What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images

What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images

by W. J. T. Mitchell
     
 

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Why do we have such extraordinarily powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see in everyday life? Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray?

According to W. J. T. Mitchell, we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that

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Overview

Why do we have such extraordinarily powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see in everyday life? Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray?

According to W. J. T. Mitchell, we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that convey meaning but as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own. What Do Pictures Want? explores this idea and highlights Mitchell's innovative and profoundly influential thinking on picture theory and the lives and loves of images. Ranging across the visual arts, literature, and mass media, Mitchell applies characteristically brilliant and wry analyses to Byzantine icons and cyberpunk films, racial stereotypes and public monuments, ancient idols and modern clones, offensive images and found objects, American photography and aboriginal painting. Opening new vistas in iconology and the emergent field of visual culture, he also considers the importance of Dolly the Sheep—who, as a clone, fulfills the ancient dream of creating a living image—and the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, which, among other things, signifies a new and virulent form of iconoclasm.

What Do Pictures Want? offers an immensely rich and suggestive account of the interplay between the visible and the readable. A work by one of our leading theorists of visual representation, it will be a touchstone for art historians, literary critics, anthropologists, and philosophers alike.

  “A treasury of episodes—generally overlooked by art history and visual studies—that turn on images that ‘walk by themselves’ and exert their own power over the living.”—Norman Bryson, Artforum

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Editorial Reviews

Artforum
Mitchell’s book is a treasury of episodes—generally overlooked by art history and visual studies—that turn on images that ‘walk by themselves’ and exert their own power over the living, from the resurrection of the dinosaur in the Victorian natural-history museum, to the quasi-animated statues of Antony Gormley, to the continuing vitality of the visual stereotype of racism. His account offers the most serious challenge in many years to the view that images are merely ‘signs,’ asking only for interpretation or analysis or commentary. What images want from us is much more than that.”

— Norman Bryson

Afterimage
The book displays great analytical energy, playfulness, and insight into the many varied answers that [Mitchell] offers to his own central question: images want to be kissed and touched and heard; they want to trade places with the beholder; they want everything and nothing.  When Mitchell argues that critics should put the image first, he is attempting to open up the field of visual inquiry and avoid any orthodoxy of method, whether psychoanalytic or materialist, that would consider the image as mere symptom or ideological manifestation, an object of iconoclastic destruction of idolatrous esteem.  The strength of What Do Pictures Want? is that it is less a manifesto on the rules and systems of analysis than a call to expand the field with 'new questions of process, affect, and the spectator position,' a thought experiment on the vitality of images and their ability to create in the present new forms and representations of the deep past and near future, from digitized dinosaurs to cloned sheep.

— Anna Siomopoulos

Mary Ann Caws

“This rich volume is of an ‘intimate immensity’. . . sufficient to engage anyone—that is, everyone—interested in visuality under any guise at all. . . . Mitchell has a rare quality of generosity. . . . He is frequently witty, never boring, and always able to move rapidly from one sense to another (in all senses) without any self-conscious delight. This is serious stuff, regardless of its humor. . . . Among his other influential works, this one will hold a particular place, for its wide-ranging and exemplary clarity in a field often troubled by the criticisms of those who doubt the efficacy of such boundary-hopping experiments.”

— Modernism/Modernity

Artforum - Norman Bryson

“Mitchell’s book is a treasury of episodes—generally overlooked by art history and visual studies—that turn on images that ‘walk by themselves’ and exert their own power over the living, from the resurrection of the dinosaur in the Victorian natural-history museum, to the quasi-animated statues of Antony Gormley, to the continuing vitality of the visual stereotype of racism. His account offers the most serious challenge in many years to the view that images are merely ‘signs,’ asking only for interpretation or analysis or commentary. What images want from us is much more than that.”
Afterimage - Anna Siomopoulos

"The book displays great analytical energy, playfulness, and insight into the many varied answers that [Mitchell] offers to his own central question: images want to be kissed and touched and heard; they want to trade places with the beholder; they want everything and nothing.  When Mitchell argues that critics should put the image first, he is attempting to open up the field of visual inquiry and avoid any orthodoxy of method, whether psychoanalytic or materialist, that would consider the image as mere symptom or ideological manifestation, an object of iconoclastic destruction of idolatrous esteem.  The strength of What Do Pictures Want? is that it is less a manifesto on the rules and systems of analysis than a call to expand the field with 'new questions of process, affect, and the spectator position,' a thought experiment on the vitality of images and their ability to create in the present new forms and representations of the deep past and near future, from digitized dinosaurs to cloned sheep."
Mary Ann Caws - Modernism/Modernity

“This rich volume is of an ‘intimate immensity’. . . sufficient to engage anyone—that is, everyone—interested in visuality under any guise at all. . . . Mitchell has a rare quality of generosity. . . . He is frequently witty, never boring, and always able to move rapidly from one sense to another (in all senses) without any self-conscious delight. This is serious stuff, regardless of its humor. . . . Among his other influential works, this one will hold a particular place, for its wide-ranging and exemplary clarity in a field often troubled by the criticisms of those who doubt the efficacy of such boundary-hopping experiments.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226532455
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
06/15/2005
Edition description:
1
Pages:
408
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 8.98(h) x 1.13(d)

Meet the Author

W. J. T. Mitchell is the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature and in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He is the author or editor of eight books published by the University of Chicago Press, including Picture Theory, Iconology, and Landscape and Power. He is also the editor of Critical Inquiry.

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