"A short, accesible critical guide to visual culture-what it means to look and see; how the visual impacts our lives, our era, our understandings of each other, and even how it is changing our brains"--
The visual surrounds us, some of it invited, most of it not. In this visual environment, everything we see-color, the moon, a skyscraper, a stop sign, a political poster, rising sea levels, a photograph of Kim Kardashian West-somehow becomes legible, normalized, accessible. How does this happen? How do we live and move in our visual environments? This volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series offers a guide for navigating the complexities of visual culture, outlining strategies for thinking about what it means to look and see-and what is at stake in doing so. Visual culture has always been inscribed by the dominant and by domination. This book suggests how we might weaponize the visual for positive, unifying change. Drawing on both historical and contemporary examples-from Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party and Beyonce and Jay-Z at the Louvre to the first images of a black hole-Alexis Boylan considers how we engage with and are manipulated by what we see. She begins with what - what is visual culture, and what questions, ideas, and quandaries animate our approach to the visual? She continues with where - where are we allowed to see it, and where do we stand when we look? Then, who - whose bodies have been present or absent from visual culture, and who is allowed to see it? And, finally, when - is the visual detached from time? When do we see what we need to see?
Alexis L. Boylan is Associate Professor in the Art and Art History Department and the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. She is the author of Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man.
Series Foreword vii Acknowledgments ix Introduction xiii 1 What 1 2 Where 41 3 Who 87 4 When 137 Conclusion 181 Glossary 187 Notes 193 Further Reading 205 Index 209
As if John Berger's Ways of Seeing was re-written for the 21st century, Alexis L. Boylan crafts a guide for navigating the complexities of visual culture in this concise introduction. The visual surrounds us, some of it invited, most of it not. In this visual environment, everything we see--art, color, the moon, a skyscraper, a stop sign, a political poster, rising sea levels, a photograph of Kim Kardashian West--somehow becomes legible, normalized, accessible. How does this happen? How do we live and move in our visual environments? This volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series offers a guide for navigating the complexities of visual culture, outlining strategies for thinking about what it means to look and see--and what is at stake in doing so.
To get to these questions, it is important to first consider what we each bring to the visual. What are the experiences, emotions, and positions or stabilities we seek when we look at or see things? To get to what visual culture is, we must first consider what we want from it. As even that very short list suggests, as viewers we want a lot from the visual. It could be argued that humans have, in fact, for a long time wanted way too much from the visual. There are traces of this wanting on the walls of caves, in carved sculptures, in stacked stones, and in traces drawn around human hands. The wanting intensified as skills, tools, and technology to produce--and reproduce--images became more sophisticated. Whenever we can, wherever we are, we want images. We crave representation, repetition, and the possibility of making our mark. As much as we hunger for some images, we also want very much not to see others. We desire to see and we reject seeing. In this sense, little has changed since our ancestors began stacking stones, creating scrolls, and first pondering the creative abilities of artificial intelligence. What is it, then, that pulls us--in all places, at every time, in each stage of life, and in ever-increasing varieties--to images? Perhaps we seek solace, or to communicate emotions, fears, and ideas we find difficult to put into words. We want to confront death, we want to avoid death, we want to stop time, we want beauty, we want to see suffering and how brutal life can be, we want to be converted, to drop to our knees and cry with joy, we want to see the land, we want to see the land we cannot see, we want to see the stars and beyond them, we want to laugh, we want to see how meaningless we are, we want to know how important and full of grace we are, we want to imagine who or what made us, we want to see how little we can see. The depth of our wanting is bottomless and our reasons endless. The only stable constant across space and time is the wanting itself.
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