Understanding Visual Culture- Part 1- Ideology and Interpellation

For this exercise we had to read “Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (notes towards an investigation)” by Louis Althusser and answer questions regarding it.

How does Althusser’s structuralism show here?

Within the essay Althusser breaks down the idea of ideology in order to look at its underlying theories. In order to present a fuller view of this theory he looks at 2 theses, one negative and one positive, and discusses the pros and cons of each.

While reading this article, I decided to look at the dictionary definition of structuralism. One definition that related to this article was regarding structural sociology, which is defined as “a sociological theory based on the premise that society comes before individuals”. With this in mind, it set me thinking that perhaps ideology comes before the subject. In the essay, Althusser discusses the “always-already subject” and that even before we are born we are a subject. Family ideology seems to dictate what is expected of us before we are even born e.g. that we will take our fathers name (in most cases), that we will have our own identity and that we will be irreplaceable. This can also be transferred to art, there can be no art if there is no subject, be it obvious or not. The “art ideology” would supposably state that there needs to be a subject, a reason for creating art, then by using preconceived techniques such as painting, drawing, photographing, sculpturing etc you can make art.

What does Althusser mean by “ideology”?

Althusser breaks ideology down into two very different theories

  • the first is that ideology is largely imaginary or an illusion. This seems to go hand in hand with the “grass is always greener on the other side” theory in that people are always striving for more and although one may perceive an individual’s life as being perfect and want to emulate that, the particular individual may think that someone else has it better.
  • the second is that ideology has a material/physical entity to it i.e. you physically act on ideology. One of the examples he gives is people who believe in God go to Mass, prays, confesses etc they actively take part in the ideology that they believe in

On further reading of the article, Althusser seems to discuss the notion that no one person lives just one ideology as the truth. Individuals pick and choose their own ideologies to ‘proclaim’ or act on based on the many different ‘world outlooks’ there are.

Is there, in your view, an area of visual culture where this idea may seem to act in an overt way?

In my view there are two areas of visual culture where the ideas discussed within the essay act in an overt way.

  •  Firstly within advertisements where prospective buyers are shown that if they buy a particular product their lives or some aspect of their lives will be improved. One particular advertisement that always seems to fascinate me is mascara. In the adverts you are shown a glamourous model with amazingly full eyelashes and you are lead to believe that by using the mascara shown, you will have the same results. However if you look at the small print at the bottom of the screen they always advise that false eyelashes are used thus adding to the illusion.
  • Secondly within magazines where celebrities and models are shown as perfect individuals with perfect lives and homes which makes people want to strive to be like that or emulate their idols in some way whereas the reality of these celebrities and models could be completely different.

About kunsworthphotography

I am currently studying towards a BA (Hons) in Photography with OCA and I have 2 children, Evie(4 years old) and Connor(3 years old)
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