Lecture Handouts

Visual Culture – Overview – Waterfront Campus (Merinda Kelly)

This unit provides you with an introduction to Visual Culture. It includes a wonderful array of reading material and activities for you to explore. The order of the course may differ across the various campuses to suit the specific needs of the students in each learning context.

Visual culture explores the relationship between visual objects and their cultural contexts. Art forms can include fine art, folk art, mass media, design, popular culture, architecture, and other constructed categories of visual phenomena experienced in our culture, in everyday life, and in a multi-cultural context. The significance of visual culture for art education pedagogy resides not only in the object or image but in the process or practice used to investigate how images are situated in social contexts of power and privilege.

In this unit you will:

  • investigate how images are situated in social contexts of power and privilege which shapes their influence and value in society .
  • pursue the meaning of imagery to include the politics of images; the cross-fertilization of images between various social arenas, such as advertising, popular culture, news images, and art;
  • consider the role that images play in producing cultural meaning; and forms of visual In this context, meaning resides in the inter-textual relationships between object, discourse, and viewer.
  • explore theoretical frameworks, both contemporary and historical beginning with John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972) to construct visual cultural critiques and make intertextual connections that emphasize the social context of an image as the necessary framework for understanding its meaning and
  • consider the idea that the significance of visual culture resides not so much in the object or image but in the processes or practices used to investigate meaning in visual images situated in various social

How does the unit work?

The reading materials for the unit are located in the cloud. It is your responsibility to engage with this material. Please note however that you do not need to complete all of the suggested activities indicated in the cloud materials.

We will discuss selected reading content during classes and will engage in practical tasks that will encourage you to explore, consolidate, refine and share your learning.


Assessment task 1

4 x art making activities and 1 short written task PLUS support material (journal or e portfolio) 50%

Assessment task 2:

Major work (possible exhibition) plus support material (journal or e portfolio) 50%

Written task 1: What is art? What is art history? How do you think visual culture relates to art?

Use material from the readings to inform your responses.

Minimum of 500 words: references not included in word count.

What is support material?

This will include material in any format that demonstrates your engagement with the cloud content and with classroom exercises, tasks and lectures.

  • It must also include your working processes and refinements for the assessment tasks.
  • Your support material may be presented in any form that you choose, including a website, blog or hard copy visual diary etc.
  • I will be looking for evidence of reading and engagement with the cloud content and the material covered in class. I will also seek evidence of critical reflection and connectivity between theory and practice.

It is expected that you will engage with the reading materials in your own time, taking notes and reflecting on the content and how it relates to your own practice. There are 3 hours of contact time. Another 6 hours is available per week for you to explore and reflect on the readings and linked materials.

Your visual support material must reflect your ability to:

  1. Identify aspects of the relationship between theory and practice in visual
  2. Understand the relationship between meaning and cultural
  3. Identify aspects of the relationship between cultural production and social
  4. Identify and apply concepts of contemporary theory in visual
  5. Locate aspects of your own practice within a defined cultural
  6. Discriminate between the aesthetic, cultural and political issues that are current within contemporary debates in visual
  7. Identify models of theoretical and critical inquiry appropriate to your own
  8.  Read, critically examine, and discuss postmodern “texts” in relation to ways in which the works and the critical writing that surrounds them participate in, among other issues, the construction of race, gender, power and
  9. Explore the relationship of art to technology and the way in which it not only continues to propagate the constructs of gender and race, but the ways in which it calls into question the concept of reality

Overview of course structure for Waterfront students (Note: all campuses have slight variations to suit the needs of various learners.

Week 1: Visual Culture: OVERVIEW: Ways of Looking at All Things Visual

What is visual culture?

Introduction to looking at images from different perspectives.

Exploring and discussing images from a variety of sources/historical and cultural contexts.     Exploring the web to locate various examples of visual culture

Symbols, Contexts and Interpretations

Watch Berger: Episode 1 and undertake group discussion

Experiment with looking at images from different perspectives.

Week 2: Symbols, Contexts and Interpretations

Focus on the social roles of images in a culture, the concept of representation, the relationship of images and ideology,

Explore ways that societies award value to images.

Images we encounter in our everyday lives, from paintings to news images to digital representations, are subject to the dynamics of social power and ideology, and that images acquire meaning and value according to context and use.

Look at Japanese urban city signage: As soon as we see images from a different culture or from a different period of history we are not at all sure of their meaning.

Berger episode 2:

Introduce and discuss concepts of ‘the gaze’ and publicity.

Explore art examples: What does it look like and what does it mean? Does it mean something different to someone in another cultural or historical context?

ACTIVITY ONE: Draw from the readings and material covered in class to create a digital or traditional collage that reflects your understanding of what visual culture is/can be.

Week 3: Practices of Seeing: The Gaze

Review how technology and reproduction has affected the way we see and interpret images.

Undertake discussion: Explore how visual practices of looking and being looked at are not only embedded in two dimensional representations; rather they are integrated into everyday cultural activities, from artworks in galleries and museums to television, movies, advertising and displays of consumption. Look at examples in advertising.

Engagement with these ideas will demonstrate that ‘visual culture’ is not simply a product of our own age but has its precedents in earlier historical and cultural periods.

View Berger Episode 3

Refer to object/publicity/power, politics/status etc.

Advertising and Appropriation: Appropriation, as a post-modern device, involves ‘borrowing’ an image and placing it in a new context to create a new idea or meaning.

View numerous examples where artworks or icons have been used /appropriated to advertise a product. How does this change the meaning of the original image? How does the context of the image transform the meaning of the original product and the object being promoted? Refer back to Mona Lisa image discussed in class one

ACTIVITY 2: Employ the postmodern device of appropriation to create an advertisement. Appropriate an existing work of art and transform the purpose/meaning/context of the image. Demonstrate your understanding of how images and contexts may be manipulated for different uses and contexts. If you are inspired by Berger, you may wish to experiment with the subject matter of the nude for this task.

Week 4: Practices of Seeing

Review content explored last week: Historically, over the last 600 years, the image has been available to the rich and powerful in their own domestic settings. Over the last 100 years however,there has been a sudden and dramatic increase in the part that images play in our experience of the world because of the growth of technology. The question of images and the way that we engage with them and how they affect us has become an important issue to anyone who is engaged with art and image making.

Consider: The context of image or object

The Gaze

Engage with Berger Ways of Seeing Final episode 4

Written task: What is art? What is art history?

How do you think visual culture relates to art?

Use material from the readings to inform your responses.

Minimum of 500 words: references are not included in word count.

Trimester break

During the trimester break you are invited to do the following:

  • Re-visit Berger to consolidate your understanding of his theories. Also read critics of his work to gain alternative responses.
  • Add to your support material.
  • Refine and finish the 3 set tasks above. 2x practical and 1 x written.
  • Explore Websites:

Notes on ‘The Gaze’ written by Daniel Chandler http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/gaze/gaze.html Semiotics for beginners, by Daniel Chandler: a more in depth look at semiotics available online at http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem01.html

Appropriation ( task 2)

Objects workshop Week 7

Week 8

New Wilderness 5 timeline etc

Handouts week 9

TV Moore excursion details

summary of assessment tasks and rubric




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s