Research point

At the moment I am not able to access the Oxford Art Online resources since OCA subscriber terms are being reconfigured under the new UCA’s account, so I have to gain information from my own research on- and offline.

Creative Arts Today suggests to start researching in the following areas :

communication theory – design – book illustration – Marshall McLuhan – visual culture – commercial art

For my personal research I could concentrate investigation in areas I’m already involved with: communication and design in the fields of contemporary textiles and jewellery. I already own several publications in both of them and shall select which ones are the most useful in relation to this course.

On communication theory

Communication Theory  is an interesting collective ‘book’ on the subject that I found on Wikibooks, where it is said that it has been featured ‘because it contains substantial content, it is well-formatted, and the Wikibooks community has decided to feature it on the main page or in other places’. According to the website ‘It is an introduction to communication theory — the theory of how humans share, encode, and decode what they know, what they need, and what they expect from each other’. It is of course in the making as it can be edited as new contents or Chapters are amended or added to. It is possible to save a copy offline for example in GoodReader.

At the moment I found some Chapters particularly interesting.

Propaganda and the Public: Walter Lippmann, Harold D. Lasswell, Edward Bernays, and Jacques Ellul (Chapter 2)

This Chapter explains how much communication research was focused on the influence of propaganda in the time of World War One and Two, and how governments were interested in the use of communication to create behavioral changes in people. This explains also the great development of research in the area during the twentieth century.

Other important points are made in Chapter 3, Uses and Gratifications: Herzog, Katz, and friends

The uses and gratifications approach wishes to explain ‘the great appeal of certain media contents … Why do people use media and what do they use them for?’. So this type of approach is interested in the audience response more than in the producers of the message: ‘it regards audiences as active media users as opposed to passive receivers of information. In contrast to traditional media effects theories which focus on “what media do to people” and assume audiences are homogeneous, uses and gratifications approach is more concerned with “what people do with media”. So I’m immediately reminded of the ‘role of the reader’ dealt with in Part 2 of this course and of the active interpretation of the viewer of artworks as examined in Part 1.

The Media Dependency Theory is considered in this book as an extension of the previous approach, the main difference being that ‘media dependency looks at audience goals as the origin of the dependency while the uses and gratifications approach emphasizes audience needs’.

‘The Uses and Gratifications Theory has been widely used, and also is better suited, for studies of Internet use. In the Internet environment, users are even more actively engaged communication participants, compared to other traditional media … The theory also suggests that people consciously choose the medium that could satisfy their needs and that audiences are able to recognize their reasons for making media choices … there exists competition not only between the Internet and other traditional media, but among each options in the Internet itself as well.’

Chapter 4 concentrates on The Frankfurt School: Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, and on the culture industry seen as an instrument of social control. The concept of culture industry in critical theory was born in the 1940s and since then it has considered the role of mass communications in relation to ideologies.

Chapter 6 examines the importance of Semiotics and Myth according to Roland Barthes and how Barthes applied linguistic rules (De Saussure) to cultural codes, from fashion to advertisements.

Another interesting area of research is that connected to the Network Society and the information age theme in the 21st century (Chapter 10: Network Society: Manuel Castells). It is a vast and still ill defined field with more that thirty ‘labels’ used for referring to contemporary society, among those ‘information society, global village, digital society, wired society, post-industrial society, and network society. Some of the terms describe the same phenomena, while others do not’. And connected to these are the terms New Economy, information economy or network economy which are ‘related to new information technologies.’ And it is said that’to understand the information economy, one should first understand the characteristics of new information technologies, and then study the paradigm shift into the network society.’

In consideration of the fundamental themes of this course, time and place, it might be particularly useful to study the work of Manuel Castells, ‘one of the most influential theorists over the past thirty years since his wide array of works has provided a unique and critical framework for examining contemporary society’.

Castells puts forward ‘that the network society is organized around two new forms of time and space: timeless time and the space of flows’: ‘new biological reproductive technologies blur life cycle patterns in conditions of parenting by either slowing down or speeding up the life cycle …Space of flow infers that physical distances are closer among organizations in the society, and information can be easily transmitted from one point to another point by new communication technologies. This means the annihilation of logical concept of space.

