Visual Culture Ch2 - Visual culture: an introduction John...

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Visual culture: an introduction John As Walker a Sarah Chaplin
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2 The concept of 'the visual' THE MEANING of the word 'visual' may appear self-evident and thus hardly worthy of comment. Yet, as we shall discover, complicated issues are raised by this concept and related terms such as 'visuality', 'scopic regimes' and'ocularcentrism'.l Vision All those studying visual culture need to learn the basic facts about the physiognomy of the eyes and the psychology of visual perception, not only because such knowledge is pertinent to the subject in general, but also because many artists have acquired and made use of such knowledge. In British art schools during the 1950s and 1960s, for example, departments of 'Visual Research' were founded and tutors often referred art students to the scientific findings of the psychology of visual perception as reported in texts by Rudolf Arnheim, James J. Gibson, Richard Gregory and others, on the grounds that this knowledge would enhance their understanding of art and design. 2 Rays of light reflected from objects are focused by the lenses of the eyes on retinas with rod and cone receptors sensitive to those rays. The retinas convert light rays into electrochemical signals which are then transmitted, via the optic nerves, to the primary visual cortex at the back of the brain. One-third of the brain is devoted to processing these signals. Different pathways in the cortex are concerned with colour, motion, depth and shape or form, but the brain integrates them into a single perception. 3 Once signals have passed the retinas it no longer makes sense to speak of 'the visual' in isolation. Although people talk about 'the mind's eye', there is not literally a second pair of eyes inside the brain that looks at 'images' coming from the real eyes, otherwise there would be an infinite regress. The fact that we perceive one world rather than five (correspond- ing to each of the five senses) suggests that inside the brain/mind visual information from the eyes merges with information arriving from the other senses, and with existing memories and knowledge, so that a synthesis occurs. (Psychologists call this process 'apperception'.) And sometimes synaesthesia happens too (this is when colours and shapes come to be strongly associated with sounds, smells and feelings).
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I I JUS are pic :he lly Iso In ltS to ed rs, of res las ~d, :~ ld - <>0' , at te d- al er ;is es The concept of 'the visual' 119 Mental images can also occur with the eyes closed: memory enables us to recall familiar people and places, while imagination enables us to conjure up fictional beings, places and events. Dreams and hallucinations also indicate that mental images can occur without conscious control when we are asleep or ill/disturbed/drugged. Scientists have also pointed out that sensations of light can be produced by blows to the head, electrical stimulation of the visual cortex and narcotics. Furthermore, psychologists have studied phenomena such as afterim- ages which demonstrate that the eyes are not simply windows on the world.
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This note was uploaded on 01/31/2011 for the course WOMEN'S S 240 taught by Professor Cole during the Spring '07 term at University of Michigan.

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Visual Culture Ch2 - Visual culture: an introduction John...

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