Part Three – Exercise 3.2: Art and/or Visual Culture

Do you think art is and will remain a distinct category or is it best seen as a species of visual culture? List reasons for and against a distinct category. How many ways could ‘best seen as’ be understood? Aesthetically, morally, socially?

An academic overview:

I do feel that Visual Culture as studies of humanities and social studies are related to art education and academic studies, although in media some questions are continuously addressed (see my separate notes post on visual exploration)

Researching a bit through some journals, I found two examples on how Visual Culture is seen as a interdisciplinary discipline  (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). The authors are applying a visual map to demonstrate relationships between art, visual culture, and other disciplines. Here I would like to make a remark that the ‘map is not the territory’  in geographic terms. Here, visual maps are to facilitate understanding of a concept and at times can be rather quite convincing in itself (see my previous exploration infographics in context of Alfred Barr)

The first example is by art education professor Brent Wilson (Wilson, 2003) who addresses the question of the ‘boundaries of art education’ and reviewed the perspective of the ‘transformation of the artworld’ and visual arts as part of a larger visual culture. This reminds me strongly of the discourse at the end of Modernist Art, with questions around the movement from specific art e.g. painting towards generic art (Thierry, 1990) and art and not-art. The author’s baseline is what he called the Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE), a conceptualisation with visual art at the center alongside its attributes as a museum based conception. But this map does not include contemporary art as ‘artifacts from visual culture’ (ebid, p.217), with digital art or art that is not going into galleries. The author reflects on its conceptual discrepancies of this past-looking concept that needed some stretching to move across the distant attributes.


Fig.1: Brent Wilson (2003) - The Artworld presented in DBAE Institutes

Fig.1: Brent Wilson (2003) – The Artworld presented in DBAE Institutes

Wilson reviews the content of Artforum with its coverage of ‘installations, performances, video art, conceptual art, and politically motivated art’. An area that he considers ‘virtually indistinguishable from journalism, television, cinema, illustration, the popular arts, and the objects and events of everyday life.’ (ebid. p. 218). A keynote was expressed by Rosalind Krauss and Hal Foster in 1996 who wrote (ebid, p.219):

“‘Visual culture’ does double service: it is both a partial description of a social world mediated by commodity images and visual technologies, and an academic rubric for interdisciplinary convergences among art history, film theory, media analysis, and cultural studies”  -Rosalind Krauss and Hal Foster

In understanding visual culture the author relates it to the rhizome organization that according to Deleuze and Guattari do have notions of connectedness, relationship, map, and interaction. Contrasting to the hierarchical tree structure with a starting point.

RHIZOME by Sandra Reeves

Fig. 2: RHIZOME by Sandra Reeves

Wilson compares this rhizome structure with the Japanese Manga phenomena. Manga do incorporate various elements of the ‘entire realm of visual culture, Eastern and Western, high and low’. This popular, also called dojinishi phenomena, is articulated by more than 50.000 self-organized and self-publishing circles. The rhizome structure is also presented by the Internet.

In conclusion the author sees the ‘translatability and transmutability of visual images and ideas’  is unstable within visual culture, and sees the transformation images in the space between academics and outside in the popular culture of the people as the key element for exploration in a pulsing non-restrictive area (ebid, p. 228)

The second example is by Martin Irvine, professor for the Communication, Culture, and Technology Program (CCT) at the Georgetown University, Washington, DC (Irvine, 2011). His map demonstrates how the visual arts is perceived: as a part of a larger visual culture at large.


Fig. 2: Martin Irvine: Visual Culture Map (2005-2011)-

Fig. 3: Martin Irvine: Visual Culture Map (2005-2011) –

All together are the field of humanities, but would this mean that culture is one discipline? Possibly one could extend the map further considering blurred boundaries (academic approach) towards natural science, therapy, consumer goods, and marketing. At the end different agenda are playing a key role to keep disciplines separate or not. At times a question or power and funding.

