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

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University of Chicago Press, Jun 15, 2005 - Art - 380 pages
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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


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What do pictures want?: The lives and loves of Images by W. J. Thomas Mitchell cuts into the concept of how pictures give a meaning to the abstract. What it means to define this medium, why images give a universal meaning to the words they represent. Why images can arouse the senses and leave a lasting affect.
Great insight into the contradictions abstracts can create. The author explicitly illustrates the conflict surrounding words. How visual content and imagery, imagination, the mind can map the abstract and change the context from paradoxical to one of provenance.
`Reading for your pleasure.


1 Vital Signs Cloning Terror
2 What Do Pictures Want?
3 Drawing Desire
4 The Surplus Value of Images
5 Founding Objects
6 Offending Images
7 Empire and Objecthood
8 Romanticism and the Life of Things
10 Addressing Media
11 Abstraction and Intimacy
12 What Sculpture Wants
13 The Ends of American Photography
14 Living Color
15 The Work of Art in the Age of Biocybernetic Reproduction
16 Showing Seeing

9 Totemism Fetishism Idolatry

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About the author (2005)

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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