Image Studies

Image Studies

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Image Theory – Encyclopedia Entry


An entry on Image Theory appears in the revised multi-volume Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, edited by Michael Kelly (published by Oxford University Press). The entry is divided into 7 main sections: Philosophical precedents; Image and power; the Pictorial turn; Image as thought; Image analysis; Image domains; and Image studies.

Read Entry: Image Theory.pdf [PDF]

The following excerpts are taken from the beginning and end of the entry:

‘A much-cited line from Raymond Williams’ Keywords (Fontana, 1988) is that the word ‘culture’ is ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’. Although he does not state what those other complicated words might be, we might readily include the word ‘image’. Williams himself offers only a short entry on the concept of the image, but like the word ‘culture’ we could equally point to its varied historical development (in different contexts), and also, importantly in how the term is adopted across a range of distinct intellectual disciplines and in a variety of ways that are not always compatible.’


‘Image Studies. In defining ‘Image Studies’ we can ask the deceptively simple question: ‘What is an image?’ – which we soon acknowledge is no simple matter. If anything, the image does not exist in any singular sense, but is always a plural term (Elkins and Naef, 2011). It is perhaps not surprising one of the central concerns of writers has been to categorize images into different groupings that attempt to account for the full range of visual and non-visual images. W.J.T. Mitchell’s (1987) canonical essay, ‘What is an Image?’, proposes a family tree of images (to include graphic, optical, perceptual, mental and verbal images), while James Elkins’ Domain of Images (1999) puts forward a diffuse genealogy of image types. In both cases, these taxonomies are an attempt to give an inclusive account of what might be included in an expanded understanding of the image. Hans Belting (2005) offers an explicit development of Mitchell’s account of a ‘family of images’, arguing: ‘Images are neither on the wall (or on the screen) nor in the head alone. They do not exist by themselves, but they happen … They happen via transmission and perception’. In consolidating these accounts, Images Studies (Manghani, 2013), seeks to establish an interdisciplinary approach to the study of images, which looks across a range of domains and disciplines. The approach it sets out is to think both critically about images and image practices, and simultaneously to engage with image-making processes. At the heart of the book is the idea of an ‘ecology of images’, through which we can examine the full ‘life’ of an image as it resonates within a complex set of contexts, processes and uses. Elsewhere, under the banner of Bildwissenschaft [image science], and notably through the prolific work of the publicly funded Eikones project (at the University of Basel), a broad consortium of researchers has been brought together to plot new pathways, including the intersection between science and visual culture. Overall, image studies seeks to offer critical frameworks within which interdisciplinary research can take place. In the last decade or so, alongside developments in visual culture studies, image studies – if not fully established in institutional terms – has taken up its place within intellectual debates and scholarship.’


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