An emerging discipline that studies the production and in particular the consumption of the products of contemporary visual media, such as television, film and advertising. Visual studies may be understood broadly as applying the approa-

ches and concerns of cultural studies to the study of the visual arts and visual culture in general. As such, it is closely related to, and indeed may be taken as a synonym for, the slightly older term ‘visual culture’. Visual culture represents a ‘pictorial turn’ in cultural studies (akin to the ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy), through which the theorist turns away from the (verbal or literary) text, and towards the visual image. Its core theorists are: Walter Benjamin (and in particular his study of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (1970b), but also his work on photography (1999a: 507-30) and on the consumerism of the nineteenth-century Parisian arcades (1999b)); Michel Foucault (and in particular his work on the notion of the ‘gaze’ (1976)); Roland Barthes (1973); and Jacques Lacan (and the envisioning of the Other (1977b)). It may then be seen to adopt the methods borrowed from literary theory and critical theory, alongside those of the sociology of art and of art history. The subject matter of visual studies may, most effectively, be con-

structed through comparison to art history. Visual studies implicitly or explicitly criticises traditional approaches to art history for being excessively concerned with high or elite culture, preoccupied with the past (and thus neglecting contemporary art and new media), and for continuing to embody post-colonial values. Following cultural studies, questions as to identity politics and the social construction of the viewer or consumer are placed to the fore. The material studied will include photography, film, television, video and the internet, and their manifestation in commercial and popular cultural forms (such as advertising, toys, sport and the visual ephemera of everyday life). Little interest is expressed in the canonical works of art history, or indeed anything created before 1950. Having said that, a core text in the development of visual studies is Michael Baxandall’s Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy (1972). Visual studies may also be seen as the most appropriate theoretical framework within which avant-garde art may be studied. Visual studies status as a discipline is still disputed. The antagonism

expressed to it in a special issue of the journal October (see Kraus (1996)) is illustrative of the tensions that run through academia, as

more conservative academics strive to defend their position, and as more progressive academics strive to introduce courses and to conduct research that appeals to their students. While debates over the future of visual studies are debates over the forms and methods of research that are appropriate to specific forms of culture, and about the need to recognise the importance of otherwise neglected cultural forms, yet they are also debates shaped by academic politics and the need to engage new generations of students.