Margaret Dikovitskaya — Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn


As the first line of this text states,   Visual Culture:  The Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn explores the history, theoretical frameworks, methodology, and pedagogy of visual culture in the United States” (1).  Visual culture studies operates from the belief that the meaning is made in particular cultural contexts largely though visual images (1).  Using interviews, oral histories, and written questionnaires, Dikovitskaya analyzes the ongoing debates about the agenda of visual culture studies and its relation to art history.  Her goal is to “present a historiographic account of visual studies entwined in a current polemic of its possible directions” (4).  She reminds us that any academic discipline is defined by its object of study, the underlying assumptions about appropriate methods used to study its object, and the history of the discipline itself  (4).  As such in this text, she in the first Chapter, she presents a historical oveview of the discipline, discusses the object(s) of study, the field’s methodological assumptions, and evaluates the field’s current status (5).  She hope her work will help clarify the work to be done in Visual Culture Programs in the 21st century. 


Some varying perspectives on what visual culture studies entails:


  • VCS pays close attention to image but draws on thories and methods from humanities and social sciences to address complex ways in which meanings are produced and circulated in specific social contexts (53).
  • VCS considers all objects has having aesthetic and ideological complexity and thus worthy of study (53)
  • VCS studies internal visualization that appeals to imagination, memory, and fantasy, ie., psychological notions of vision
  • VCS studies how visual experience is culturally constructed in everyday life, as well as in media, representations, and visual arts (57)
  • VCS  explores social construction of visual and the visual construction of the social (58). 
  • VCS is critical study of genealogy and condition of global culture of visuality (59)
  • VCS studies processes of seeing across epochs


Essentially, “objects of visual studies are not only visual objects but also modes of viewing and the conditions of the spectatorship and circulation of objects” (64). 


Much new research in VCS concerns “stakes in production, circulation, and consumption of images in the globalized commercialized world” (120). 


Key Concepts:


Mitchell’s definition of culture:  structure of symbols, images, and mediations that make a society possible (57)


Cutlural Studies:  explores how people are constructed and manipulated by cultural forms in everyday life.  Analyzes conduct, modes and sites of belonging and agency, and forms of political mobility and stability (67)


Mitchell’s course on introduction to visual culture:  study of the way people see the world, how they mediate the world through various forms of representation, and how images come into being, how they circulate (87).   Study of how the way in which humans look at and represent the world changes over time due to technological advances and social metamorphoses (88); course revolves around questions:  what is vision?  What is an image?  What does vision do?  What are visual media?  What are differences among visual media?  Does vision have a history?


Mitchell definition of visual appreciation:  defamiliarizes the process of looking at the world as well as visual representations of the world, and elicits sense of wonder at the visual process (242). 


Mirzoeff’s definition of visuality:  overlap between representation and cultural power (227)




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