The Term Visual Culture Cultural Studies Essay

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Thus the visual text had to be interpreted according to the way not only a culture is visually represented, but also as it represents the surrounding environment. The painting cannot be fully understand by tracking its evolution only, but rather comprehending that it is part of a greater context, it is part of a map within which different cultural sources and techniques are linked to its vision and representation.

In the Visual Culture an object like a painting becomes an item that circulate within an economy which was born by articulation of systems of representation, real images and people who produce and use those images. That painting becomes a textual system; a cultural object ruled by the mechanisms of vision which pones itself as a means/activity which transforms the pictorial material into a significant within an endless process. Thus talking about visual means to abandon the positive idea of the visual perception in order to reflect on the sight as interpretation of which the image (painting, photograph) is one of the several components.


Even though the concept of Visual Culture was coined in the 70s, just in the last decade this subject of study got a particular attention, also design architecture were included, once considered as minor arts, history of the cinema and low culture arts like television, advertising, the internet.

The Visual Culture became so an interdisciplinary matter of study amongst critique and analysis aware of the cultural processes within any image was made and interpreted, diffused and transformed. The images has not to be studied isolated, but rather as part of a group of components which change in their use and meaning; today is the case of photography, a medium of multiple and extraordinary functions. The meaning of a photography is linked to its functions and institutions within it consolidates and alters its role such as the family, the press and magazines, the advertising, etc. (Krauss 1989).

Nowadays the Visual Culture is a means of such power which force and centrality it represents cannot be simply ignored (Jay, 1992), as it led to phenomenon of hyper reality typical of the postmodern era, where there is no more a reality where an image comes from, but simulate only (Baudrillard, 1981).


Since the 60s cultural studies dedicated to the analysis of the visual representation of the mass culture were made, starting from semiotic analysis (Barthes, 1964), to focus then almost solely to the acts of fruition, for instance the television, and so a conception of the viewer or the category of audience, where the studies were not still concentrated on the image as significant text.


Initially the interpretation of Visual Artifacts was stopped to a naive idea of significant that was reduced to the visible content of a visual message. The study of the Visual Culture starts from models and categories born from the analysis of the spoken language in order then to envelope methods and concepts belonging to a specific reading of the visual languages, also it represents the result of a reflection on the theory and the useful tools to the comprehension and the interpretation of images. But, we wonder to what extent an image can be conceived as a language? Can the tools and the categories of investigation of the textual analysis of the literature be exported and adapted to pictorial, cinematographic, photographic texts?

_______________________FOUCAULT, potere sapere

In this case is the role of the viewer and the acts of fruition and consumption of visual texts which plays a crucial part in the understanding of Visual Culture, like the mechanisms of the sight, the practices of observation and the several forms of visual effectiveness of a text which can include cognitive effects such as the pleasure, the disgust in front of an image. However these notions are not exhaustive or fully understandable if they are translated to a textual model flatten by the spoken language (Evans, Hall 1999). Which is the specificity of a Visual Culture, how can particular structures of the vision and the sight be described in their fullness?

As Alpers() suggests, because the starting point of interpreting images is the culture that surrounds them, the viewer has to individuate the various components and elements that characterize that specific culture in order to define and place them into a specific visual field. According to Mitchell (1994) Visual Culture relies on the image as product where elements as the visual, the degree of "visuality" and "figurality", the institutions and elements that interested the body get mixed together.

Thus, the Visual Culture is the result of different practices which are collocated at different levels, both of the textual production and of its interpretation, from those inherent the object and his degree of representation of the truth to those regarding the context made by the media and institutions that represent organized and globalized social relations and those related the subject who consume (Mitchell, 1994).

