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VISUAL CULTURE/LITERACY: I BECOME WHAT I SEE/I SEE WHAT I BECOME

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Matthew Sutherlin

on 21 June 2015

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Transcript of VISUAL CULTURE/LITERACY: I BECOME WHAT I SEE/I SEE WHAT I BECOME

A Discourse in Literacy Multiple perspectives: Layering narratives Visual Culture/Literacy: Visual Culture/Literacy I Become What I See / I See What I Become A Proposition for Change in Visual Culture (Dis)course Perspective on Representation Representation and Semiotic Stratification I Become What I See/I See What I Become Visual Culture/Literacy: Visual Culture/Literacy I Become What I See / I See What I Become Representation and Semiotic Stratification Multiple perspectives: Layering narratives A Proposition for Change in Visual Culture (Dis)course Perspective on Representation I Become What I See/I See What I Become A Discourse in Literacy Brunelleschi’s perspective represented the technological adaptation of architectures or constructions, just as Gutenberg’s book printing did with handwriting. Therefore it is no wonder there soon arose a feedback loop between book printing and perspective (Kittler, 2001, p. 45).


Teaching, research, and art practice are all activities that require an understanding of the cultural and social network in which they take place. The perspective of the artist/researcher/ teacher will be discussed as it is incarnated through representation since there is no method of inhabiting the head of an/other. Words, images, speech, etc., are the ways in which a particular individual’s perspective is articulated as a representation of the event(s). However, I also attempt to pay homage to the pauses, stutters, and silences in the dialogue between my students and myself.
Representation has had a long tradition of privileging the voice of the author as researcher, the artist of an artwork, and the teacher in the classroom. The voice of the participants in the events of research, art, and teaching are rarely presented without editing. Editing refers to cleanup, organization, and direction of voice. Even those teachers, researchers, and artists who purport postmodern methodologies are oriented towards a specific goal. We are taught as readers and viewers to "see" and "read" from the perspective of the artist or author. This is the goal of literacy, to understand the intent through induction rather than conduction of images and texts. This is exhibited quite literally through the artistic technique of perspective (Berger, 1972). Cartesian optics is the way in which the human body is made disciplined. Perspective paralyzes the body in order to create the ideal viewpoint and viewer. The viewer cannot move from his or her particular location and still retain a fundamental understanding of the image. The purpose of perspective is to give the viewer a way of knowing the world that is perceived as absolute.
It is like a beam from a lighthouse — only instead of light traveling outwards, appearances travel in. The conventions called those appearances 'reality.' Perspective makes the single eye the centre of the visible world. (Berger, 1972, p. 16)
According to Foucault (1972), discourse refers to the means by which we come to understand objects of knowledge as a form of representation. Foucault states that everything that is presented through discourse was already present through the mysterious silence that came before it and that runs as an undercurrent beneath. Discourse always points to a secret and distant origin that can never be fully grasped. This secret point-of-origin can be paralleled with the process of education and the one-point perspective of traditional teaching practice.
Multiple Perspectives: Layering Narratives
In many classrooms, the student is taught to “see” from the “point-of-view” of the teacher, the authority figurer who holds the key to knowledge. The right answer is the one that is sought, and meaning making beyond the text in question is undesired. Tangents akin to Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) Lines of Flight or creative deterritorializations of discourse are often seen as a waste of time. Implementing the concept of Lines of Flight turns the one-point perspective of the educator into an interchangeable and transformational multiplicity.
Within the construction of multiple perspectives, there is a layering of voices similar to the process of collage. To return once again to an artistic metaphor, Synthetic Cubism, utilizing collage methods, produces a narrative space through layering. Narrative becomes part of the collage process as images and objects merge to form a new story. Layering allows for collage to occur through the juxtaposition of seemingly disjointed items. These fractal images composed of the flow of information in all directions allow for multiple reconfigurations of place/sight/site. These new configurations synthesize discourses in the space between.

