Aesthetics & Media

Can images prove facts by the media regarding the values of democracy? — A reflection on aesthetics by Christiane Wagner

For my PhD thesis in the sciences of art and aesthetics at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, my research focused on contemporary image analysis of concept innovation (magna cum laude). Furthermore, after post-doctoral research (UNICAMP Fellowship CAPES 2014-2018) in the aesthetics and sciences of communication (habilitation for a teaching career in higher education, venia legendi), as a visiting research professor at University of São Paulo, I have been working on aesthetics and media, specifically the concept of mediated reality, visual culture, and sociopolitical relevance. This research line focuses on the following question: Can images prove facts by the media regarding the values of democracy? For this analysis to proceed, it is necessary to ground it in aesthetics and the essential values that underscore visual culture. In this sense, this research concentrates on the values of human existence in global visual media concerning the media’s impact on international politics.

Art and literature history have shown effective modes of influencing the configuration of images, which impose the perception of their meanings and methods of structural or semiological analyses (Barthes 1982). Therefore, art as a symbolic commodity exists only for those who hold the means to decipher and appropriate it (Bourdieu 1991). An image remains subject to a variety of interpretations. We must realize it as an aesthetic experience before moving on to understand the full meaning of the image. In my studies, I therefore consider that definitions are restricted to a specific realm of cognition or common sense, because judgments based on subjective values are significant to the polysemy of the image, especially given the immense diversity of possible interpretations. As such, cultural, social, political, and economic histories have always been transferred to art.

Thus, current artistic dynamics can be analyzed by contextualizing the image production process, techniques, and means prevailing to the historical moment, in the Hegelian sense. The production process is explained when the authenticity criterion of art transforms the artistic production. Such a process is related to contemporary art, in respect to cultural value as political and social progress, seeking the “democratization of art” as an ideal. One of the aims of this visual study is to demonstrate that the experiential aspects of images involve the dichotomy between illusion and reality. This aim is achieved by elucidating upon the contemporary analyses and interpretations of artifacts that stimulate visual perception. This research illuminates the aesthetic and historical aspects of images, regarding them as artistic ideas and architectural achievements (Giedion 1982), giving meaning to the architectural space, public artworks, several cultural events, and endless forms within the media embodying the metropolises’ rhythms—namely, whether contemporary art and architecture are interdependent upon institutional and globalized market structures, finding social solutions, or just focus on their own milieu or mass culture entertainment.

Artistic achievements are part of cultural development within its territorial limits. However, concerning deterritorialization, they are related to space-time in the face of the digital interface. Therefore, it is not trivial to distinguish the social fact in its political and economic aspects from its immediate need for solutions to the urban environment. In this sense, this study discusses the historical achievements of practical and aesthetic development through artistic actions, design, and architecture, considering the public space, physical or digital, through images and projects that represent local and global challenges toward a sustainable environment. In this sense, the scope of environmental aesthetics applies to the relationship of the natural environment influenced by humans, as well as things that relate to the environment (Daniel 2001). Therefore, an observation that involves aesthetics associated with the arts and everyday objects and environments of public life and its political and cultural implications is essential (Crawford 1983).

The various visual studies—cinematography, photography, sculpture, architecture, and design—aim to discuss democracy and the sociopolitical context in terms of inequality, post-colonialism, the exploitation of minorities, immigration, race, gender, and climate change. As such, I can continually address this issue in arts, media, culture, society, and knowledge. Consequently, visual culture is analyzed through media studies, aesthetics, art history (Bürger, Danto, De Duve, Deleuze, Derrida, Chateau, Foster, Goodman, Greenberg, Krauss, Lyotard, McLuhan, Rosenberg, Seel, Warnke, and Welsch), iconology, iconography (Belting, Bergson, Bohnsack, Gombrich, Panofsky, and Riegl), and social semiotics and languages of art (Barthes, Eco and Goodman), as well as critical theory—the Frankfurt school of critical theory.

In conclusion, my interests lie in the analysis of visual phenomena’s transformation through digital media, the political and social processes of change in which a variety of visual narratives are discussed in terms of their visual significance, and their synchronization with sounds in daily interactions. Accordingly, this study examines digital technologies, motion pictures, visual and sound recordings, broadcasting industries, and their social impacts given the political impact of global visual culture. The study of images proposes an overview of the message, emphasizing the character of novelty from conception to realization. Thus, visual phenomena are renewed through the transformation of current meanings, determining actions, and media trajectory as a worldwide trend of mass culture, seeking new messages through images.

This visual analysis is based on the symbolic aspects of the elements that constitute the imagery of a democratic society. Communication is no longer restricted to old symbolic or opinion investigations. Still, it scientifically attempts to achieve results using facts and social phenomenon analyses. So far, to respond to new trends and cultural phenomena, the publications presented here must be understood as a process of investigation.

In this research line about aesthetics and media, three projects are in development:

1. Aesthetics and Politics: The Technical and Symbolic Aspects of Images on the Impact of International Media Related to the Notion of Freedom and Democracy;

2. Contemporary Visual Arts and Photojornalism: The Symbolic Aspects of Democratic Society’s Imagery and the Sociopolitical Meanings of Images;

3. Art and Facts: Image, Sound, and Rhythm of Global Culture. Aesthetics of Everyday Life.

As a visiting research professor at the Contemporary Art Museum of the University of São Paulo (MAC USP), I’m working on the research “Relations between Music and Visual Arts in the Contemporaneity” and “Heritage Interpretation: Museum, Culture, and Society.” For this purpose, my research project titled “Art and Facts: Image, Sound, and Rhythm of Global Culture. Aesthetics of Everyday Life” will be developed.

For more information on the research, click here.

My published books and articles, as well as my bio, portfolio, recent international conference participations, and research networks, can be found on this homepage.

Thank you for your interest.