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A General Theory of Visual Culture
Whitney Davis

Winner of the 2012 Susanne K. Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form, Media Ecology Association

Paperback | October 2017 | $45.00 | £37.95 | ISBN: 9780691178073
400 pp. | 7 x 10
Hardcover | 2011 | $55.00 | £45.95 | ISBN: 9780691147659
400 pp. | 7 x 10 | 45 halftones. 35 line illus.
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What is cultural about vision--or visual about culture? In this ambitious book, Whitney Davis provides new answers to these difficult and important questions by presenting an original framework for understanding visual culture. Grounded in the theoretical traditions of art history, A General Theory of Visual Culture argues that, in a fully consolidated visual culture, artifacts and pictures have been made to be seen in a certain way; what Davis calls "visuality" is the visual perspective from which certain culturally constituted aspects of artifacts and pictures are visible to informed viewers. In this book, Davis provides a systematic analysis of visuality and describes how it comes into being as a historical form of vision.

Expansive in scope, A General Theory of Visual Culture draws on art history, aesthetics, the psychology of perception, the philosophy of reference, and vision science, as well as visual-cultural studies in history, sociology, and anthropology. It provides penetrating new definitions of form, style, and iconography, and draws important and sometimes surprising conclusions (for example, that vision does not always attain to visual culture, and that visual culture is not always wholly visible). The book uses examples from a variety of cultural traditions, from prehistory to the twentieth century, to support a theory designed to apply to all human traditions of making artifacts and pictures--that is, to visual culture as a worldwide phenomenon.

Whitney Davis is the George C. and Helen N. Pardee Professor of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of many books, most recently Replications: Archaeology, Art History, Psychoanalysis and Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond.


"Along with David Summers's Real Spaces, Whitney Davis's General Theory of Visual Culture is one of the most ambitious and potentially foundational books on art history in recent decades. . . . As conceptual reorganization of art history's fundamental terms of engagement with objects, the book is exemplary, and it is difficult to imagine a reader who is engaged with the discipline for whom this book is optional reading."--Jim Elkins, CAA Reviews

"[Q]uirky and ambitious."--Choice

"Davis's project to develop a general theory of visual culture is a necessary and urgent one."--Derval Tubridy, Visual Culture

"[A] magnificent book. This is an ambitious and fascinating work, one that offers a novel perspective on the intertwined projects of art history and visual culture. The sheer scope of the book and the detailed, methodical argument are simply too broad and too detailed to adequately summarize here."--Brian Kane, Art Bulletin


"This is a tremendously ambitious book, whose purpose is to clarify art history's fundamental confusions about the visual, visuality, and culture. It is a theoretical treatise, so it avoids practical proposals for curing art history's or visual studies' traditional insouciance regarding their founding concepts. But the book is an exemplary reconceptualization, and will take its place as one of the clearest and most general meditations on the place of the visual in culture."--James Elkins, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

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Table of Contents:

llustrations xi
Preface xv

Part One The Successions of Visual Culture
Chapter 1: Vision Has an Art History 3
Chapter 2: Vision and the Successions to Visual Culture 11

Part Two What Is Cultural about Vision?
Chapter 3: What Is Formalism? 45
Chapter 4: The Stylistic Succession 75
Chapter 5: The Close Reading of Artifacts 120
Chapter 6: Successions of Pictoriality 150
Chapter 7: The Iconographic Succession 187
Chapter 8: Visuality and Pictoriality 230

Part Three: What Is Visual about Culture?
Chapter 9: How Visual Culture Becomes Visible 277
Chapter 10: Visuality and the Cultural Succession 322
Notes 341
Index 375

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