In this connection these are the texts that might be particularly relevant:

Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. New York: Blackwell.

Castells, M. (1997). The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Castells, M. (2000). End of Millennium. Oxford: Blackwell.

On Design

Brief notes from the above article on design as a process:


Design is the thought process comprising the creation of an entity.


“Design is the thought …”

It is “first thought,” or that type of thought we call insight. It is the mental synapse that instantly sees the potential connection between problem and possibility; that sees the capacity for order in the midst of chaos, or for improvement amid inefficiency.

Design is also intuition, that form of subconscious thought that leads us to a deeper sense of knowing, often in the apparent absence of rational confirmation. Intuition is akin to an elongated insight that tells us we are on to something. It is the hunch that often underlies our efforts to perform rational analysis.

Design also involves reason, that fully conscious form of thought that assesses the problem and analyzes the possibilities for solution. It is the analytical process that relies on method and mathematics to assess, refine, and verify its various hypotheses.

And finally, design is the synthesis of all three of these aspects of thought (insight, intuition, and reason) that forms the complete, and verifiable, conceptualization of possibility.

design involves the utilization and synthesis of all three aspects of thought: insight, intuition, and reason.


“Design is the thought process …”

As presented in this definition, design is the activity of creation, as opposed to the product of creation. It is a sequence, or set, of thought-filled events and procedures that lead to the creation of that which is being designed.


“Design is the thought process comprising …”

That is, it includes, or contains, every thought and action required to create that which is being designed. The whole of design comprises all the individual parts of that thought process leading up to, involved with, and even following the creation of the entity being designed.

Depending on the type of entity being designed, this process can include the following:
– the identification of a set of needs,
– the initial conceptualization of a way to meet those needs,
– the further development of that initial concept,
– the engineering and analysis required to make sure it works,
– the prototyping of its preliminary form,
– the construction of its final form,
– the implementation of various quality control procedures,
– selling its value to the consumer,
– its delivery to the consumer,
– providing for after-service,
– and obtaining feedback regarding its utility and value


“Design is the thought process comprising the creation …”

This comprehensive “thought/action” process is directed toward, and culminates in, creation. That is, it leads to the tangible realization of a mature completion of the “image of possibility” that originally served to initiate the process.

Without this realization the original “image of possibility” becomes an unfulfilled dream, or a frustration, and in time can vanish altogether.


“Design is the thought process comprising the creation of an entity.”
An entity, that is, the product of the design process, can be

      – physical, such as an object that occupies space (e.g., the house we live in, a car, or a piece of art),
      – temporal, such as an event that occurs in time (e.g., a musical concert, a political rally, or a birthday party),
      – conceptual, such as an idea (e.g., the theory of relativity, the concept of cybernetics, or even the definition of design), or
      – relational, such as a relationship that describes, or specifies, the interaction between entities (e.g., the procedures for operating a computer, or even the friendship between two people).

Each of these entities can be designed.’

Also worth a check:

On Book illustration

On McLuhan

I found online the Pdf of Marshall McLuhan’s pioneering book in media theory, Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man, I have downloaded it to my GoodReader and shall read it shortly.

McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man. [online] At: (Accessed and downloaded 12/01/17)

On Visual culture / visual communication

I have downloaded four books on this subject:

Mirzoeff, N. (ed.) (1998) The Visual Culture Reader. [online] At: (Accessed and downloaded 17/01/2017)

Rose, G. (2001) Visual Methodologies. [online] At: (Accessed and downloaded 12/01/17)

Smith, K., Moriarty S., Barbatsis, G., Kenney, K. (ed.) (2005) Handbook of Visual Communication. [online] At: (Accessed and downloaded 17/01/17)

Sturken, M., Cartwright, L. (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. [online] At: (Accessed and downloaded 25/01/17)

First notes for a definition of a visual culture, taken on reading Mirzoeff’s First Chapter What is visual culture?

