifestyles, not struggles of
conscience, as corporations want to be seen as being
helpful or humanitarian. One commercial, which comes to
my mind, is that of the Phillip Morris Corporation
helping to fund a home as a shelter for homeless teens.
It does not show the number of individuals that have
succumbed to lung cancer, throat cancer, or other
illnesses caused by tobacco. Corporations wish to
disguise the commercialism that exists through marketing
to deliver their wealth. It is a thin line between artful
persuasion and propaganda. (Chapman, 2001.)
In this shifting paradigm, there is a focus on cultural
similarities and differences. Art educators need to get
serious as change is shifted towards social perspectives
where objects are surrounded by ideas and feelings. An
association is made with the object. These objects hence
become status symbols. The visual arts can be the social
mediator between maker and viewer. Students are not
always able to distinguish between ads and the fine art
disciplines in this visual culture. (Freedman, 2001.)
The violent computer games once geared towards boys are
now being created with girls, depicting the same violence
only in sexy outfits. Cultural complexity / identity
cannot be taught the same as before. In relation to the
individual and the world, the location of visual culture
has no boundaries or the previous boundaries are
deteriorating. (Freedman, 2001.) Art is no longer located
solely in a museum; it is everywhere we look.
When teaching art, if discussion is centered on formal
aspects, students may miss the meaning of the work. It is
not the form that will get one to the most important
place. Students need context to understand the
difference between real and staged. This calls to
attention the importance of critiques. Students need to
critique their own work, to talk about it, but mostly
they need to think about it. (Freedman, 2001.)
Images of all sorts and of virtually anything anywhere,
are the images of our visual culture. As visual culture
has infiltrated the world, students need to learn to
speak, read, and interpret the artistic language. If the
artist cannot discriminate among these images, how can he
or she adequately and meaningfully define oneself? Art is
a webbed connection to literature, social studies,
science, etc. Our students' education is greater when it
can be webbed in school to outside of school into the
text of the students and teachers lives. (Wilson, 2001.)
There is a range of pictorial imagery. Images once
dismissed are now viewed and screaming for attention.
Development of imagery can happen along multiple
pathways. Research in the neuro-sciences, the visual
brain, and intelligence, have shown that we do not have a
seeing eye. Seeing is a process of an act of
construction. One needs to make sense of images from
constantly changing images. The brain looks for sensible
essence to interpret through the constancies. Different
parts of the brain are utilized and involved in the
construction of these images. Art enhances and engages
different parts of the brain so they can interact.
Accordingly, immersion in visual culture has cognitive
benefits. (Kinzler, 2001.)
This studying, teaching, and approaching of visual
culture equates social practice. Visual culture examines
images as part of a whole way of life, a whole way of
struggle. These images are signs embedded in context. To
study signs is to study the whole context - class,
gender, nationality, etc. Images originate in social
order, social taste, social division, or power
relationships. Meaning cannot be read off images. They
need to be investigated and to be seen how they are
constructed from social position. (Duncum, 2001.)

"Much contemporary theory recognizes the importance of
the media in constructing identity. It is not surprising
then that the media are a vital contextual component for
many of the artists…"4

The emergence of visual culture urges the art educator to
use tools from other disciplines. Cultures need to be
researched and relocated. One must question how they
were constructed - What? When? How? And for what
purpose? Powerful visual icons attract and capture one's
attention. These images may be used or appropriated to
construct one's identity or ideals of self-hood / beauty.
Students should be taught to understand and interpret the
representations or misrepresentations. (Tavin, 2001.)
Impressionable youth in a visual culture need the
abilities to navigate the bombardment of imagery. Visual
culture contributes to the open identities under
construction. All images possess meaning. Not only do
they have meaning embedded, they also are repositories of
the values being negotiated. One can utilize them as
narratives of self, allowing students to construct their
own stories."

3. Chapman, Laura. 2001. Slide Talk. Shifting (In)sights:
A Dialog on the Emergence of Visual Culture. NAEA Visual
Culture Panel. NYC, NY.

4. Patrick Merrill and Debra R. Winters. 2001. The
Fragmentation of the Body: Violence or Identity? Online.
Available:
http://www.csupomona.edu/~kellogg_gallery/fragessay2.html

6. Duncum, Paul. 2001. Slide Talk. Shifting (In)sights:
A Dialog on the Emergence of Visual Culture. NAEA Visual
Culture Panel. NYC, NY.

9. Freedman, Kerry. 2001. Slide Talk. Shifting
(In)sights: A Dialog on the Emergence of Visual Culture.
NAEA Visual Culture Panel. NYC, NY.

16. Kinzler, Anna. 2001. Slide Talk. Shifting (In)sights:
A Dialog on the Emergence of Visual Culture. NAEA Visual
Culture Panel. NYC, NY.

27. Wilson, Brent. 2001. Slide Talk. Shifting (In)sights:
A Dialog on the Emergence of Visual Culture. NAEA Visual
Culture Panel. NYC, NY.

I hope this sheds some light on Visual Culture.

Vivian

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Increase the Peace ~^~ {^}Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. Robert F. Kennedy

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