Images & Interpellation

For today’s reading, “Viewer Make Meaning,” by Martisa Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, they emphasize how important the viewer is to establishing meaning to an image.

The meaning a viewer implements for an image is based on the their own personal experiences, beliefs, and social standing.

Sturken and Cartwright said, “I may feel that an image apprehends or touches me personally, but it can do so only if I am a member of a group to whom its codes and conventions ‘speak,’ even if the image does not ‘say’ the same thing to me as it does to someone else” (50). 

If it is the case that the viewers are the ones producing the meaning, then they are doing what Sturken & Cartwright refer to as “producer-function,” or holding “a set of beliefs that lead us to have certain expectations about work with regard to the status of its producer” (53). 

Generally,  most people creating an image have their own distinct meaning to give to the image. However, “people may experience an image or media text differently from how it is intended to be seen, either because they bring experiences and associations that were not anticipated by its producers or because the meanings they derive are informed by the context in which an image is seen” (54).

A perfect example of this occurred when the award-winning film, Titanic, was viewed by people of varying cultures and nationalities. In China, “scores of middle-aged Chinese viewers saw the film numerous times and were reduced to tears” (Sturken & Cartwright, 55).


Titanic was invested with meanings in China that did not match the meanings produced in the film by its Western viewers, and these meanings were not anticipated by the movie’s producers” (55). 

Furthermore, another aspect of images and photos that give them meaning is showcasing specific ones in museums and art exhibits. While most pieces of art displayed in museums are given much value, it could have an oppositional effect as well. 

Photographer Thomas Struth “has remarked on how art is fetishized by being exhibited in museums as great masterworks. He suggests that in this process they become dead objects, but that through viewers’ interactions with these works they can regain some of their vitality” (66).

The French artist, Marcel Duchamp, took note of the elitism in art and created a movement known as “celebre of Dada, a movement that reflexively poked fun at the conventions of high art and museum display conventions” (66). 

I was able to see subtle elements of this movement this past summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They had an exhibit sponsored by the CFDA, called Punk to Chaos, which featured trash bag dresses and replicas of the bathrooms in Brooklyn clubs during the punk rock era in the 80’s & 90’s. 


While some people wouldn’t consider the Punk to Chaos exhibit a work of art, I thought it was very intriguing an a different take on showcasing a specific subculture in unique and creative way.


Questions to Ponder:

1) What do you notice when you are in an art museum? Do you feel emotionally affected by works of art, generally.

2) What is the first thing you look for in an image or advertisement?


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