Topic 1: Theoretical contexts

Freedman, Kerry (2003), Teaching visual culture : curriculum, aesthetics, and the social life of art (New York : Teachers College Press, 2003.).

(Freedman 2003) ..\..\Articles\EEA212\Freedman_chapter 5.pdf

  • One’s background and experience denote how one will respond to images, and ones perception of being “cultured”.
  • Art may be used as a status symbol – or to legitimise a business as being cultured (even though it may be using dubious and dangerous practices)
  • Art ownership gives status, and denotes wealth.
  • Meaning of an art work is context-based – e.g. whether on public display in a gallery, used as wallpaper on my laptop, in a private collection, on a public wall at the shopping mall.
  • Skill and medium are no longer important – e.g. Tracy Emin’s bed. The idea is paramount.
  • Discusses an enquiry-based model for interpreting art works.
  • Talks about low-level interpretation (e.g. personal meaning, or relating to an image), higher-level skills – being aware of underlying assumptions, forming multiple meanings, critical reflection.

Unpacking Underlying Assumptions: Representing Contexts as a part of visual culture

  • Restates the cultural, social and political nature of making and viewing visual images.
  • g. Zaire c.a. 1970s – paintings focused on ancestral, past and present images –
    • Ancestral – early tribal things – incl romanticised images of daily activities
    • Past – historical themes from the first contact with Europeans (outsiders) – e.g. slave trading (Arabian slavers) and Belgian occupation.
    • Present – contemporary urban industrial life.
  • Comments on how students may react to ‘primitive’ art – which can become an intrigued positive reaction when context is explained (this is a text for education students)
  • Students/artists can also bring a better understanding to their own art if they understand their own context – personal, cultural, political, ethnographic.
  • Talks of the dichotomies that exist in art – establishment vs. Anarchy, male/female, natural/man-made world, race differences, power struggles, war, colonialism and post-colonialism. – and contradictory multiple meanings for visual images.
  • Gives as an example the use of fine art to sell luxury items – intrinsic message is that the consumer has fine taste (e.g. considers the painting fine) and can show off this fine taste by buying this up-market product. Also creates a desire for items which we might not normally consider we need (e.g. the I-industry pod, pad, phone, watch to support my I-life – but does I stand for ‘imaginary’?- possible art idea).
  • Cites male hetero artists who idealise and objectify the female nude and contrasts this with homo male artists Gilbert and George and Keith Haring. (Also David McDiramid When you see this remember me NGV 2014 )
  • Notes that the fact that much art we look at is reproductions (e.g. viewing online, or in an art text) and that this context changes the image, its context and how we view it.

Forming Associations: Suggestiveness and the Construction of Multiple Meanings p. 90

  • Defines ‘suggestiveness’ – ‘the associative power of visual culture to lead to emotional, cognitive responses and interactive, multileveled meanings.’
  • Freedman states that art analysis models that focus primarily on the art without outside knowledge and context (e.g. Broudy, 1972 and Feldman (1967) do not give a full analysis – cultural background and context is essential for an in-depth, meaningful understanding.

Critical Reflection: Self-conscious Awareness of Associative Knowledge

  • Importance of reflection, based on the viewer’s knowledge and background as well as the work itself and its place in time, culture etc.
  • Need to teach understanding of e.g. use of stereotypical imagery – which will not be seen if not overtly taught. E.g. Students may see the world depicted in ads as a real world better than their own, rather than a fantasy ‘utopian’ world of beautiful people – crafted deliberately to sell a product.
  • Freedman states that giving this arsenal of knowledge to all students, not just art students, allows all to understand the imagery they will encounter in their daily lives more critically.
  • Table given (p. 92 – ‘A framework for teaching visual culture’ – 4 elements – production contexts, exploration contexts, function and meaning, structural support

Postmodern Concepts and Visual Culture

  • Imagery is used to manipulate – e.g. photos can be manipulated and are so for advertising (and other purposes)
  • Imagery is now easy to make and reproduce on a huge scale (numerical and size)

Text, imagery and “Image”

