There has been much talk (and hype) recently about how computers and digital technology herald the arrival of a new global culture in which the visual has a predominant role. Yet many academics and policy makers remains profoundly suspicious of the visual. Proficiency in creating and manipulating images is still associated with low-level applied skills. In higher education many theorists criticise visual culture as the 'society of the spectacle', the irresistible emergence of a nihilistic 'hyper-reality', or more concretely, the means by which the new capitalism, by more effectively mobilizing imagination and fantasy, is transforming culture and politics into the miasma of consumerism and celebrity.
The art historian Barbara Stafford advocates is a radical change in attitudes to the image and the visual generally, not so much more study of the 'visual' but a shift in underlying attitudes. Above all, she says, we need to reawaken awareness of 'the pleasures, beauties, consolations, and above all, the intelligence of sight', and that the many forms in which imagination is realised, from popular culture to high art, are 'the richest and most fascinating modality for conveying ideas.'
How justified are Stafford’s charges and how practical are her proposals? Does the idea of visual intelligence provide part of the basis for a new, critical approach to visual culture? What would be the significance of works of visual art to any such approach?