Visual culture deals with ‘visual events in which information, meaning or pleasure is sought by the consumer in an interface with visual technology’ and visual technology is ‘any form of apparatus designed either to be looked at or to enhance natural vision, from oil painting to television and the Internet.’ —-> definition of visual culture, what makes me think is the term consumer which perhaps is a bit diminutive: are we just consumers?

‘The disjunctured and fragmented culture that we call postmodernism is best imagined and understood visually, just as the nineteenth century was classically represented in the newspaper and the novel … Western culture has consistently privileged the spoken work as the highest form of intellectual practice and seen visual representations as second-rate illustrations of ideas’ —-> very interesting point, could it be put in connection also with the Platonic notion of images as imperfect copies of reality

‘Western philosophy and science now use a pictorial, rather than textual, model of the world’ as against ‘the notion of the world as a written text that dominated so much intellectual discussion in the wake of such linguistics-based movements as structuralism and poststructuralism’ —-> first line of thinking: visual communication uses a linguistic approach (semiotics) and applies it to images, so in fact texts and images are intrinsically bound also from a theoretic point of view – second line of thinking: literature too has adopted a sort of visual approach, I’m thinking here of one of the basic laws of creative writing: ‘show, don’t tell’

‘The dominant postmodern style is ironic: a knowing pastiche that finds comment and critique to be the only means of innovation’ —-> this idea relates to the concept of appropriation which I shall deal with in my third assignment

‘One of the most striking features of the new visual culture is the visualization of things that are not in themselves visual … Visual culture does not depend on pictures but on this modern tendency to picture or visualize existence … the modern period makes countless reproductions of its imagery … in what Walter Benjamin famously called the ”the age of mechanical reproduction” —-> to be connected with pop culture and pop art

‘rise of photography as the principal means of defining reality in the early nineteenth century —-> will be dealt with in Part 4 of the course

‘visual culture directs our attention away from structured, formal viewing settings like the cinema and art gallery to the centrality of visual experience in everyday life‘ —-> importance of photography and visual documentation of everyday life

‘our attitudes vary according to whether we are going to see a movie, watch television, or attend an art exhibition … most of our visual experience takes place aside from these formally structured moments of looking —-> this reconnects me to Grayson Perry’s cycle of lectures examined at the beginning of Part 1 of the course, and the importance of the environment and context

‘as [single point] perspective‘s claim to be the most accurate representation of reality lost ground, film and photography created a new, direct relationship to reality, to the extent that we accept the ”actuality” of what we see in the image. A photograph necessarily shows us something that was at a certain point actually before the camera’s lens’ —-> another interesting point that demands research: the comparison between the indirectness of traditional perspective painting and the directness of photography (Part 4 of the course)

‘perspective images sought to make the world comprehensible to the powerful figure who stood at the single point from which they were drawn. Photographs offered a potentially more democratic visual map of the world‘ —-> a political point, but thinking as a postmodernist might do, it may be just a change of point of view, from this it does not ensue that the democratic approach is forcefully closer to reality

‘the (post)modern destruction of reality is accomplished in everyday life, not in the studios of the avant-garde’ —-> another political point, may be also connected to the ‘role of the reader’

‘soap operas construct a parallel universe‘ —-> detachment of the visual from reality, the visual creates its own reality according to its own rules in the same way that language is an arbitrary system (De Saussure)

‘the visual … offers a sensual immediacy that cannot be rivalled by print media: the very element that makes visual imagery of all kinds distinct from texts’ —-> further research: what is the role of texts within the contemporary visual culture


On Semiotics

This is the only physical book I have bought so far:

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This,  This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics. London: Laurence King

This is useful also for interpreting art.

On Commercial art

I did not find much so far but I could probably rely for much material on the books on visual culture that I have already quoted.

So all in all it seems that there is a LOT of work to do for Part 3 if I have to go a bit below the surface and not only skim this huge area of research. I shall do the best I can.


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