6. Lit Hub: The Intentional Visual Chaos of Beyoncé and Jay-Z in the Louvre
In my last year of undergrad, I became obsessed with visual culture and celebrity, making a fake tabloid about Kim Kardashian for my senior capstone project. The first year or so of this column largely revels in celebrity rivalries and pop culture. For a few years, I became more and more dismissive of art and interested in pop and visual culture as a lot of people don’t care about art. My thinking has grown since then and at the time I generally used art to mean “fine art” or “high art” or some other elitist form of art, dismissing a lot of other work along the way. I somewhat separated art from visual culture, even though they both are “implicated in this fear of not getting it, not seeing what you are supposed to, not being included: visual culture as #fomo,” writes Alexis L. Boylan.
Using the example of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “APES**T” music video, shot in the Louvre, Boylan explores “the urgent questions of visual culture: what is real, what is lasting, what do we deem precious, what are our obligations to see each other, can we ever understand the world around us and the spaces we share?” Boylan writes about how the power of images lies in their context, that “visual culture only has its full meaning if the context is clear, if the symbols reach the viewer.”
Even if there is a fear of “not seeing what you are supposed to” or not knowing, “even if you don’t ‘know’ who Beyoncé and Jay-Z are and why they are in the Louvre, we can start thinking about visual culture by asking why those particular images were made in a particular way.” Asking the questions is maybe more important than the thing itself.
Over the past few years, I’ve thought less and less about how I define visual culture or delineate its different forms. I’ve tried to allow for more slippages, focusing less on definitions. Reading this excerpt from Boylan’s book, Visual Culture, made me realize that perhaps I was focusing too much on the thing when I was in undergrad, and not enough on the question.