What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images

eBook What Do Pictures Want The Lives and Love

eBook What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images This writer is really interesting and really solid. The problem with this book is it is a bunch of discrete essays / chapters / catalog essays rather than a coherent arguments. My favorites were the introduction/preface, where he pretended he was writing a coherent book, and a few of the chapters here and there. I'd definitely read any other essay of his I come across, but I definitely wish he had pursued a more definite path through the territory he defined in his introduction. Still I'd recommend it.. What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images Viral Book Why do we have such extraordinarily powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see in everyday life Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray According to W J T Mitchell, we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that convey meaninWhy do we have such extraordinarily powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see in everyday life Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray According to W J T Mitchell, we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that convey meaning but as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own What Do Pictures Want explores this idea and highlights Mitchell s innovative and profoundly influential thinking on picture theory and the lives and loves of images Ranging across the visual arts, literature, and mass media, Mitchell applies characteristically brilliant and wry analyses to Byzantine icons and cyberpunk films, racial stereotypes and public monuments, ancient idols and modern clones, offensive images and found objects, American photography and aboriginal painting Opening new vistas in iconology and the emergent field of visual culture, he also considers the importance of Dolly the Sheep who, as a clone, fulfills the ancient dream of creating a living image and the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9 11, which, among other things, signifies a new and virulent form of iconoclasm.What Do Pictures Want offers an immensely rich and suggestive account of the interplay between the visible and the readable A work by one of our leading theorists of visual representation, it will be a touchstone for art historians, literary critics, anthropologists, and philosophers alike A treasury of episodes generally overlooked by art history and visual studies that turn on images that walk by themselves and exert their own power over the living Norman Bryson, Artforum. William J Thomas Mitchell is a professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago Editor of the journal Critical Inquiry.His monographs, Iconology 1986 and Picture Theory 1994 , focus on media theory and visual culture He draws on ideas from Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx to demonstrate that, essentially, we must consider pictures to be living things His collection of essays What Do Pictures Want 2005 won the Modern Language Association s prestigious James Russell Lowell Prize in 2005 In a recent podcast interview Mitchell traces his interest in visual culture to early work on William Blake, and his then burgeoning interest in developing a science of images In that same interview he discusses his ongoing efforts to rethink visual culture as a form of life and in light of digital media.. Popular Book What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images I started reading this book quite a few months ago, but other things became urgent and got in the way. All the same, I was determined to get back to it and had even sent my daughter a quote from the start of it to put into her honours thesis on Japanese food advertising and food taboos about the power of images, “A similar (and simpler) demonstration is offered by one of my art history colleagues: when students scoff at the idea of a magical relation between a picture and what it represents, ask them to take a photograph of their mother and cut out the eyes.” Page 9 Oh boy – hard to argue with that one.This is the central issue of this book, of course, as the title implies. Our most immediate response to the question, what do pictures want? is to say, well, nothing. They are pictures, they aren’t alive, they can want nothing. But even as we say this we get a horrible feeling that we are being either simpleminded or worse, almost sacrilegious. Let’s stick with that feeling for a little while longer – particularly the feeling that pictures don’t really want anything.When this guy sees a hidden connection between things it is like a bomb has just gone off. A lot of this book reminded me of that Holmes story with the dog in the night-time where the mystery was why the dog didn’t bark. Someone I read once said that the hardest thing we can do is see the importance of things that don’t happen. This book draws connections that are, in retrospect, disturbingly obvious, but that I would never have made in a million years. The best early example is that between Dolly the sheep and the Twin Towers:“Both Dolly and the World Trade Centre are living images or animated icons. Dolly was literally a living organism that was also the exact genetic duplicate of its parent. The “twin towers” were (as the “twin” designation indicates) already anthropomorphized, perhaps even clonelike.” Page 14And I’d never really thought about why Dolly had become the poster animal for cloning, as he points out:“Other animals had been more or less successfully cloned before Dolly, and yet none of them achieved the global publicity achieved by this particular creature. The answer may lie partly in the pre-existing symbolic connotations of the sheep as a figure of pastoral care, harmlessness, innocence, sacrifice and (more ominously) of masses led by authoritarian elites—sheep to the slaughter. To some eyes, the seemingly benign image of the cloned sheep is no less a horror than the catastrophic image of terrorist destruction.” Pages 15-16One of the most interesting ideas in this book is around God’s second commandment and the equally interesting idea that we find it almost impossible to follow this commandment. That is, don’t make idols. An idol is an image and as Mitchell points out at one point, if the Fundamentalists ever were successful in the U.S. in having the Ten Commandments put up on the walls of classrooms the second commandment would mean they should also close down every art class. The point is that God is the original image-maker and as such he understands both the power and the danger associated with making images. He doesn’t waste any time making it clear that we must not make such images, but what is most interesting here is that we have ignored this prohibition by our God almost from the start. “When God creates Adam as the first “living image,” he knows that he is producing a creature who will be capable of further creation of new images. This, in fact, is why the notion that the image is alive seems so disturbing and dangerous, and why God, having made Adam in his image, goes on later to issue a law prohibiting the further creation of new images by human hands.” Page 92It could be argued that one of the most powerful images of the twentieth century might have been that of Uncle Sam asking young men to enlist and fight for their country. It is certainly one of the most recognisable images. But his deconstruction of this image is utterly fascinating. “Uncle Sam, as his name indicates, has a more tenuous, indirect relation to the potential recruit. He is