Research Essay: Visual Language and Culture

Nicholas Mirzoeff has taken an extremely different perspective to the analysis of art in his book An Introduction to Visual Culture 2nd Edition[1]. His analysis of various themes and their relation to art are what give him an edgier dimension as an artist. He explores the various aspects of visual arts in all their glory and short comings in a way that can only be described as thrilling.  One can tell that his focus on globalization in the visual art industry and as an influential external force of its own on said industry has been is one that is based not solely on passion but also on the concept of social imagination. This is much with all the concepts he presents because instead of detailing it based on artistic bias he instead analyses visual art from an onlooker’s eyes hence capturing all the intricate details, advantageous or disadvantageous, regardless.

The book has a wide range of text design and colorful images. This is an obvious improvement from the first edition. This mostly holds the reader’s attention allowing their concentration span with the visual presented to last longer. Research has illustrated that with visual art audiences are more likely to be captivated if the color schemes presented to them are lively and outstanding. The design also illustrates the authors own understanding of visual art as laying out shallow designs does not do much for the credibility of the author in question and can discredit them from the start.  Mirzoeff’s presentation of visual art that was not lacking in these two aspects helped give depth to the subject matter. This can be observed in the studies of images from Abu Ghraib atrocities, Blade Runner as well as The Ambassadors.

He introduces the concept of post modernism as existing because of the lack of coordination between what is now modern culture and modernism[2].  He asserts that print culture as an art is not about to become irrelevant although it is direly challenged with the great interest being accorded to visual art.  This, he goes on to point is the reason as to why the film and entertainment industry is one of America’s largest imports. This goes to illustrate the heavy hold that visual culture has on the very existence of progress and economics.

The book illustrates the connection between visual culture and world history. Visual art has been used to indicate events that were of great magnitude in people’s lives globally. As illustrated the concept is replicated in pictures and images from these events. Mirzoeff’s book illustrates that in the representation of these events in visual art, in no way is the meaning and events that they held or represented to the affected, altered. This shows that the concept of visual art goes is one that brings longevity and sustainability to the cultures that are coming into place today. For instance the Iraq War imagery outlined as well as those from hurricane Katrina tells the stories of these events in the deepest of ways and without altercation to the gravity that the situations bore. In a strange way, they offer the creation of catharsis to future generations on the events that transpired before they came to existence.

Mirzoeff through bringing together various visual pieces from various times, has succeeded in illustrating the various dimensions through which visual culture presents itself. The concept of visual culture may be understood from shallow perspectives as simply printed visual however, this is far from the case. In this book a beginner is able to understand that visual culture comprises of other elements such as sculptures and paintings. This in itself illustrates just how much of everyday life and interactions an average human being has the opportunity to learn from visual culture. The focus on technology as an influential factor in visual culture also illustrates the ease of access to visual art by the average human being. In totality the book illustrates that visual culture is a concept that over time has become globalized majorly because of technological advancement that has made it very easy to come across in daily endeavors of human existence.

Visual culture has also been portrayed as a communication mode in this literature piece. With regard to the Hurricane Katrina, the images provided illustrate the situation as it was during the occurrence. This is to say that the stories of the victims of this occurrence as well as those that were affected in any way can be relayed to those that were not aware of the gravity of the situation. While it cannot be ignored that even from the images presented in the book the audience dies not quite get a clear picture of what took place because visual art falls short of enabling full emotional comprehension, at the very least knowledge on the issue at hand is acquired. Visual art is very useful in engraving literature to memory in comparison to other forms of art.

 Mirzoeff[3] lays out the challenges that visual culture as concept has created within the heart of the globe. He states that visual culture has gone on to kill actual visual ability among people. This is to say that people, instead of using their own visual ability to capture the events that go on around them, instead rely on the visual; aid from their technologies such as camcorders to do this for them. He outlines various situations in which atrocities have been committed against human life and its existence while people recorded the events but yet did nothing to stop the atrocities from happening. It appears that what he intends to pit out is that if as human beings we have the ability to capture this occurrences then why not try to stop them rather than obsessing over acquiring this footage?

This book is relevant not because it has information that may have been unknown to scholars, artists and the general public altogether, but because, it presents information that may already have been known in completely different portrayals. It is correct to say that from reading this book alone even those that have very little knowledge about the visual culture and what it entails may have a clear picture of its nature. It is important to note that while Mirzoeff may have a certain stand on whether or not visual culture is advantageous or disastrous; he does not give a clear indication of where his allegiance lies. This book is devoid of lack of range and this gives it depth; an aspect which modern authors and literalists are falling short of sadly. All this in context, the interesting fact about this book, is that it presents visual culture as it is in its splendor and glory in a way that is sure to be engraved in the hearts of its audience.


Mirzoeff, N. An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge, 2002.

[1]Mirzoeff, N. An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge, 2002.

[2] Mirzoeff, N. An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge, 2002.

[3] Mirzoeff, N. An Introduction to Visual Culture (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge, 2002.

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