Democratization of Visual Culture

In Image Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture, Jhally explains that “given that our understanding of reality is always socially constructed (that “ideology” is present in any system or situation), visual images are the central mode through which the modern world understands itself.” He spends most of the article describing how image based culture is basically a creation of the market. He disses image based culture for colonizing all these areas of life, but doesn’t discuss the positive aspects of a turn to a visual culture. In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin argues that the turn to a visual culture based on images that are inherently reproducible (photography/film as opposed to paintings which were created less often and there was always only one “real” copy) was accompanied by a democratization of these forms. More people have access to them and, since there are many copies, the masses can engage with these objects collectively on the same plane (instead of in the “hierarchized mediation” used for paintings by placing them in galleries, museums, or private ownership). I think, for example, that visual culture has allowed for greater participation in the political sphere and has created a space for modes of expression that are different from the text-based standard.


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