an older man who lacks the youthful vigor for combat, and perhaps even more important, lacks the direct blood connection that a figure of the fatherland would evoke. He asks young men to go fight and die in a war in which neither he nor his sons will participate. There are no “sons” of Uncle Sam, only “real live nephews,” as George M. Cohan put it; Uncle Sam himself is sterile, a kind of abstract, pasteboard figure who has no body, no blood, but who impersonates the nation and calls for other men’s sons to donate their bodies and their blood.” Page 37But this book comes alive itself when it starts to talk about people seeking to destroy images. As he says, “Iconophilia and iconophobia only make sense to people who think images are alive. “Or more precisely, we might say that iconophilia and iconophobia make sense primarily to people who think that other people think that images are alive.” Page 93And it isn’t just that the images need to be thought of as being alive for it to make sense to attack them. As he goes on to explain:“Two beliefs seem to be in place when people offend images. The first is that the image is transparently and immediately linked to what it represents. Whatever is done to the image is somehow done to what it stands for. The second is that the image possesses a kind of vital, living character that makes it capable of feeling what is done to it.” Page 127And later:“That is why people still hang in effigy, why we do not casually throw away or destroy photographs of our loved ones, why we still kiss a crucifix, why we kneel before an icon or deface it. And when images offend us, we still take revenge by offending them in turn.“ Page 128One of my favourite parts of this book was his explanation of dinosaurs as a modern image. “The dinosaur will become, in fact, the totem animal of modernity. Its giantism will serve as a living image of modern technologies (especially the skyscraper); its overtones of violence and rapacious consumption will feed into neo-Darwinist models of capitalism as the “natural” social order; its status as an extinct species will resonate with the emergence of mass death and genocide as a global reality in the twentieth century, and with the increasing pace of cycles of innovation and obsolescence. The dinosaur as a scientific and popular novelty is also a symbol of the archaic and outmoded, the fundamental dialectic of modernity.” Pages 103-04 But he then goes on to ask a really breathtaking question: “Why is it that the most familiar, most highly publicized animal group on planet earth at this time is a group of creatures that have never been seen outside museums and movies?” Page 325There is a chapter on the photography of Robert Frank’s The Americans – I’ve seen some of these photographs before, but didn’t really know all that much about Frank or the place these photographs have played in the history of American photography. They are quite amazing photographs and his noticing how often people are decapitated in them is exactly the kind of thing that sends a shiver down my spine. Linking this then to the French Revolution was again a stunning observation. There is an image from these photographs of a blonde starlet presumably walking on a red carpet into some opening night extravaganza and he has snapped her out of focus, but taking up the majority of the frame. However, what is in focus are the women standing behind the rope watching the festivities and this starlet's entrance. What is foregrounded is backgrounded and vice versa. It is a stunning image and one that forces us to consider and reconsider what it is saying.We are brought through definitions of idols, fetishes and totems – essentially, idols date back to classical or biblical times, are the BIG other and need to be avoided at all costs. Fetishes are more recent and associated with our colonial past, they are still bad, but not as bad as idols – he compares them to the Freudian idea of a mother’s breast – however, totems are seen as the most recent image of the other and these date from the discoveries of Australia and the Pacific Islands. These are not terrifying at all, but rather benign images of family relationships – that is, images of anthropological significance rather than religious or spiritual ones.He makes the fascinatingly interesting point that fossils and totems came into existence at the same time, about the 1790s. And that these tend to make up the whole of what museums focus on – that is, either extinct animals or ‘primitive’ peoples.“Given the numerous parallels between totems and fossils, one might ask why they have never been brought into a metaphorical, much less historical relationship. This is principally a result of the disciplinary divisions between biology and anthropology, between the “natural” wing of the natural history museum and its “cultural” wing. Fossils and totems cannot be compared with one another within these disciplinary frameworks; they are discursively incommensurate. The one is the trace of an extinct animal, an image reconstructed by the methods of modern science. Tho other is the image of a living animal, as constructed within a premodern set of religious or magical rituals. To compare fossils and totems is to undermine the difference between science and superstition, to violate a taboo against mixing distinct kinds of objects and genres of discourse.” Page 181One of the things I found particularly interesting in this book was his discussions of racism – there is a chapter devoted to Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled, which I’ve never seen, but I haven’t seem a lot of films, so that’s not such a surprise. This allows an extended discussion of the nature of racist images and their various meanings. But I found a footnote on mascots particularly interesting:“The idea of the mascot is worth pursuing here in more depth. The word itself comes form the same root as mask and mascara, and was associated with witchcraft and fetishism in the nineteenth century. The common practice of selecting colonized “others” as mascots—especially Native Americans in the United States—is an extension of a peculiar habit of selecting a figure that is seen as lower in some “natural” pecking order, and then adopting that figure as a clan or organizational emblem. A kind of limit case of this practice is the ritual of blackface … where the “adopted” mask expresses a complex affection and outright racial hatred. The contrast with Native Americans is striking: sports teams have no problem naming themselves the “Redskins,” but it would be very strange to see them adopting the name of “Blacks” or “Darkies,” much less using the N-word.” Footnote page 122I haven’t even mentioned the chapter on Anthony Gormley’s sculpture – honestly, this book is a treasure trove of ideas and observations about how images work and work on us. Images are alive in the sense that we treat them as if they were alive. In fact, we often treat them with more respect than if they were alive. He points out repeatedly that with totems especially, we treat the symbol with much more respect than any particular example of the animal. But it is more than even this – our relationship with images is one in which, like Newton’s third law, you can’t push on an image without it pushing back. “There is no privileged metalanguage of media in semiotics, linguistics, or discourse analysis. Our relation to media is one of mutual and reciprocal constitution: we create them, and they create us.” Page 215I’ve ordered another couple of his books. He writes with remarkable clarity and relative simplicity, but his ideas have the power to stop you in your tracks.

