Revolution Lullabye

March 29, 2009

Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want

Mitchell, W.J.T. What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005.

In this book, Mitchell draws from many modern cultural, artistic, and scientific phenomenons to show how pictures, images, objects, and media create life instead of merely reflecting an outside world. The picture makes, not mirrors, the world. By treating images as living entities, Mitchell asks what they are doing, what they are articulating, and how they might want us to respond. Mitchell argues that people need to have a sense of visual literacy, a way to understand that images introduce new values and ideas in the world instead of responding to the values and ideas of individual human beings. In the third section of the book (sections focus on the image, the object, and media), Mitchell articulates his medium theory, which sees media as material social practices, entire ecosystems.

Quotable Quotes

Pictues are living organisms: “They change the way we think and see and dream. They refunction our memories and imaginations, bringing new criteria and new desires into the world. When God created Adam as the first ‘living image,’ he knows that he is producing a creature who will be capable of the further creation of new images” (92).

“Images are active players in the game of establishing and changing values. They are capable of introducing new values into the world and thus of threatening old ones. For better and for worse, human beings establish their collective, historical identity by creating around them a second nature composed of images which do not merely reflect the values consciously intended by their makers, but radiate new forms of value formed in the collective, political unconscious of their beholders. As objects of surplus value, of simultaneous over-and underestimation, these stand at the interface of the most fundamental social conflicts” (105).

“A medium is more than the materials of which it is composed…[Instead it is] a material social practice, a set of skills, habits, techniques, tools, codes, and conventions” (203).

A medium is an “ever-elastic middle” that does not have boundaries. “The medium does not lie between sender and receiver; it includes and constitutes them” (204).

Notable Notes

Images form “a social collective that has a parallel existence to the social life of their human hosts, and to a world of objects that they represent” (93) – creating worlds through design

idol, fetishes, totems – controversy and “bad” objects: “They are the objects of ambivalence and anxiety that can be associated with fascination as easily as with aversion” (158).

people love, hate, want to destroy images because of their power.

problem with the pictoral turn because the image is simulaneously everything and nothing

digital new media is nothing new – the reason to study visual literacies is because human communication is multimodal, not just because of the internet

contraversial images as “condensed world pictures” and “sites of struggle over stories and territories” (195)

10 theses on media (theory) on page 211


Elkins, Visual Studies

Elkins, James. Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2003.

After surveying the history of programs of departments of visual studies, as well as the current principle theorists and objects of study in the field, Elkins lays out his ten suggestions for making the field of visual studies “more difficult,”: more critical and more interdisciplinary. His argument is that many visual studies scholarship is not recognized as rigourous in the academy, an opinion that he agrees with because much of the work done is not saying anything interesting or important. He advocates in many of his suggestions that scholars look outside and beyond the normal range of study, including non-Western and historical theorists and subjects, non-art and advertising objects, and scientific studies in the vision sciences. He concludes the book with a list of eight compentencies undergraduate students should have in visual literacy, arguing for a university-wide course in visual literacy like the universally-required composition course.

Quotable Quotes

“I would like to see a visual studies that is denser with theories and strategies, more reflective about its own history, warier of existing visual theories, more attentive to neighboring and distant disciplines, more vigilant about its own sense of visuality, less predictable in its politics, and less routine in its choice of subjects” (65).

“In order for visual studies to become the field I think it can be – the field toward which it is tending – it has to become more ambitous about its purview, more demanding in its analyses, and above all more difficult” (vii)

“We are living in a deeply, increasingly, and perhaps principally visual culture” (131).

Notable Notes

EDHirsch-like astericked knowledge

principle theorists include Walter Benjamin, Foucault, Lacan, and Barthes

visual studies rose in the 1990s out of cultural studies (British) and visual culture (more American) – good programs at U of R and Irvine

use historical theorists and non-Western to look at non-Western and historical objects, get rid of always using “the Gaze”

key!! important part of visual literacy is the production of visual images. This is where actual practice meets with theory. Make this combination of analyzing and producing the norm, not an anamoly, for courses in visual literacy. It is a practice and both experiences are key to understanding (158) – there needs to be “a community of makers” (179). Connection to Wysocki and George

our culture is often trained to look at the surface, not to be challenged by visual images, not to interrogate them, spend time with them, and see them in a deep way. “Good” images today are those that can be scanned and consumed quickly.

Cope and Kalantzis, Designs for Social Futures

Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis. “Designs for Social Futures.” In Multiliteracies. Eds. Cope and Kalantzis. London: Routledge, 2000. 203-234.

Cope and Kalantzis foreground three important concepts or ideas in literacy pedagogy: 1. that literacy is a matter of design that depends on the exercise of human agency 2. that all literacy is multimodal and increasingly nonlinear due to digital 21st century technology and 3. that no one literacy is better than another; the many discourses and identities of cultures and subcultures  necessitate dialogues in literacy learning instead of dogma. Inherent in any act of designing are both the concepts of a unique individual voice and hybridity (synthesizing of many identities, discourses, and experiences), both concepts that are grounded in agency. They use an example of translating the Bible into an Austrailian Aboriginal language to showcase that naive multiculturalism, a multiculturalism that believes in simple translation without cultural or political ramifications, cannot take into account the effects of globalization on local cultural and subcultural diversity. Globalization and digital technology have simultaneously created spaces for countless small subcutlures but in that fragmentation, there is no common culture and in the “common” global culture left, there is no regional cultural distinctions.

Quotable Quotes

“There is just so much to draw from in the breadth and subltety of Available Designs that every Designing re-creates the world afresh” (205).

“Design is a process in which the individual and culture are inseparable.” (203).

“Culture is no more and no less than the accumulated and continuing expression of agency; of Designing” (203).

Notable Notes

the paradox of digital media – it is cheap and universal and gives space to small subcultures and groups, but it has created dromospheric pollution (no sense of distance between places – Virilio 1997), a sense of transitory and immediate culture, no distinction between virtual and real, fragmentation and loss of common culture, and does not take into account issues of access/bandwidths/disabilities

communication has always been interactive – not just a digital phenomenon

culture, meaning-making must always be shifting and changing – dynamic – because literacies and cultures are never static

three levels of designs – lifeworld (everyday lives, function); transcendental (analysis, reflection, depth, larger scope); universals (human nature, breadth, cross-cultural)

good chart 212-216 about five dimensions and modes of meaning

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