Visual Arts

**RELATED TERMS: Mode and medium; **

The proper goal of sculpture and of all the visual arts, it might have been held at one time in the past, is the depiction of physical beauty. However, this universalistic horizon, as well as the horizon of critics and philosophers of the Enlightenment, are rendered problematic by the opacity of language and imagery, which have ceased to be understood as perfect, transparent media through which reality may be represented to the understanding. Thus, Mitchell (1984), comments, “For modern criticism, language and imagery have become enigmas, problems to be explained, prison houses which lock the understanding away from the world.”

The term visual media, a colloquial expression used to designate technological apparatuses such as television, cinema, photography, painting, and so on, is highly inexact and misleading, W.J.T. Mitchell (2005) argues. All so-called visual media, it transpires on closer inspection, involve the other senses, especially touch and hearing. All media are mixed media from the standpoint of sensory modality. Rather, what the assumption that some media are exclusively visual marks is the predominance of the visual in our contemporary culture.


Mitchell, W. J. T. (1984) ‘What is an image?’, New Literary History, 15(3), pp. 503–537. Available at:

Mitchell, W. J. T. (2005) ‘There Are No Visual Media’, Journal of Visual Culture, 4(2), pp. 257–266. doi: 10.1177/1470412905054673