237130 | A2 | W8 | Critical and Contextual Studies Tool Kit

Planning and Preparation

  • Doing background research into the type of essay
  • Thinking about different approaches to planning, eg. patchwork writer, grand plan writer etc and the pros and cons of these different methods.
  • Analysing the question and the wording of the question

Writing Skills

  • Identifying key ideas in a text
  • Summarising a text
  • Rereading to unpack the purpose of each paragraph, identifying ideas within each paragraph and analysing the writer’s style.

Content and Visual Text Analysis Tools

  • Making connections between new ideas and past knowledge
  • Critical analysis of images
  • Understanding the ‘mystification’ of art thanks to John Berger
  • Understanding how ideologies and our world view influence the way each individual sees a text and therefore each persons analysis of a text will be slightly different to the next.
  • Understanding the myth of photographic truth on it’s own and in relation to ideologies and our world view.

Research and Information Gathering Tools and Protocols

  • Researching artists and relevant ideas
  • Using mind maps to explore ideas and connections or themes between different ideas and images. This worked very well being an (obviously) very visual person.
  • Library research and using key words to find books I wouldn’t have discovered on my own.
  • Skim reading to find the relevant information in an academic book with lots of unrelated information.
  • Understanding different perspectives and how showing the light and shade of an argument can enrich the discussion.

237130 | A2 | W7 | Questions to Topic Sentence

The nature of identity and ‘the self’ is a highly contested topic. Our identity, has long been thought of as something inherently tangible and definite, something that can be discovered or lost. More recently artists, philosophers, sociologists and neuroscientists have begun to understand identity as more of a collection of experience. Artists such as Cindy Sherman, Pawel Althamer and Roni Horn discuss the idea of the fluid nature of identity through their work. They explore the ways that ideologies and the sociological concept of ‘the Other’ influence what we know as our identity. Essentially all of these artists explore the concept that our identity is not a tangible, innate thing but a fluid, collective response to our experiences and surroundings.

237130 | A2 | W7 | Debate in Action

Identity is a highly contested topic sparking debates of nature vs nurture or whether or not the identity is one ‘thing’ or a collection of parts. (Click on mindmap for a larger version).

Perspectives_on_Identity (2)


Baggini, Julian. Is There a Real You?  TEDxYouthManchester. 2011.

de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Jonathan Cape, 1953.

Herbert Mead, George. Mind, Self & Sociology. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Huseman, Beth. Roni Horn aka Roni Horn. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2009. Print.

Onorato, Rina S. & Turner, John C. “Fluidity in the self-concept: the shift from personal to social identity.” European Journal of Social Psychology 34.1 (2004):257-278. Online.

Zevallos, Z. (2011) ‘What is Otherness?,’ The Other Sociologist, 14 Oct,https://othersociologist.com/otherness-resources/ 


237130 | A2 | W7 | World View

A person’s world view is largely based on their own personal experience and knowledge. Their world view can be influenced by their upbringing, education, religion and culture. While ideologies are prevalent and promoted through all of these areas, it is the unique combination of these experiences which make up one’s world view. Ideologies can influence both the creation and interpretation of visual texts. Visual texts are a way of normalising the power imbalances and inequalities prevalent in today’s society. The ideologies a person is most familiar with, be they Western, indigenous or other will influence the way they view visual texts including photographs (The Indigenous world view vs. Western world view). In this way, the myth of photographic truth relates to ideologies and world view as it controls or influences the way the viewer perceives a visual text. When constructing a photograph a person’s world view and ideologies will influence the image. When critically evaluating a visual text it is important to consider it’s intended and unintended audience. The text may have been contrived or designed for a particular audience through conforming to certain ideologies.


The Indigenous world view vs. Western world view. WC Native News. 2014.

237130 | A2 | W7 | Visual Analysis Meaning Making and ‘Truth Value’

The myth of photographic truth refers to the established belief that photographs are inherently true, reliable representations of a moment in a particular time and place. The mechanical nature of photography, whether through film or digital is deceptive and alludes to the myth of photographic truth. From it’s creation in the mid 18th century, photography has been providing subjective, inaccurate, misrepresentative ‘truths’. As Mark Osterman says, photography is inherently untrue (The Myth of Photographic Truth). Digital technologies such as photoshop have only built on a preexisting practice of photographic manipulation. For this reason, an analysis of visual texts is not complete without examining the way the image was constructed and how this could influence it’s interpretations. When analysing a photograph we can look at it’s denotative and connotative qualities. A photograph can denote or describe a moment in time. However it can simultaneously evoke an emotional response (Sturken & Cartwright 20). This will differ for each individual viewer based on their worldview. When looking at the work of American artist Cindy Sherman, we can see that her photographs have both denotative and connotative qualities. In Untitled Film Still we can see a low angle photograph of a young woman wearing a hat against a city background. However, with a knowledge of American film history and gender studies we know that this photograph is more than just a photograph of a young woman. It is a commentary on the position of women in society and the way women are represented in the media (Mirzoeff 55).


