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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423

Visual culture is a way of studying a work that uses art history, humanities, sciences, and social sciences. It is intertwined with everything that one sees in his day to day life - advertising, landscape, buildings, photographs, movies, paintings, apparel - anything within our culture that communicates through visual means. When looking at visual culture, one must focus on production, reception, and intention, as well as economical, social, and ideological aspects. It reflects the culture of the work and analyzes how the visual aspect affected it. It focuses on questions of the visible object and the viewer - how sight, knowledge and power all are related. Visual culture analyzes the act of seeing as 'tension between the external object and the internal thought processes'. (Georgetown Inventory of Visual Culture) - Leah Houston

Visual culture is a term that refers to the tangible, or visible, expressions by a people, a state or a civilization, and collectively describes the characteristics of that body as a whole. Although most seamlessly applied to an architectural construction or artistic creation, the evidence of visual culture is not necessarily limited to the most obvious and direct forms of visual expression. The term is most useful for what specific aspects of the visual culture of a people reveal about the people themselves.

To define visual culture, it is necessary to breach the modern discussion of aesthetics as it pertains to cultural studies. Ian Hunter divides aesthetics into two domains:

1. What is considered beautiful: the technical discussion of style and concepts which lead to the greater philosophy of art 2. What is considered ideal: “a socioethical doctrine centered on an ideal mode of life and order of society”

He goes on to discuss the changing definition of cultural studies, with respect to the varying academic approaches (sociological, anthropological, how to approach the implications of economic, political and religious aspects) and the problems encountered when attempting to delineate the boundary between cultural studies and the study of aesthetics.

“Visual culture” describes the collective evidence that overlaps that boundary. The characteristics attributed to that evidence (with respect to aesthetic values, for example) provide a pathway towards describing the collective identity of that people and their unique mindset (what I define as culture). If aesthetics is what they consider desirable (beautiful or ideal) and cultural studies is their all-encompassing “way of life,” then the collective expression of the two makes up their visual culture.

--Lauren Schleimer

Hunter, Ian. “Cultural Studies.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, edited by Michael Kelly. Oxford Art Online, (accessed December 1, 2008).