Lag and Impact in Visual Studies

Sara Blaylock

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting on my porch with a friend and my partner, trying to explain just what visual studies is. My friend, a historian, and my partner, who teaches in an English department, both listened patiently as I muddled through my usual preambles:

It’s like art history, but with a more politicized vision… Some people approach visual studies as a means to think about perception and technologies that have literally changed vision… Others use it as a means to explain how what is made (or allowed to be) visible is a tool of consolidating and maintaining hegemonic power… Some people see it as a development of art history; others define it as a radical rupture.…

I listed examples of potential objects of study. I began with the obvious: art, posters, film, advertisements, maps. I then listed more totalizing, which is to say less concrete, examples: systems of representation, discourse, the use of space, the commons. I inventoried the range of theoretical tools at my disposal: Marxism, feminism, critical race studies, indigeneity, postcolonialism, and queer theory… My historian friend nodded generously. “Yes,” she said, “people in my discipline work on these issues, as well.” My partner, more than a bit familiar with this intrigue of mine, acknowledged that his classroom and writing practice also welcome a variety of methodologies and source materials. So, what then, I proceeded to ask, is it that makes visual studies a discipline when its approach—that is to say, its methodology of interdisciplinarity—is being practiced (and seemingly welcomed) across the humanities?

Click this link to access Blaylock’s full article.

Sara Blaylock is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota Duluth and co-directs the International Association for Visual Culture. She received her PhD in Visual Studies with a designated emphasis in Feminist Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2017. Recent and forthcoming publications include “Bringing the War Home to the United States and East Germany: In the Year of the Pig and Pilots in Pajamas” (Cinema Journal, 2017), “A Material Revolt: Body Portraits in the Prenzlauer Berg of the 1980s,” (Voices of Dissent. Art in the GDR, 2016), “Authenticity’s Visual Turn” (Politics of Authentic Subjectivity: Countercultures and Radical Movements Across the Iron Curtain (1968-1989), 2018), and “The Subject Who Knows: Photographers and Photographed in the Late East Germany (The Oxford Handbook of Communist Visual Cultures, 2019).

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