University of Wisconsin–Madison

About Us

Who Are We?

Founded in 2002, the Center for Visual Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison supports curricular innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration from faculty and students in the emerging field of visual cultures. We sponsor a yearlong speaker series on topics of general and critical interest and invite members of the community and the university to meet speakers and participate in events and workshops. For students, we offer a transdisciplinary minor and a certificate in visual cultures. Join us in exploring the multiple visual cultures around us and around the world.

What Is Visual Culture?

Visual Culture Studies is an interdisciplinary approach to the interpretation of a wide range of visual and artistic practices from the point of view of their embeddedness in the social world. Methodologically, it draws upon cultural studies, queer studies, media and performance studies, material culture studies, sociology, and studies of race to provide a robust understanding of vision and visuality in culture.

Why Study Visual Cultures?

Ours is a visual culture. Our everyday activities and workplaces are visually saturated environments and our dominant pastimes (films, television, video games, and the internet) are visual media. Moreover, we communicate visually when we are trying to cross over cultural boundaries; think, for example, of the graphics devised for international signage. Knowledge is often communicated visually: scientists chart brain activity, economists graph fiscal trends, geographers map territory, and detectives photograph evidence. The growth of digital culture and new media as an information distribution system has made an understanding of visual design factors indispensable in every field of study. The visual also gives us access to the past. The earliest recorded communications are pictorial and artifacts are central to the reconstruction of history. Combining courses in several departments and with a global focus in mind, visual Culture Studies teaches critical viewing to prepare citizens for life in our visually complex world. While cultural analysis and academic criticism are significant outcomes of Visual Culture Studies, the field also has practical applications in design, communications, cultural management, economics, ethical deliberation, social policy, and scientific research.