  • Visual images are read as texts – are similar to text in that they ‘are forms of representation’ – both use metaphor and symbolism. – both rely on the consumer to construct meaning, and by consuming, the viewer/reader is influenced by the works themselves. 94
  • Freedman says that images are more memorable (arguable) than texts and can be ‘immensely more complex than texts’. Cites ads to make women buy makeup – to make all women look the same, but promote a sense of individualism. 96
  • Images are immediate in impact, and are ‘inherently sensual’. ‘They attract us and make us want to look at them.’
  • Discusses this relation to modern film – that the camera can rove like the human eye – pan, close-up etc. – focus on face etc. The very use of camera can add to the impact of the story – e.g. multiple short shots lead to insecurity.
  • Cites a cross cultural work by Cree Indian Ruth Cuthand Living Post-Oka Kind of Woman.

Visual Representation as Didactic Form: Ads as examples

  • V brief history of ads – first to let people know that they were there, then (19th C) ‘overt psychological devises to convince, for example, through the suggestion that one was lacking in something if one did not have the product.’ 98 – creating a feeling of desire
  • Early ads text-based, increasingly became image-based.
  • Particular audiences targeted with particular ads – e.g. now this has gone to tailoring the ads we see on the internet to our previous browsing history and on-line purchase history.
  • Attractive, idealised world in ads – translates to desire in the consumer – youth, sex, natural world, cultural imagery.
  • Not so different as the religious imagery of earlier centuries – selling hell, religion, education in religious history etc. –e.g. a white Madonna and child for northern Europe (when the original, if it ever existed, was mid-eastern, Jewish)

Cultural and Personal Interpretations

  • Ads educate in reading ads – ‘They contain didactic cues that educate viewers to interpret imagery in a particular manner that is quickly recognised, deeply associative, and easily internalized.’ 99 – but may lead to unintended readings by different viewers due to cultural background, age, socio-economic situation etc.

The idea of audience

  • Reiterates the constructed reality of the ad – juxtaposition of positive symbols, youth, happiness, nature, sex with products to create a hyperreality 100
  • Reiterates the need to teach critical viewing of images – that teens tend to be gullible when viewing ads (I suspect adults are no less vulnerable)

Images of art: The example of fine Art in the Mass Media

  • Referencing of imagery from fine art – e.g. film uses colour, composition, and art styles like surrealism, expressionism, also appropriation of architectural form for sets, scenery like landscape paintings, costume based on art images. Creation of a new interpretation of these. Also historical films about great historical figures, including artists (of all types, not just visual)
  • May lead to stereotyping of artists, – e.g. male, messy studio, eccentric persona , sexual promiscuity, madness – the products of genius!
  • Cites various depictions of artists in 1950s and 1960s films, including comedy, biography and satire (especially of ‘modern’ art).

Concludes with a list of approaches to presenting visual literacy activities in the classroom.

Marx and Englels theories on Literature and Art

Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Kee Baxandall & Stafan Marawski (ed.), Marx and Engels on Literature and Art, c.a.  1973, Telos Press, St Louis Milwaukee

Karl Marx was a has been influence of the thinking of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.  A social philosopher, he expounded theories of socialism, collectivism, and also how culture, class and caste influenced one’s way or interacting with the arts and science.

“Marxists believe that economic and social conditions, and especially the class relations that derive from them, affect every aspect of an individual’s life, from religious beliefs to legal systems to cultural frameworks. ”

This book includes extracts from Marx and Engels writing collected into section.

Marx considered that capitalism alienated the populace in general and caused a warping of aesthetics.  He railed over governments censoring people’s thoughts.  “Are we to understand quite simply that truth is what the government ordains.” 59

Marx and Engels writings laud free speech, and denigrate the state becoming a bullying overlord, with control over every aspect of their people’s lives.

Engels, writing on the freedom of the press, rails against the idea (very current in our mega-capitalist society) that “freedom of the press [can be] subsumed by freedom to do business“60

Marx theorised that, because of the capitalistic need to place financial value on every product, including intellectual and creative ‘products’, “capitalistic production is hostile to certain aspects of intellectual production, such as art and literature.” 64

Other articles on Marx and Engels:

Jeanne Willett, 2010, Marxism, Art and the Artist, web page, Art History Unstuffed

Morawski_Stefan_1970_The_Aesthetic_Views_of_Marx_and_Engels (this is very similar to the introduction to the book above)






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