The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond it internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, and other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network. (Foucault, 1972, p. 23)

Foucault’s networks are described by Kittler (1992) as discourse networks or inscription systems. A discourse network is comprised of technological and institutional aspects that allow for the collection, storage, and production of significant data. The data stored is physical, discursive, technological, and social. Because of this intermingling of data sources, "discourse must not be referred to the distant presence of the origin, but treated as and when it occurs." (Foucault, 1972, p.25)
Visual Literacy
Visual literacy as a practice is not a new concept. John Debes first coined the term visual literacy in 1969. In his definition, we can see a broad understanding of the possibilities of visual literacy.

Visual literacy refers to a group of vision competencies a human being can develop by seeing; at the same time, he has and integrates other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning. When developed, they enable a visually literate person to discriminate and interpret the visible actions, objects, and/or symbols, natural or man-made, that he encounters in his environment. Through the creative use of these competencies, he is able to communicate with others. Through the appreciative use of these competencies, he is able to comprehend and enjoy the masterworks of visual communication. (p. 25)

Debes discusses the integration of other sensory experiences, a concept that acknowledges that the visual image has always been informed by (con)text. Sound, smell, and touch are important in the formation of (con)text in his understanding of visual literacy. His description, however, relates visual competencies to the comprehension and enjoyment of masterworks. The term “masterwork” is a hierarchical model that privileges artist intent in the process of meaning-making. Visual literacy falls prey to the plight of all literacy models, in that it deals with taxonomical understanding of the image.
Visual literacy advocate Feldman (1976) states that because of our use of phonic symbols, the image of syllabic sounds that grew out of pictographs, we are forced to forget what the symbols look like and remember only the sounds that they represent. When we learn how to read we forget the symbol at a sub-cortical level. Understanding that letters stand for something else is an example of the symbolic nature of traditional verbal literacy as governed by rules rather than resemblance or indication. Semiotic notions of literacy allow for the inscription of meaning through the graphic. Graphic entities should be understood from both a pre- and post- mirror stage association in the same way that one must understand language from both a representational and a virtual standpoint (Kristeva & Oliver, 2002). Representation and Semiotic Stratification
According to Mitchell (1994), as a society we moved beyond the linguistic turn (Rorty, 1967) in philosophical discourse into a realm known as the “pictorial turn” in which there is a sense of discomfort with the relationship between the image and its verbal counterpart, how the image operates on its viewer, how its history is to be understood, and what is to be done with the image itself. Goodman (1976) begins his book Languages of Art with the problem of representation as an entry point into the visual image, and Mitchell (1994) describes three basic questions about representation: “(1) What lies outside representation? (2) Why are we so anxious about it? (3) What is our responsibility towards it?” (p. 418). These questions evoke another turn, the affective turn. The affective turn deals with the body and emotion. Affect belongs both to the mind and the body. The term itself requires us to look at the very nature of causality, but it does so based on complex relationships (Clough & Hailey, 2007).
The body as a writable text creates a relationship in which the surface of the body is both written and written on through the event of writing (Derrida, 1988). A translation of this act as literal representation is the process of tattooing. The tattoo as a signifier is imbued with a semiotic significance to the tattooed through the event of interacting with the individual creating the tattoo. However, the event is not fully constructed by the tattoo artist or the receiver of the tattoo. The experience of being tattooed is the first inscription of the event. The second inscription of the event is reciprocal between the tattoo artist and the tattooed. The tattoo artist physically inscribes on the surface of the tattooed as well as virtually inscribes through the experience. The individual tattoo inscribes virtually on the tattooist through dialogue or lack of dialogue throughout the process. This analogy can be paralleled with the process of teaching and learning. The teacher touches the student, and the student touches the teacher through the event of teaching/learning. The written “image” of affect is a form of semiotic association; the unconscious creates a representation of the body that is an “image” of the knowing self. Continual retracing of the “image” illuminates omissions while the process of assemblage or bricolage allows for the invention of new meaning. The stratification of meaning produced has no definitive representation, only multiplicities of representation. It is representation as the dynamic entity of both interpretation and invention. Once the “image” has been created the cultural (con)text of the “image” is taken into account. Identification of the existence of cultural norms gives an individual the ability to find marginalized meanings within the cultural system and the self as part of the cultural system (Ulmer, 1994). A Proposition for a Change in Visual Culture (Dis)course