Bolin and Blandy (2003) are taken a step further by considering extended material cultural studies rather than visual culture studies. They are referring to Cornelius Osgood who wrote 1940 that, “material culture is the ideas about objects external to the mind resulting from human behavior as well as ideas about human behavior required to manufacture these objects.” Later in the 1960s, Melville Herskovits described material culture as “the totality of artifacts in a culture; the vast universe of objects used by humankind to cope with the physical world, to facilitate social intercourse, to delight our fancy, and to create symbols of meaning.” (ebid, p.249). In summary the authors do consider the realm of material culture as a ‘descriptor for any human-constructed or human- mediated objects, forms, or expressions, manifested consciously or unconsciously through culturally acquired behaviors.’ The consider visual culture studies therefore as in intermediate step forward.

Coming back to art I recently was surprised to read that one can do a PhD (Huygen, 2017).

„Kunst is geen wetenschap maar we delen één ding en dat is onderzoek.” – Frans de Ruiter

translation: Art is not a science but we have investigation, research in common.

In this context it is fascinating to look back at the origin of the term ‘art’, and it latin equivalent ‘artes’. In medieval ages there were the seven ‘artes liberales’ (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) Since the Renaissance, art as visual and performing arts were split but integrated in the wider field of humanities (history, linguistics, literature, theology, philosophy, logic) and social and natural science.

After this art educational excurse, I think I am better prepared to answer the questions from the exercise, alongside some other readings and my own thinking that gets more critical over time.

To collect all information I brainstormed and amended the ‘map’ of art and visual culture:

Stefan513593 - Ex3.1 - Art and Visual Culture

Fig. 4: Stefan513593 – Ex3.1 – Art and Visual Culture


ART is as distinct category :


  • Art’s role, according to the artist Robert Irwin, is ‘expanding awareness’ of ourselves and the world (Freeland, 2003, pp.138-9)
  • Art is not a science and does not adhere to any ‘laws’, comparing to natural science, cultural studies or art historical studies that requires a certain agreement and common understanding of underlying principles. Visual Culture is a ‘comparative field’ (Mirzoeff, 2009 p.1), thus art is not.
  • Art is an aesthetic category that has a right to be in itself, ‘art for art sake’ and the ‘aesthetic experience as an end in itself’. What goes back to Augustine and Kant and re-expressed by Greenberg. Basically stating thatart can not be referential what makes it difficult under a referential visual culture umbrella. (Nöth, 1995, p. 425-6)
  • Art is undetermined in its signification. Max Bense argued the aesthetic sign of art is characterized by an ‘interpretative openess’, its interpretant means a ‘qualitative possibility’ but the signifier cannot be restricted. It can simulate the qualitative or the existential aspect, or it could be seen from a formal perspective (Nöth, 1995, p. 424) Embracing that ‘extreme ambiguity’ could be limited when art is seen a species of visual culture, that is based on formal characterisation.
  • Art is not only visual art, but also non-visual and including all senses and experiences (music, poetry). A phenomenological approach would be restricted by the visual focus of visual culture.
  • Art as sub species of visual culture could contradict the autonomy and independence of art. Other cultural studies agendas could restrict art in its free expression independent of common positions or arguments.
  • Art need to be kept as a cultural and moral institution, free from restrictions that other categories do adhere to. To have the ‘right’ to cross boarders and to contradict behaviors and perspectives.
  • The concept of STEAM in education could limit art as a creative tool only (design). But art is more than creative thinking alone. And creativity is anyhow not restricted to art and should be a key aspect in all fields.
  • Art need to be differentiated from art history. The latter one perhaps a better candidate for consideration in a wider scope of visual culture. Both are interested as cultural studies to understand the past, the What and the Why. Whereas, art as an activity of human expression should be seen separate. Art is more interested in the How.
  • Coding: To integrate art into visual culture would mean to adapt semiotics and encoding systems of visual perception and thinking to art, i.e. all what gets expressed artistically would undergo this kind of de-coding and in worst case been considered either as cultural or political biased. Fashion and commercials would be equally en- and de-coded, questioning the role of the human body as model (fashion). Art would stop to be Art.


