Every image conveys an ideology. While, during the 1960s-1970s, much was heard about the impact of advertising images, a number of questions have been raised in the last few years: do violent images make the viewer violent? How to assess and limit the risks associated with pornography, which tends to modify sexual behavior among adolescents? And how to respond to the development of propaganda images linked to religious radicalization? Healthcare professionals are also faced with people whose troubles are due not only to the November 2015 Paris attacks, but also to their media coverage.
A number of psychological and sociological studies are aimed at establishing the psychological and social impacts of images, and at explaining how images influence people. For instance, research demonstrated various effects of an extended exposure to violent images on the construction of the personality of children. While a pure imitation remains uncommon, researchers observed an increase in violent behaviors due to a lower sense of guilt and inhibition, a higher sense of insecurity, a higher fear to become in turn a victim, and a decrease in empathy towards victims in the real world, due to a desensitization to violence (Assouline). In order for violent images to play a positive role as a catharsis, the social and familial environment must provide an adapted support in order to allow verbalizing emotions and analyzing images to make them meaningful (Assouline ; Tisseron). In addition to the type of violence which is represented, and the forms in which it is expressed, their impact is also fostered by their abundance and their multi-media declension.
Even more than the previous generation, the “digital native” one lives in a massively visual universe, as evidenced by the consumption of multi-media contents by young people. In 2009, youths aged 15-25 spent on average 13 hours a week on the internet. 83% of the 20-24 year olds watched the television everyday (Octobre). These figures add up with cinema attendance, video games playing time and advertising photographs which invades the streets and the press.
The adolescents and young adults are not only surrounded by images, they also use them to communicate, as reflected by the growing interest in Instagram or Snapchat. Whether they are emoticons or photographs taken by the sender, images clearly are a full-fledged language that willingly dispenses with the text (Trinh-Bouvier).
According to Debray, we entered the “videosphere”. Following the logosphere and the graphosphere, this term refers to the civilization era starting with the invention of colour television, and in which the visible is an authoritative standard. New forms of creation, of diffusion and of consumption of images impact our relationship to ourselves, to the others and to the world.
The public awareness of the need to develop analytical skills and artistic culture resulted in a series of decisions, but their execution remains weak (Assouline; Bonfait/Rimaud). The first action was the introduction of cultural and artistic education at school, perpetuating the popular education movement which began in the XIXth century. This measure becomes particularly noteworthy with the implementation of artistic practice teachings after 1968.
Progressively, the willingness to give access to heritage and contemporary creation, to develop creativity and artistic practice for the many, came with a theoretical and critical perspective. The expression “education to image” was developed in the 1990s, quickly combined with the “education to media and information”, which purpose is to provide the students with a critical perspective towards information delivered by the media, and to help them consolidate their analytical skills and their civic engagement.
Although this education to media and information is included in the school curricula, one issue remains: that of the means needed to develop a genuine school of the eye, with its teachers (art historians) and its contents. In practice, such an education remains seldom, especially because of time constraints, of its optional nature, of resistance from the educational institution and of the lack of training of the teachers (Assouline; Bonfait/Rimaud).
In addition to this action at the school-level, there also remains the question of the part of higher education in respect of this education to media.
As images are increasingly being used in class as a pedagogical resource, they also must become an object of analysis.
Introduced in the 1990s in various fields of research as an object, a source and an active agent, images are nowadays more common in higher education. For instance, Frédéric Ramel and Corentin Cohen highlighted this phenomenon in the research in international relations (Ramel/Cohen).
Moreover, the students more often benefit from a broad, basic training which provides them with tools enabling them to master the images, their modus operandi, their meanings, their impacts, and their symbolic value. Indeed, each student has to be able to analyze contemporary images and locate them within a historic and visual production and reception chain which is much longer. In Sciences Po, the 2016 reform of the undergraduate studies gives room to such a teaching in the training of students, while the École Polytechnique opened a position for a professor of art history, who will teach in 2nd and 3rd year, and plans to open a museum by fall 2017 (MusX) which will display scientific and artistic collections.
Cécile BONIN-PICHON (Phd), Historian of Art.