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University of Chicago Press
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 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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226532486
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/01/2006
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About 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.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Part One: Images
1. Vital Signs | Cloning Terror
2. What Do Pictures Want?
3. Drawing Desire
4. The Surplus Value of Images
Part Two: Objects
5. Founding Objects
6. Offending Images
7. Empire and Objecthood
8. Romanticism and the Life of Things
9. Totemism, Fetishism, Idolatry
Part Three: Media
10. Addressing Media
11. Abstraction and Intimacy
12. What Sculpture Wants: Placing Antony Gormley
13. The Ends of American Photography: Robert Frank as National Medium
14. Living Color: Race, Stereotype, and Animation in Spike Lee's Bamboozled
15. The Work of Art in the Age of Biocybernetic Reproduction
16. Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture

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What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Henry_Berry More than 1 year ago
In the chapter titled the same as the book title, in laying out the grounds for his innovative exposition on images and culture, Mitchell explains, '[Images] present not just a surface but a face [italicized] that faces the beholder.' Elsewhere in this chapter, he remarks that images may not have the power attributed to them which supposed power is seen as absolute and all-encompassing in postmodern culture. Not suggesting that images ave no power, Mitchell takes the position that 'the problem is to refine and complicate and refine our estimate of their power and the way it works.' The author allows that his perspective based on what pictures 'want' rather than what they 'do' can at first blush seem to anthropomorphize pictures or give them an aboriginal animistic nature. But Mitchell explains that he means this as metaphorical, conceptual, and theoretical not literal as in animism or even symbolic as with icons. Mitchell's provisional approach thus corresponds to the provisional quality of postmodern culture to bring extraordinary illumination to this contemporary culture. Fantasy, multiple selves, and virtual reality are other terms used to express this provisional quality of postmodernism. Playfulness is another--and Mitchell's book, while sound literarily and with extensive learning and cogent though, exercises the principle that playfulness can take one farther in some cases. Whereas in postmodernism, play with its provisional, usually somewhat artificial attributes is a manner of avoiding commitment and engagement with fundamentals, with Mitchell it is a technique for coming to grips as much as possible with the elusive, ethereal nature of postmodernism. It is impossible to encompass or define postmodernism whose primary attributes are contingency, continually changing imagery, and pseudo-events and provisional personas to play to the media. But Mitchell has managed to relate postmodernism's sprawling nature and what accounts for this.