About Author

  1. William J Thomas Mitchell is a professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago Editor of the journal Critical Inquiry.His monographs, Iconology 1986 and Picture Theory 1994 , focus on media theory and visual culture He draws on ideas from Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx to demonstrate that, essentially, we must consider pictures to be living things His collection of essays What Do Pictures Want 2005 won the Modern Language Association s prestigious James Russell Lowell Prize in 2005 In a recent podcast interview Mitchell traces his interest in visual culture to early work on William Blake, and his then burgeoning interest in developing a science of images In that same interview he discusses his ongoing efforts to rethink visual culture as a form of life and in light of digital media.

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What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images Comment

  1. I started reading this book quite a few months ago, but other things became urgent and got in the way All the same, I was determined to get back to it and had even sent my daughter a quote from the start of it to put into her honours thesis on Japanese food advertising and food taboos about the power of images, A similar and simpler demonstration is offered by one of my art history colleagues when students scoff at the idea of a magical relation between a picture and what it represents, ask them [...]


  2. This writer is really interesting and really solid The problem with this book is it is a bunch of discrete essays chapters catalog essays rather than a coherent arguments My favorites were the introduction preface, where he pretended he was writing a coherent book, and a few of the chapters here and there I d definitely read any other essay of his I come across, but I definitely wish he had pursued a definite path through the territory he defined in his introduction Still I d recommend it.


  3. My biggest problem with this book was the author s credibility I m sorry but when you contradict yourself because you re trying to make religion look bad but then finally admit that it wasn t the way you said originally , call our government fascist, and promote genetic mutations as an exciting new form of art, I just can t really put much stock in what you say Other than that, the book was interesting.



  4. 2007 review I actually only read part one of this book There are 3 parts I do plan on reading all parts someday though because I found the first part interesting in parts other parts too hard to grasps The title was basically what I read about asking pictures what they want an discussing the possible answers It had some very intriguing ideas.


  5. Had a hard time getting through the first half of this book, then the second half things got specific, discussing actual mediums, works of art etc I finished it about a week ago, and find the ideas are still bouncing around in my heada interesting read, taken with a grain of salt.


  6. I didn t read every one of his essays chapters but Mitchell presents an interesting argument on the wants of images, rather than the meaning of images It is a compelling piece of visual culture studies The first two chapters can be read here indiana engweb media


  7. Sometimes the concepts required re reading and extensive thought in various contexts, however the style was very readable and the ideas most interesting The author is both likable and respectable as a narrator and academic.



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