Rather than focus solely on the attributes of visual literacy that make it primarily visual, I propose “image”/ “i”/ “nation” as a theoretical apparatus. Such an apparatus, as it will be described in the section involving the dispositif, allows for flux in the implementation of (art) education practice. The term “image” refers to the virtual image, “i” to the collective dialogue, and “nation” to the incarnation of the self within the collective. Creative critical response works towards an identification of power structures inherent in literacy discourse (Foucault, 1978). Viewers of an image must sort through visual codes to make meaning of their own through the process of programming. In relation to visual culture one cannot simply focus on the gaze of the panopticon (social apparatus) as a defining attribute of social understanding, we must also pay attention to the gaze of the viewer. According to Mitchell (2002), visual culture is both the social construction of the visual, as well as the visual construction of society. Mitchell distinguishes between visual studies and visual culture. Visual studies is the field of inquiry or the discipline while visual culture is the object of inquiry. Visual culture evokes Derrida’s concept of the “dangerous supplement”; it seeks to fill the gap or void that is created between aesthetics and art history. The visual experience of aesthetics combines with the art historical aspects of visual images and forms. Many educators in the public school setting fear this “dangerous supplement” because it transforms literacy practices to include movement, smell, sound, the visual, etc. Art educator Tavin (2005) describes a form of visual culture utilizing two modes of practice. First, there is the object itself or what the object says. The functional definition of visual culture is the study of all things visual within a given culture. The second mode of practice refers to the interaction with the object of the experience. This becomes the cultural interface. The structure (visual object) of the system determines the mode of interface. What is being proposed is not a dismissal of the visual, but rather a shifting of conception as proposed by McLuhan (1962). The “image” of art education should be a movement-image and a time-image in which art education is constantly becoming, appropriating from the culture that which resonates in the gap between art and life. Art education should intertwine the social, cultural, and political with the personal. Visual culture in art education allows the visual components of the cultural interface to be explored on a contextual level. The structuralist components of image interpretation become dynamic when placed in a new situation or discussed through a particular presentation method. Art educators have been developing apparatuses and tools for some time that allow the viewer of a work of art to engage with the context, techniques, and concepts of a work of art (Carpenter & Sessions, 2002), the context, subtext, and schooltext (Wilson-McKay and Monteverde, 2002), and the exploration of visual culture (Jeffers, 2002). Context, techniques, and concepts display the apparatus as three circles that allow the viewer of an image to determine content based on context and techniques. Context in McKay and Monteverde’s description is the background information of the image, as well as the way in which it is presented. Subtext refers to what the image is saying without saying it. Schooltext refers to the interdisciplinary connections that can be made to the image. Many of these forms of image interpretation have appropriated methods from other theoretical frameworks such as constructivism, situated learning, social reconstructivism, complexity theory, and hypertext theory, to name a few. These theories allow for a dynamic representation of images that provide for multiple interpretations. These multiple interpretations can and should be incarnated through the process of invention, the virtual made "actual". As an evolving discipline, art educators need an apparatus that explores the connection between interpretation and creation, an apparatus that will allow us to make sense of our fragmented culture in multiple ways. This actualization is a form of representation that functions as an extension of self and becomes dynamic through the concept of performance of avatar. The construction of the word re-presentation allows for multiple interpretations of an image through multiple presentations. Classification has led to an understanding of disciplines, objects, images, and discourses as rigid structures. The development of a cultural classification system has been dependent in large part on the comfort of those in charge. At this point in educational history, we have created a cultural interface that privileges one interpretation, the one backed by statistical “fact”. What if the assessment methods used to obtain these “facts” are asking the wrong questions? What if as educators we are working towards an image of education that at its outset was ill-determined? Shouldn’t we be engaging students in an understanding of the world as it emerges and not simply as it was or is? Sweeny (2010) makes the claim that the cultural layering that occurs in contemporary techonogies, including video games, is full of possiblites for art education research. Phones such as the new DroidTM with its AndroidTM OS have the ability to stream data from FacebookTM,
TwitterTM, and Google BuzzTM, all on the same screen as a series of layered clouds. Augmented reality applications on smart phones like the iPhoneTM and the DroidTM are merging the physical and virtual layers of reality through the utilization of the camera to stream realtime data that is integrated with the image on the screen. With the exponential growth of technology, it may be difficult to stay abreast of the cultural shifts between the layers. This is where students can take part in teaching by teaching the teacher. The teacher can then find thematic connections to the technology being utilized as a form of feedback loop. Instead of embracing these cultural shifts, teachers and administrators who are unfamiliar with popular culture and fearful of new technologies relegate them to the realm of low culture. Instead of meeting students where they are, teachers too often force students to conform to outdated modes of practice. In education, this may manifest as an emphasis on form over content, and in art education, as the strict adherence to components such as Arthur Wesley Dow’s elements and principles of design. As educators, many of us are focusing on circulating modes of meaning-making that are a hundred years old. The point is not to do away with these forms of meaning production, but rather, to focus on the components of a process of meaning/making that can facilitate student understanding and agency in the culture of their everyday lives. Gude (2004) has produced a list of postmodern principles that coincide with the need to connect with the everyday: Appropriation, Juxtaposition, Recontextualization, Layering, Interaction of Text and Image, Hybridy, Gazing, Representin':