Sherman, Cindy. Untitled Film Still. Photograph. The Museum of Modern Art. New York.


Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to See the World. London: Pelican, 2015. Print.

The Myth of Photographic Truth. Mark Osterman. International Museum of Photography and Film. 2012.

Sturken, Marita., & Cartwright, Lisa. Practices of Looking. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.


237130 | A2 | W6 | Essay Topic Research

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Dubois, R. Luke. HINDSIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/20. Prints on light boxes. Bitform Gallery, New York.


Dubois, R. Luke. HINDSIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/20. Prints on light boxes. Bitform Gallery, New York.

Artist R. Luke DuBois’ TED talk was about how he makes portraits of people, places and society made from data. The most intriguing works for me were his eye exam inspired portraits of American presidents made with the words they used most frequently. His portraits of America by state and location based off of key words used in people’s online dating profiles were also very interesting. These works related to my essay as it showed how identities are created through the idea of shared characteristics between people (belonging) and differences (exclusion) creating the idea of the self and ‘the other’. One of the key ideas for me which I found interesting was his warning to be careful in the difference between marking art from data visualisation as opposed to simply reducing people to numbers.


Dubois, R. Luke. A More Perfect Union. Works on paper. Bitform Gallery, New York.

Reflection: This talk was very interesting to me and I found myself relating the talk back to one I saw by artist Evan Roth at Semi Permanent in 2015. Both artists explore the idea of data, identity and surveillance which are such prevalent issues. DuBois talk provided new ideas and insight into these issues and the themes of representation through data were very interesting.

237130 | A2 | W6 | Contextual Understanding

This photograph titled ‘Self-Portrait as a Business Man’ by Powell Althamer comments on Western ideologies. This text relates to the ideology of consumerism which enforces the importance of acquiring material possessions. This ideology dictates that your identity is largely based on your superficial appearance and belongings. By naming this piece a self portrait, Althamer is saying that his material possessions make up who he is or who he is perceived to be.

Self-Portrait as a Businessman 2002, with additions 2004 by Pawel Althamer born 1967

Althamer, Powell. Self-Portrait as a Business Man. Jacket, trousers, dress shirt, silk tie, shoes, socks, underpants, passport, plastic cover, leather briefcase, printed papers and other materials. Tate, Liverpool.

237130 | A2 | W6 | Who else is talking about ‘this stuff’

What is Otherness?

I had been starting to think about the idea of the self verse the other as the main idea for my essay. However, I didn’t really know much about this topic but I had an idea about the direction it would go in. This article was super interesting and really clearly expressed the thoughts I had been trying to articulate previously.

Ted talk  – Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself.


Ted talk – Is there a real you?

237130 | A2 | W6 | Reflection on Learning

On the whole this paper has been extremely interesting to me. I have always been interested in the meaning, concepts and context behind visual texts in the form of branding, advertising, art and design. Especially with a background in designing the branding and marketing for businesses I have always had an understanding for the ways that visual identity can ‘speak’ to an audience. However, it isn’t until taking this paper that I have been able to properly express the importance of the visual language. In the context of designing for brands, it is as if I have been subconsciously aware of how different fonts, colours and imagery can send messages to a consumer. However, I haven’t previously been able to verbalise why this is important and how these little details can say so much. It has also taken my understanding of the visual language to a much deeper level.

One of the key concepts I have found most interesting is the idea of ideologies and how these can be portrayed through visual texts. I am very interested in history and learning about ideologies in a historical setting has greatly influenced my appreciation of the importance of context of visual texts.

What has worked for me so far in this paper has been watching extra videos and resources to supplement lectures. I have found so far that these provide more specific examples than the readings allowing me to better understand the key ideas. I have found it interesting to find resources from academic journals as they are often quite in depth. I think perhaps from now on in my essay writing I need to focus on fewer key points. This will allow me to develop my ideas providing personal insight rather than trying to cover a lot of content on a shallow level.

I definitely have a new appreciation for a paper like this especially in combination with psychology as a natural science. I have always played close attention to the detail in my work however now I understand the importance of these details for reasons other than aesthetics.