The Pictorial Turn

WJT Mitchell first used ‘pictorial turn’ in a 1992 article for ArtForum but expanded upon his arguments more fully in his influential book ‘Picture Theory’ (1994)

The ‘turn’ part was borrowed from historian Richaed Rorty who suggests a series of shifts in the nature of intellectual discourse over time. The ‘Linguistic turn’ represented recent philosophical approaches based on words.

Mitchell says of the pictorial turn:

“it is a postlinguistic, postsemiotic rediscovery of the picture as a complex interplay between visuality, apparatus, institutions, discourse bodies, and figurality. It is the realisation that spectatorship (the look, the gaze, the glance, the practicies of observation, surveillance, and visual pleasure) may be as deep a problem as various forms of reading (decipherment, decoding, interpretation, etc.) and that visual experience or “visual literacy” might not be fully explicable on the model of textuality. Most important, it is the realization that while the problem of pictorial representation has always been with us, it presses inescapably now, and with unprescendented force, on every level of culture, from the most refined philosophical speculations the most vulgar productions of the mass media. Traditional strategies of containment no longer seem adequate, and the need for a global critique of visual culture seems inescapable.”


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