Fall 2013

  HA 290.1 / HA 192F.3 | CCN: 05180 | 4 Units

Graduate/Undergraduate Seminar: Visuality, Virtuality and Visibility

Whitney Davis,


The seminar develops and tests a comprehensive framework for analysis of pictoriality in the visual field, deploying certain traditions of art-historical reasoning in combination with intellectual resources drawn from philosophical psychology (especially the theory of depiction), visual studies, and phenomenological anthropology. Proceeding from a baseline distinction between images and pictures, it focuses on the matter of “imaging pictures”—that is, how pictures become visible, are “imaged” to have a particular “pictoriality,” in the visual field understood to be subject not only to invariant laws of geometrical optics but also to historically varying constructions of “the visible.” Special attention will be paid to analytic models of “bivisibility” (the dual visibility of objects, even when they are made specifically to be seen, both inside and outside the register of “visuality,” or culturally shaped visualization), “bivirtuality” (the spectrum of pictoriality, or the construction of virtual pictorial space, from states perceived to be continuous with the whole of visual space and states perceived to be discontinuous), and “birotationality” (the susceptibility of any pictorial representation to a topological transformation, greatly enhanced today by rapid electronic processing of digital images, from states of lesser optical foreshortening to states of greater optical foreshortening, or vice versa, with attendant consequences for both bivisibility and bivirtuality). Readings will be drawn largely from art theoretical and art historical literature, whether recent or not, that bears on these analytic considerations, but we will also address other models in present-day image studies. We will pay special attention to the materials being generated in the “Bildwissenschaft & Visual Culture” initiative at the University of Copenhagen in 2013-14 and at the “One-Way Images” conference of the Eikones group at the University of Basel in October 2013. Student projects will investigate relevant historiographies, explore historical and cross-cultural variations in the imaging of pictures (i.e., particular historical constructions and contexts of pictorial bivisibility, bivirtuality, and birotationality), and/or test the strengths and weaknesses of the analytic model(s) in application to examples.