Revolution Lullabye

March 29, 2009

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.


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