Stuart Hall() goes further the concept of Visual Culture introducing the notion of Visual Discourse, where of relevant importance is not only the significance the images analyzed assume but also their use, the significant they acquired according to the context, where they were produced and fruited, but the most important the viewers which discourse is offered (Evans, Hall, 1999). The meaning of a visual sign doesn't belong solely nor to the image, neither the social identity the audience belongs to, but rather in the relationship amongst viewer and viewed, between the power of an image to say something and the capabilities of the viewer to interpret that message. This short but relevant passage is the thin border that crosses between the comprehension of the meanings and the building of the individual, this is the most important matter of study, beware especially at the differences of genre, ethnicity, visual stereotypes and the metaphors of the cultural marginality. The articulation between the viewer and the viewed is thus something that it is not directly influenced by the outside: the subject is partially built through what he/she sees and how he/she sees, from how his/her range of view is formed. What is really saw depends from the positions and from the interpreting schemes assumed, this means that the subject is an incomplete entity, given by endless social, psychic, symbolic formation processes.

Even though is possible to broadly circumscribe the aspects at the base of Visual culture, it is even harder to define a method of investigation or a common lexicon to the authors in this particular area of study and research. This is especially due to the level of abstraction and effectiveness which theorists applied to their thesis.


One of the most important theorists is Baudrillard and his theory on the deception of the senses: "The Simulacrum Society".

The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard () supported that the destiny and the condition of the advanced society is that every event tend to degrade and becoming a spectacle or an object of consumption, don't mind whether true or fake. Information and interpretation, given and received, are the same because mere simulacra of the reality.

The today's advanced society is characterized by a double human concentration: the physical concentration in big cities or huge metropolitan areas and, parallel, the telematic connection in big communicative webs that potentially link the whole globe in a single "globalization". This double and intensive human interaction of the modern cities and the global "telepolis" or "cosmopolis", called the Internet, is the key point of the cotemporary human condition and it leads to relevant phenomenon.

The huge human concentration in teeming metropolis and in a unique web has not always facilitated the comprehension of as the single as the group, but rather masked the truth with an empathic vision of the world around. The telematic, economic, technologic, touristic globalization appears to take all of us away from the "truth" than take us closer. Baudrillard () defined the constant interference of any hint of "truth" as the key point of the advanced societies. The faster the information travel the more contrasting the interpretations and conscious manipulation are, the distinction amongst the truth and fake disappears , there are opinions against other opinions, images against other images, different information, but not the truth.

In addition, Baudrillard () exposes how in the advanced societies every events tend to degrade as spectacle or consumption or both things at the same time. For this reason, currently, as the city as the Internet fall in the consumption and the spectacle; also the culture is lived necessary as a spectacular event or something to consume, with its myths, modalities and instants of glory as quick as falling into oblivion.

Today's society relies on the knowledge as the great sector of production and consumption; the center of the entire offer and request. Today we are aware that of this machine of fabrication of dreams and fictions (the knowledge), the television has converted everything in universal consumption, everyday born new sources of simulacrums: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, ecc.

His nihilist attitude can be summed as a critique towards the individual who is seduced by making of his/her self an illusion…then who does care of dying as reality?



Today the expression "Society of Spectacle" is become in the common use to indicate and justify a great range of media phenomenon. However Guy Debord () detects in the so-called society of the spectacle the means of communication of masses as the "the most oppressive superficial manifestation" (p.24) and they do not represent the fundamental structure. Debord made most of his interpretation of today's society on the footprints of Karl Marx. If Marx attributed the start of the Capitalism saying that "the whole life of the societies in which modern conditions of production prevail is presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities " Debord sustained that "the whole life of societies where the modern conditions of production prevail appears as an immense accumulation of spectacles" (p.1).

This is the fundamental thesis of his work: the society of spectacle is not a product, more or less vile, given by the technological development of the mass media, but rather it is identified as part of the economic system of the advanced capitalism. The spectacle is "the capital at a certain degree of accumulation able to become image" (p. 34). The superabundance of productivity of the capitalism leads to the absolute dematerialization of the goods, deprived of the minimal value of use typical of the Marxist thought and reduced to the appearance.

