Visual Culture, Art History and Acts of Seeing and Representation
Published by transcript Verlag in 2020, Beyond the Mirror: Seeing in Art History and Visual Culture Studies, written by Susanne von Falkenhausen, has recently become available in Open Access at the Open Research Library.
A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.
As Susanne von Falkenhausen (2020) seeks to argue in Beyond the Mirror, since the late 1980s visibility has become a currency of social recognition, as well as a political issue. It also brought forth a new discipline, visual culture studies. As part of this, a hotly contested debate unfolded between art history and visual culture studies over the interpretation of visual culture, whose impact can still be felt today. In this first comparative study, thus, von Falkenhausen explores the concept of seeing as a scholarly act that underwrites competing approaches to visuality and society. In addition, in this book Susanne von Falkenhausen engages with the agendas of identity politics that motivate these. In her close readings of key texts of both art history and cultural analysis spanning from the early 20th century to the present, the author crosses expertly between American, German, and British versions of art historical narratives, cultural studies, aesthetics, and film studies.
In her introduction to this monograph, Susanne von Falkenhausen has sketched the historical background for the development of visual studies in recent decades:
“A hotly contested debate in the early 1990s unfolded between art history and visual culture studies over the interpretation of contemporary visual culture, a dispute whose impact can still be felt today. Visual culture studies declared art history incapable of responding to the specific problems resulting from global migration flows, identity politics in the conflict between the global and the local, new media technologies and the media cultures emerging from them. In the view of visual culture studies, art history represented elitist western traditions that manifested themselves in a hierarchical concept of “high” art versus “low” popular culture, in a colonializing view of the art of other cultures, in the mythologization of the (male) artist, in the perpetuation of a history of styles associated with national traditions, and in an inability to respond to the revolution in media technology that has taken place in recent decades. Where, in art history, were the voices of new, postcolonial subjects? Where was the critique of the western canon? Where was the discussion about the power and consumerist exploitation of the art market? Where was the questioning of the elitist distinction between high and popular art?
Faced with this situation, art history in both the English- and German-speaking worlds was put on the defensive. New political and ethical dimensions had opened up that went beyond attempts by left-wing art historians in the 1970s to add class struggle to the epistemic interests of the discipline. Those wishing to take these new dimensions seriously had to call the existing cognitive fundamentals of the discipline into question” (von Falkenhausen, 2020, pp. 7-8).
Edited by Pablo Markin
Falkenhausen, Susanne Von. Beyond the Mirror: Seeing in Art History and Visual Culture Studies. 1st ed. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020. https://openresearchlibrary.org.
Featured Image Credits
2018-05-27_13-00-57_ILCE-6500_DSC05655_DxO, KANAL – Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, May 27, 2018 | © Courtesy of Miguel Discart/Flickr.