  • Arts and visual arts are artifacts of a visual culture. Past notion of a museum conception is not valid any longer Therefore, art need be considered as part of visual culture at large to understand human life and expression through art fully.  Rhizomatic structural thinking in visual culture allows new artistic expressions that would not be able otherwise. (Wilson, 2003).
  • STEAM in education: an intrinsic and holistic approach, to include visual learning and creative thinking in the traditional educational curriculum STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Art follows similar experiental and explanatory pathways. The integrative approach goes back to the Italian Renaissance and Leonardo da Vinci.
    Remark: according to STEM to STEAM principles ( the objectives are to:

    • transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
    • encourage integration of Art + Design in K–20 education
    • influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation
  • The boarders between art and non-art, arbitrary objects and art objects are getting more blurred. One can take anything to make a point and to raise awareness. Bottomline, the cultural and social context and its interpretation from an human perspective can only be understood from a visual culture perspective.
  • Judgement of aesthetic values is not restricted to art. Many commodities and arbitrary objects are appreciated and collected for the same reason.
  • According to Mirzoeff means visual culture the “visual events in which information, meaning or pleasure is sought by the consumer in an interface with visual technology”, and by that various field are involved: study of science and technology, including hybrid electronic media, cognitive science, neurology, and image and brain theory. (Irvine, 2011) A logical definition to include art.
  • An integration of art into visual culture would overcome the distinction between ‘high art’ and ‘popular art’ or ‘kitsch’. The former dualistic challenge of avant-garde either to ‘co-opt’ with academics and art institutions or to ‘transgress’ and appropriate popular culture (Cottington, 2005, pp. 56-59) would be obsolete and the disruptive activities of art avant-garde would be normal.
  • Many universities do offer already MS that include either art and visual culture (e.g. University of Westminster, London ) or more often a combined art history and visual culture MS (e.g. University of Oxford) Art education in schools tend since the beginning of the 21th century to wider visual culture classes (e.g. Kindler, 2003) Others are arguing for material culture studies as the wider area rather than visual culture (e.g. Bolin and Blandy, 2003)
  • Art is a term derived mostly from Western cultural history. Other cultures are placing what we consider as art rather in the domain of artefact or ritual (Freeland, 2003, p. I). Art as sub species would enable to look beyond cultural interpretation.
  • Cognitive activity and the ‘visual brain’: New cultural and cognitive discoveries consider seeing and sight more than a pictorial representation of reality on the retina, and relates it the ‘visual brain’ and ‘visual intelligence’. A. Kindler relates this to further studies by Hofmann and Zeki that this way of visual perception is similar to the fine artist approach (2003, p.292). The foundation of visual culture based on common cognitive and neurological functions are therefore an interdisciplinary area that need to involve all fields including art.




  • Bolin, P. E. and Blandy, D. (2003) ‘Beyond Visual Culture: Seven Statements of Support for Material Culture Studies in Art Education’, in: Studies in Art Education. [Online]. 44(3),  pp. 246-263,  Available from: [accessed 27 June 2017].
  • Cottington, D. (2005) Modern art: A Very Short Introduction, Very Short Introductions. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Duve, T. d. (1990) ‘The Monochrome and the Canvas’, in: Guilbaut, S. (ed.) Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris and Montreal 1945-1964, Cambridge Mass.; London: MIT Press,  pp. 244-310.
  • Freeland, C. (2003) Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Very Short Introductions, paperback ed. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press Inc. 
  • Huygen, M. (2017) ‘Eigen werk onder de loep nemen’, In:NRC, 21 June 2017. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 22 June 2017].
  • Irvine, M. (2011) ‘Introducing Visual Culture: Ways of Looking at All Things Visual’, in: [Online]. Georgetown University,  Available from: [accessed 27 June 2017].
  • Kindler, A. M. (2003) ‘Visual Culture, Visual Brain, and (Art) Education’, in: Studies in Art Education. [Online]. 44(3),  pp. 290-296,  Available from: [accessed 27 June 2017].
  • Mirzoeff, N. (2009) An introduction to visual culture, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
  • Nöth, W. (1995) Handbook of Semiotics, Advances in Semiotics, [Revised and enlarged ed. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Unversity Press.
  • Wilson, B. (2003) ‘Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art Education’, in: Studies in Art Education. [Online]. 44(3),  pp. 214-229,  Available from: [accessed 27 June 2017].


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: