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Visual culture as an academic subject is a field of study that generally includes some combination of cultural studies, art history, critical theory, philosophy, and anthropology, by focusing on aspects of culture that rely on visual images. Among theorists working within contemporary culture, this often overlaps with film studies, psychoanalytic theory, gender studies, queer theory, and the study of television; it can also include video game studies, comics, traditional artistic media, advertising, the Internet, and any other medium that has a crucial visual component. Because of the changing technological aspects of visual culture as well as a scientific method-derived desire to create taxonomies or articulate what the "visual" is, many aspects of Visual Culture overlap with the study of science and technology, including hybrid electronic media, cognitive science, neurology, and image and brain theory. It also may overlap with another emerging field, that of "Performance Studies." "Visual Culture" goes by a variety of names at different institutions, including Visual and Critical Studies, Visual and Cultural Studies, and Visual Studies.

Early work on visual culture has been done by John Berger (Ways of Seeing, 1972) and Laura Mulvey (Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975) that follows on from Jacques Lacan's theorization of the unconscious gaze. Late nineteenth-century practitioners of visual knowledge, such as Georgy Kepes and William Ivins, as well as iconic phenomenologists like Maurice Merleau-Ponty also played a role creating a foundation for the discipline.

Major work on visual culture has been done by W. J. T. Mitchell, particularly in his books Iconology and Picture Theory and by the art historian and cultural theorist Griselda Pollock. Other writers important to visual culture include Stuart Hall, Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard, Rosalind Krauss and Slavoj Zizek. Continuing work has been done by Lisa Cartwright, Margarita Dikovitskaya, Chris Jencks, Nicholas Mirzoeff and Gail Finney. Visual Culture studies have been increasingly important in religious studies through the work of David Morgan, Sally Promey, Jeffrey F. Hamburger, and S. Brent Plate.

Where to Study

Several major universities now either house or are developing graduate programs in Visual Culture/Visual Studies. They include:







  • The University of Limerick offers undergraduate students the option to study modules in visual cultural studies, as part of the Languages and Cultural Studies graduate programme.

See also

Further reading (Books)

  • Jay, Martin (ed.), 'The State of Visual Culture Studies', themed issue of Journal of Visual Culture, vol.4, no.2, August 2005, London: Sage. ISSN 14704129. eISSN 17412994
  • Plate, S. Brent, Religion, Art, and Visual Culture. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) ISBN 0-312-24029-5
  • Smith, Marquard, 'Visual Culture Studies: Questions of History, Theory, and Practice' in Jones, Amelia (ed.) A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945, Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. ISBN 9781405135429

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