Artists and designers are constantly drawing ideas from the world around them. In order to glean inspiration from the things they observe, analysation in the form of looking closely and thinking critically is required. This allows artists to develop an in-depth understanding of visual texts, and use this understanding to influence their practises. In order to interpret visual texts, one must take into account the technique of contextualising and the matter of constant worldly change.
One of the most crucial factors in determining the purpose of a visual text is its context. Context forms the background of every existing artefact. It is the context – why an artefact was created, and the state of the world when it was created – which allows us to connect with what we see on more than a visual level (Clarke, 25). Therefore, it is context which imbues all meaning into any and every visual text, and makes it worth viewing. However, context is not always readily presented to the audience of a text. It may take some digging to unearth the creator’s intent or the conditions surrounding the creation of an artefact. This is where close examination and critical thinking are advantageous. These allow us to contextualise; to place the subject in the environment to which it belongs (Clarke, 25). Looking closely at a visual text and pinpointing its most significant aspects allows us to critically consider links to other events or artefacts with similar features, therefore establishing that the various texts were probably created at approximately the same time and in the same place, or were similarly influenced by the global issues of the time/place (Clarke, 25. Ruszkiewicz et al., 34).
Identifying the context of an artefact is a suitable answer to the matter of constant change. Nicholas Mirzoeff addresses this in his book How to See the World. He states that “photographs and videos [or indeed, any visual texts] are our way of trying to see the world… we feel compelled to make images… and share them with others as a key part of our effort to understand the changing world around us” (Mirzoeff 6) and that “there is a new world-view being produced” (Mirzoeff 12) due to “vastly expanded quantities of imagery, implying many different points of view” (Mirzoeff 13). This means that because of the increasing number of visual texts being made available for us to view and be inspired by, the contexts in which these texts are created and circulated is being steadily replaced with newer, more relevant contexts that relate to more recently released visual texts.
One such example is Blue Marble (below). Once a life-changing image that revolutionised the way we saw ourselves on the spectrum of universal significance (Mirzoeff 4), Blue Marble has now been replaced with more updated images of the earth, and so its context has changed. It has transitioned from the one and only view we had of our home planet, into ‘just another satellite image of the Earth’ (Mirzoeff 8,9).
Context is always changing, becoming either updated or outdated (Ruszkiewicz et al. 34). This makes visual analysation and critical thinking all the more important, as we need it more now than ever to determine the most relevant context belonging to an artefact, so that we may allow this context to influence our own art and design practises.
If artists failed to understand the the work of other artists, and the world around them, they would cease to create art with meaning. Therefore, the use of close examination and critical thinking to determine the meaning of a text remains a relevant skill that every artist and designer should employ. After all, one’s own art and design practise is determined by how well one understands the art and design practises of others; these practises cannot be understood without context that has been identified through critical thought.