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.

March 28, 2009

Kress, Multimodality

Kress, Gunther. “Multimodality.” In Multiliteracies. Eds. Cope and Kalantzis. London: Routledge, 2000. 182-202.

The separation of modes in our theories paralyzes us to talk about and design things appropriate for our technologically and culturally diverse world. We need to develop a theory that can take into account the multimodal nature of all human knowledge, one that encourages multimodal design and creation. Preferring one mode over another disserves some members of society and denies them agency.

Quotable Quotes

Need to “treat all text-like objects as multimodal” (184).

“We have to rethink ‘language’ as a multimodal phenomenon. Our present conception of language is revealed as an artefact of theory and of common sense.” (184).

Notable Notes

Objects (websites, artifacts) have insignt into social practices and are semiotic and communicate meaning. We need to read objects more deeply to understand the cognitive and creative work that goes into creating them.

Gives a sample of a grammar/structure, a way to talk about visual literacy.

human senses never act in isolation

Blog at WordPress.com.