10 Jan

Visual Culture

Posted By polity_admin_user


By Richard Howells

Visual culture is one of those things that seems to get only more relevant in an increasingly visual age. It also helps explain why my and Joachim Negreiros’s Visual Culture has now gone into its third edition with Polity.

When the first edition came out in 2003, I began: “We live in a visual world.” More than 15 years on this is even truer today. What I continue to do here and elsewhere in my work is make a heartfelt case not only for taking the visual seriously, but also for its importance within the university curriculum. What this book continues to do is teach the rudiments of visual literacy, arguing all the time that this really is not just another form of art appreciation. What it is, rather, is a structured and methodologically rigorous way of discovering not only what visual texts mean, but also figuring out precisely how those meanings are communicated.

Along the way, some things have changed while others remain the same. The success of the first edition, commissioned by John B. Thompson, led to the second in 2012. Here I brought in my former PhD student Joaquim Negeiros to help update and expand the volume not only with new examples and illustrations, but also increasing the theoretical content with ten “key debates” sections. With this third edition (2019) we have also included new sections on images of power, fear and seduction; an expanded section on taste and judgement; a new section on video games as new media; and a glossary. We are also delighted that changes in the economies of publishing since the first edition now mean that this third edition is for the first time printed in colour –while at the same time keeping the cost affordable for student readers. The methodological core remains, as does the running theme about the relationship between visual culture and “reality”.

An example of the combination of both change and continuity is with the cover. Once again, we have taken an “Old Master” painting and playfully “updated” it with a new media component. The first edition saw the famous mirror in Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini portrait replaced with a TV (the couple’s hands are locked over the remote control); the second showed Botticelli’s Venus emerging from the sea to the waiting paparazzi; and now the third shows Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews celebrating their place in the landscape with the help of a selfie stick. Even when making a serious point, a little humour seldom goes astray.

Richard Howells is Professor of Cultural Sociology at King’s College London.
Joaquim Negreiros is a former lecturer and post-doctoral researcher at ESCS, ISCTE, and other Portuguese higher education institutions, and now teaches at CSM, Lisbon.
Visual Culture has also been translated into Korean and Chinese; third edition is now available from Polity.