Please note: I dislike writing blogs that are public online for a class assignment that seems largely unrelated to content here, but I must so please know this article is written for class. In future publications, I will place the same warning as if it is paid content.
Although I have read only the introduction of How to See the World by Nicholas Mirzoeff I can tell that this book and I will be great friends already. By relying on psychological, anthropological, and sociological perspectives (including citations from Manuel Castells on page 13 who I already have high esteem for) Mirzoeff gripped me almost immediately (Mirzoeff, 13).
Through a cursory overview of the challenges the modern world faces he imparted three key facets of understanding visual culture in the modern world that I have seen little about outside of communication white papers. First was the change in time as perceived visually, second was understanding visual culture beyond communication, and last came setting up a frame work for understanding images in the deep future.
To elaborate on the first point, his analysis of the blue marble versus the astronaut’s ultimate selfie throughout the introduction focused on the instantaneous aspect of artistic decisions in time expanding past it’s context (Mirzoeff). These images transcend chrono-synchronous visual communication beyond context in a way that is self-referential; the images context was provided in it’s imagery. This is contrasted with the canonical artistic belief that the viewer completes the image as a one-to-one communication model. Understanding visual culture has now become a one-to-all asynchronous model across time and space.
Rhetorically speaking the canonical belief is still true, but the rise of self-predicated imagery on social media makes the receiver’s end of a communication model a little less necessary. The focus of our images in the modern world are now asynchronous. People take images for themselves and share them to the internet in general. They refer to these images when they are relevant and the images disappear into the ether when they are not. They can be brought back with reverse image searches and tags, or never referenced again. Regardless they are a permanent part of the internet landscape. As Mirzoeff says, “what we are experiencing with the internet is the first truly collective medium […] It makes no sense to think of the web as a purely individual resource” (Ibid, p.21).
Second, Mirzoeff discussed visual rhetoric as not only a communication method, but a new type of sense for our scale and understanding of the world. By referring to what I call cultural lenses or the ways in which we see the world as determined by the things we see and feel, Mirzoeff makes the claim that our visual senses are not simply seeing per-say (Mirzoeff p. 11). They are actively filtering the way in which we see those things. In what Castells and Mirzoeff call a Networked Society that is increasingly dominated by globalized visual communication, opening this perspective is vital to understanding the visual stimuli we receive (Mirzoeff & Castells). We are being bombarded by signs and symbols which tell us what we should take from it, but we automatically adjust that thinking based on our cultural lens. To adapt to the future we must explicitly learn how to analyze the messages coming through in a trans-cultural manner. But even then, how can a book teach us what this will mean when the future changes? Mirzoeff’s answer to this question leads us to our third point.
Mirzoeff answered this question by speaking less on how to look at images and more laying down a framework for thinking about visual culture in the deep future. I term deep future here as the future we cannot determine due to technological innovations and cultural challenges we have yet to solve in the modern hyper-connected world (Crash Course).
In the last paragraph of his introduction Mirzoeff lays down his response to this difficult question; “How to See the World will suggest how we can organize and make sense of these changes to our visual world. We will see what is on the rise, what is falling back and what is being strongly contested” (Mirzoeff, p. 27). The table of contents offers a plan for adapting to a future we currently know nothing about via a bottom-up approach to explaining how we as humans think and see, how mediums and channels affect the way we see, how our immediate communities affect it, and finally, how our world communicates to us through these channels.
Mirzoeff offers for me, in this brief introduction, a beautifully crafted plan for teaching me how to understand a world that is getting increasingly visual. I cannot wait to review future chapters.
Work Cited: Click Read More
Castells, Manuel. The rise of the network society. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.
Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to see the world: an introduction to images, from self-portraits to selfies, maps to movies, and more. New York: Basic , 2016. Print.