Visual Culture Essay

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Visual culture is an area of study focused on practices of looking and the role of  visual representations in the arts, popular and alternative media cultures, institutional and professional contexts, and everyday life. Art history, film and media studies, cultural studies, sociology, and anthropology are some of the fields in which visual culture study is conducted. Forms of visual representation studied include museum display, fine art, film and television, old and new media, computer and  video games, digital culture, medical images such as X-rays and sonograms, and advertising.

The study of visual culture emphasizes the relationship of looking and visual representation to forms of knowledge, power, experience, and ideology in everyday life and culture in different historical periods – within and among social groups including nations, communities, workplaces, audiences, and members of institutions such as schools, churches, and cultural organizations. Research in visual culture tends toward qualitative and interdisciplinary methods informed by post-structural critical theory and cultural studies. Visual culture emerged as an area of study in the period during which electronic and digital media became pervasive components of industrialized cultures. Individual works of fine art were subject to more pervasive reproduction and circulation with the rise of digital imaging and the world wide web, changing the status of the original work of art. Mechanical forms of reproduction such as  photography and motion-picture film converged with digital media in production and exhibition processes. With the increased and enhanced presence of visual media forms in everyday life, the visual became a more crucial area of research in many fields.

Visual culture has achieved recognition as a viable approach in many of the traditional disciplines including literature, history, art history, film and media studies, and communication studies.


  1. Dikovitskaya, M. (2005). Visual culture: The study of the visual after the cultural turn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Fuery, K. & Fuery, P. (2003). Visual culture and critical theory. London: Edward Arnold.
  3. Morra, J. & Smith, M. (eds.) (2006). Visual culture: Critical concepts in media and cultural studies, 4 vols. London: Routledge.
  4. Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2001). Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture, 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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