Appropriation: Gude notes the prevalence of appropriation in a wide range of contemporary curriculum. With regards to appropriation, Gude states, "If one lives in a forest, wood will likely become one’s medium for creative play. If one grows up in a
world filled with cheap, disposable images, these easily become the stuff out of which one makes one’s own creative expression." (para. 5)

Juxtaposition: Within juxtaposition there is a formation of assemblage through the combination of a variety of images. Through the process of juxtapostion, students become better able to understand the network of images that crash into each other through the process of everyday life.

Recontextualization: The process of recontextualization is derived from deconstructivism, a term coined by Derrida (1976). Through recontextualization students place images and objects in new contexts in order to better understand the ways in which the image can be remade. Each new context and juxtaposition with other images and texts gives new meaning to the work in question.

Layering: Because of the proliferation of images due to their digitization, they are no longer precious; images can be stacked one on top of the other, varying the level of transparency. The stratification of images gives students the opportunity to witness the complex relationships of the unconscious mind. Interaction of

Text and Image: Gude presents the reader with the intermingling of text and image in such a way that neither becomes illustrative of the other component. Instead, the student is presented with the discursive spaces between image and text. The disjointed nature of the two allows for the creation of meaning in the space between.

Hybridity: Hybridity refers not only to the multimedia aspects of a work of art, but also to the blending of cultural boundaries. This blending adds to the complexity of the art experience. The student can, through juxtaposition, layering, recontextualization, appropriation, and the interaction of text and image, explore the human condition. What occurs is the melding of boundaries: man/machine, art/science, teacher/student, etc.

Gazing: Gazing, in both art historical and media studies contexts, refers to the act of looking and, through such looking, the attaining of a sense of knowledge and power. This gaze is most commonly directed at the "other" and refers to the power that seeing and being seen has over the viewer.

