Home Magazine The current "civilization of images"

We are living in the "civilization of images", it doesn't matter to whom we speak, what we are seeing, or where we are walking... Everything could find a new life, often a much more sensational one, inside our infinite archive of images. Our daily life had to be compared to a series of question connected with a new glance that becomes one with the available optical devices, integrated into them to the extent where we are connected, that is in an increasingly intense and widespread way. 

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The digital age has brought the human being to a new relationship with images, one in which everyone is invited to be both a user and a producer of images. Right now, everyone could document their own life and share it with others, but above all, present it the way famous people do it. The new virtual reality offers the possibility of making everything much more fascinating. Around the beginning of the nineties, it became necessary to collect various texts - some born within the discovery of photography and others which are more recent - capable of producing a philosophical reflection on the methodology of art. This new field of research has been defined, according to the respective geographical contexts, as Visual Cultures Studies, Bildwissenschaft or théorie de l'image, and seeks to provide parameters of analysis adapted to the delicate "question of the image", without which, it would not be possible to understand contemporary culture.

From the text "La société du spectacle" (1967) by Guy Debord, to those about the "neutralizing power" and "anesthetizing" of photography by Susan Sontag; from the theses of Jean Baudrillard on the "disappearance of reality" in the era of "hyperreality" and "simulation"; the urgency of a study aimed at the development of the media has determined attitudes of trust or mistrust in their information role


Shield with Medusa's head by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1597


John Baldessari , Poster per la mostra “L'image volée” alla Fondazione Prada © John Baldessari, 2016


The birth of photography, and then "technical reproducibility of the artwork", as called by Walter Benjamin, "has led the artist's hand felt from time to time, more and more exonerated from the most important artistic tasks, now due devout only to the eye". Art, through photography, has gradually moved towards a process of "democratization" of art itself, very often also to the social, aesthetic and political relevance of many works. What seemed to fail in this proliferation of images is not only the possibility to distinguish art and not-art but more radically the possibility to separate or discern reality from its representation, reality from fiction.

A possible point of view from which one can read the development of artistic poetics in the Twentieth Century - as in the case of the first historical avant-gardes - is the relationship between artists and their historical reality. Just think about the Futurist obsession for machines, speed and movement during the great progress of the Second Industrial Revolution, or the ambiguous worlds represented by the Surrealists influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, and again, the Cubist spatial experiments that found an answer in the concept of the physical relativity of Albert Einstein. All these artistic experiments never really departed from an objective reality, which the artist had to grasp and communicate, but all of them tried to bring back this "Time truth" through a process of elaboration and transformation. 


Walter Benjamin


Susan Sontag. Courtesy DoppioZero


So, artists can only investigate the method by which art can "give a new voice" to the image, as the American philosopher W.J.T Mitchell writes in his essay "What Do The Picture Want?" (2005): in which he invites us to no longer think of images as passive objects to the viewer's gaze, but as animated subjects, endowed with personality, needs and desires. For artists, art must rethink its role in reconstructing visual imagery that, at present, no longer seems able to elicit any kind of reaction from the observer.

Cover image: Barbara Kruger, untitled the future belongs to those who can see it, 1997.

Written by Elisabetta Rastelli

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