Visual culture: The economy of the visual in the curriculum

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This paper arises within an ongoing research project problematising visual culture in art education through a genealogical investigation of the visual. The complexities of visuality and the celebration and inundation of visuals, multiplying through digital and electronic media, question the position of the visual within the ‘excitement of the show and know’ (Smith 2001:1). The mass-produced image and popular culture make images transparent, accessible and attractive whilst digital environments render the image consumable. Properties of the visual are variously admitted and excluded from the curriculum to illustrate and qualify aspects of content by addressing its visual components. The critical framework that is celebrated by advocates of visual culture blur the boundaries between subjects in the curriculum, such as Visual Arts, History, English, and Social Studies (Brown 2002). The smudging of discourse structures conceals ownership and provides for educational reformers to honour the prospects of economic gain in merging and submerging content. It is the intention of this paper to bring to light the political objectives of visual culture in the curriculum and its implications on discipline practice. Focusing in on Martin Jay’s Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (1994) I will utilize Jay’s reading of a Debordian ‘spectacle’ and a Foucauldian ‘gaze’ to investigate visuality and begin to trace a genealogy of visual culture in art education. In order to canvas the discursive range, emphasising the elasticity of both ‘visual’ and ‘culture’ in the construction of visual culture it is necessary to identify instances when the use of ‘visual’ and ‘culture’ are at variance. A genealogy using Foucauldian methods is concerned with revealing the force and authority of the constitutive discourses of visual culture, as originating outside and beyond discourses of art, and as antagonistic to art education. The paper will examine the economy of visual culture, ‘promising more and more openness, while at the same time its power to communicate concentrated meaning seems to decline’ (Smith 2001:1).


School of Education

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Open Access Conference Paper

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Open Access