Representin': Representin' is a process through which the student’s own culture and personal experience becomes part of his or her creative expression. The slang version of representing, “representin',” becomes the declaration of one's identity through the use of video, objects, images, text, installations, etc. In the case of art education, visual culture through its formulation and connection to such areas as media studies, cultural studies, film studies, and technology seeks to work with these principles. According to Tavin (2005), the purpose of visual culture is to privilege the visual in relation to multi-modal practice. Duncum (2004), on the other hand, claims that the visual cannot be separated or untangled from the multimodal practice in which it exists and still retain its meaning. Synchronicity between all components of a text is essential to the meaning-making process. Duncum (2004) states that one cannot turn down the TV, turn off the audio track to a video game, or block out the written text of a website and understand the images inherent in each of these media. Duncum makes a strong argument for the inclusion of these components in the understanding of visual literacy because he gives credence to their ability to inform and construct representation. Forms of critical pedagogy appropriated and dissappropriated within the context of this study are derived from the writings of educators such as Aronowitz and Giroux (1991), Giroux (1981,1992,1996), Giroux and Purpel (1983), Giroux and Simon (1989), Kincheloe (2005), Pinar (1998), Pinar and Reynolds (1992), and Ulmer (1985,1994, 2003, 2005). These authors give a postmodern perspective to educational practice. They advocate a social reconstructionist agenda, promoting the mingling of identity within the educational arena. In art education, Cary (1998) and Efland, Freedman, and Stuhr (1996) take the postmodern concept of multiple voices and realities one step further in the construction of curriculum. Curriculum construction, as envisioned by Efland, Freedman and Stuhr (1996), consist of four essential instructional criteria: loss of faith in the grand or meta-narratives, the power/knowledge relationship, deconstructivism, and double coding. Many art educators seek to engage students in understanding how images create ideological structures that on an unconscious level govern our behaviors, and many visual culture advocates take on the role of social reconstructivists (Tavin & Hausman, 2004; Efland, Freedman, & Stuhr, 1996). Yet many times denial, rather than understanding of the ideological structure, is the primary option for the student. It is ideological oppression from which the art educator is the savior and creator. The methodology of social reconstructionism does not have to be applied in this manner. Art educators can choose to utilize a method of dialogic negotiation that gives voice to their students (hooks, 1994). The spectacle, which is perceived as surface, can be utilized as a device for critical inquiry that engages the student in this dialogue. How does the visual change when it becomes an event or dialogue rather than an object or image? Mirtzoeff (1999) discusses the visual event in relation to the “network society.” In chaos theory the flapping of the wings of a butterfly causes a hurricane. This event comes about through repetition and difference. Deleuze (1994) addresses repetition and difference when he describes the festival; the festival is a paradox because it repeats, but each time it repeats, it is different. If an individual misses the festival it cannot be repeated. They can attend the next festival, but it will be different. The first time is carried to the ‘nth’ power. Therefore, power is inverted; the flapping of the butterfly’s wings memorializes all hurricanes, and all hurricanes memorialize the flapping of the singular butterfly. It is a universalization of the singular event; the flapping leads in recursive fashion to all hurricanes yet to come. In the classroom context an image or idea can lead in recursive fashion to a new idea or perception of the world. The event of coming into contact with the idea or image places difference within the context of the day-to-day repetition of the classroom environment. Provocation is the introduction of chaos into the classroom environment that produces a shift in the repetition. The repetition continues but in a new direction (Deleuze, 1994). This provocation is what charges the dialogue in the classroom in a manner similar to an electric shock. Take, for instance, the work of Martin Creed; his Turner prize-winning piece “227:The lights going on and off” consisted of an empty room in which the lights flickered on and off every five seconds. For many, this artwork was a case of “the emperor’s new clothes”. The question of “Where is the art?” focuses on the object while “When?” focuses on the event. The “image” produced by the work of Creed is that of sight/site and non-sight/site; it is full-bodied presence and, conversely, complete absence from location or situated-ness. Creed states, "My work is about 50 percent what I make of it and 50 percent what people make of it. Meanings are made in people's heads. I can't control them (Reynolds, 2001)." What Creed teaches us is that provocation elicits emotion and emotion promotes dialogue. The artwork in question produces a doubly inscribed event in which the event itself is a catalyst for further dialogue outside of the museum setting (Mullens, 2001).
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