This degree of alienation does not interest the solely economic-productive dimension, but also every aspect of the existence of the individual, that is declassed to the role of simple and harmless passive spectator (Spectatorship). Beyond the complete alienation of the spectator, the estrangement from his self and his concrete needs, there is also the loss of the unitary and community aspect of the society that becomes as the isolation of the individuals one from the others, into a fragmentation e pulverization of the relations that is recomposed into the spectacle where "…the way to be concrete is exactly the abstraction" (p.29).

Of this solitary society the more diffused goods are those who permits the individual to isolate from the

"Lonely crowds" (p.28): the car, the television.

Debord alludes to the phenomenon that in the last decades found its most overbearing expression, the multitude of the ways the "reality" gives way to the "depicted". Even though this phenomenon is extraordinary important it is still not fully considered important, usually collocated in the dimension of the game, the amusement, instead as important turning in the alteration of social paradigm, as well as economic-politic, cultural and psychic.

Maybe it is its ubiquity to make it an ignored phenomenon, however it is not harmless, photography, media, advertising, television, cinema, internet with the people (real and virtual) who keep them alive and functioning, offer unlimited accesses to substitutive experiences in contrast of the real ones.

This increment of "spectacle" has produced a cruel dissociation amongst "reality" and "representation", where this last one overwhelmed.

Between the various consequences of this schism, the most important is the hierarchy of the senses into the acquaintance of knowledge. The sight takes over the other senses, but this sense is not as reliable as the others, "…it is the most abstract sense, and the most mistificable, it corresponds to the generalized abstraction of today's society" (p.18).

In addition this goes into creating new schism of classes, while a part of the world is represented as the centre of the "spectacle" the other part (the audience) is attracted by the stars of the show, "The show joins the separated, but it joins it because it is separated"(p.29).

The spectacle is not longer assumed as amusement but it becomes good to sell, the desire of the viewer to look like the stars of the show get materialized into items, and when the object, once prestigious, becomes vulgar when gets into the consumer's house.



According to Hall (1980) culture does not simply represent the rules and traditions of a culture; culture is "Threading through all social practice, and the sum of their interrelationships" (Hall, 1980, p.58). Based on this concept du Gay formulated the circuit of culture model, which purpose was to outline how culture is manipulated in order to create meaning.

The circuit of culture s made by 5 specific moments, but it has no starting point or end; each moment represents an essential part in the whole.

The moment of regulation consists in the control of the cultural activities, it is the moment when a meaning arises defining what it is acceptable and what is not.

The moment of production, also called process of encoding (Hall, 1993) it is when creators of cultural products translate an abstract meaning into a concrete object. This moment is heavily influenced by the degree of technology presents on the territory; in fact it rules the nature of the product itself.

The representation is the aesthetical form an object takes and the way a meaning is encoded in. A cultural artifact has to be contextualized to the final consumer; in fact its meaning is a social value belonging to a specific culture. The duty of the creator in this moment is being able conveying a social belief, meaning or tradition into a content, format and method of distribution designed to a category of people.

An encoded meaning, of course has to be decoded, this process can be translated as consumption, this moment that can be also seen as a phase of feedback, revision. The consumers bring their semantic networks of meaning in response of a cultural artifact in a communicative exchange.

The consumption is not the end of the line but one of the points of the culture, it becomes itself a form of production as from it derives new meanings to an artifact as consequence of use.

Identities are visible encoded meanings, usually texts the practitioners embody in the appearance as dominant identity, the identity of an artifact represents the starting point to structure a subsequent discourse; the identity of an artifacts determines its social dimension.

The five moments creates an interconnected scheme with no beginning or end; at any point (moment) the circuit branches in articulations, this is due to the degree of cultural relativism of the meaning , each point taken singularly does not determine meaning but it indicates how it will arise and its possible branches. Even though meanings may be socially constructed, they are limited within the range given by the institutions and influenced and based on past meanings, this concept is an additional moment known as historicity (Hall, 1997b), the meanings are decoded in the way consumers use artifacts in their social situations.