COURSE DESCRIPTION

The recent academic career of "Visual Studies" has an important component, which examines the role of images (whether moving, pictorial, or verbal) in defining culture and constituting its mediality. Studies of Visual Culture represent much more than research into pictures, let alone works of art.  This scholarly field employs multidisciplinary and cross-faculty approaches concerning a variety of aspects that constitute the visual world as well as its perception and creation by humans.

This course has a triple aim: 1/ to introduce students with the main trends and research questions of Visual Studies; 2/ to contextualize it among theories of culture (such as the semiotics, typ­ology, function, and pragmatics of images as well as the mediality of cultural repre­sen­tations); 3/ to offer a historical overview of visual media concentrating especially on the period before film and photography.

The course concentrates on the changing role and channels of visual communication from the late Middle Ages till the present practices. There is a long-lasting scholarly attempt to define the relationship and the interactions between images and texts, artist and audience, message and reception/perception, therefore, this course intends to deal with the most thought-provoking and cutting-edge propositions dealing with visual culture. Alongside with David Freedberg’s infamous book, The Power of Images – “This book is not about the history of art. It is about the relations between image and people in history” the course offers certain approaches, perspectives and interpretations, generated from the early modern cultural history of images and visuality.

An important historiographical aspect of the course deals with the debates concerning "Old and New Iconology." Beginning with the modern founders of iconology (Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky, Ernst Gombrich) we reach post-structuralist iconology (Hans Belting, Thomas Mitchell, James Elkins), including its critique as well as other "hot topics": e.g. the pol­­itics of images, visual expression and gender, the rhetoric of visual evidence, the per­formance of visual artefacts, visual encounters with “the other,” collecting and displaying know­ledge, and, last but not least, the interplay between texts and images in describing nature and the world. Furthermore, the review of the above mentioned theoretical debates is meant to be linked to the very topic of the students' research fields (journal exercise, see under assignments), thus utilizing the core course as a mandatory exercise of combining theory, practice and inter­pretation.

By the end we should become aware of the situation that “visual studies – in re­cog­nition of new and newly rediscovered constellations of visual objects in use – proposes that we leave ourselves open to improvisation and surprise.” (James D. Herbert).