Reading Response: The Vision Machine, Chapter 5, by Paul Virilio


The Vision Machine, Chapter 5, by Paul Virilio, was written in 1994, a year after I graduated from college. My BFA was in Illustration. However, before I graduated, I knew that I needed a marketable skill that would make me employable. Therefore, I took as many Graphic Design classes as possible. As a result, I became a graphic designer. I was curious as to Virilio’s point of view, regarding the aesthetics and effects of the digital world. I agree with the author’s viewpoint with regard to “splitting the viewpoint.”  Depending on how the work is viewed, and then interpreted, it can be skewed by the “splitting the viewpoint”.  The author states that this is, “… the sharing of perception of the environment between the animated (the living subject) and the in animate (the object, the seeing machine). As a result, the role as artist is a very different role than the viewer.  At times, I am both; I can have a different experience. I will discuss each of these roles through the lens of the “splitting the viewpoint.”

As an artist, back in the mid 90’s, I was excited to be a part of the cutting edge of technology. I can honestly say my career is as old as Adobe Photoshop. Remembering the days that I would walk away to get a cup of coffee while the computer was rendering a filter (that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to apply) was just absurd for the amount of time it took. Regardless, designing for clients with specific wants and needs was always the challenge. Not to mention added my own style to the project. There were some projects with which I was proud to be a participant. Then again, there were others that just paid the bills. When the author pointed out that  “… a commercial message of some kind that strives, through our gaze, to attain the depth, the density of meaning it sadly lacks”, I could relate. I realized that a majority of my work had but a short shelf life and that most things I did would be discarded almost immediately. However, these experiences taught valuable lessons. What attracts the viewer to a work of art? How do you pull someone into the work? How will that person navigate through a design? At the same time, as the author points out, the viewers see “… a field in which they are obviously powerless to intervene…” It is as if the designer controls what is seen; the viewer adjusts to what is seen, but he or she cannot change it.


When this was written, there was no interaction between the designer and viewer. Advertising, TV, and videos were a one-sided platform, unless someone wanted to write a letter or call the company to lodge a complaint. This concept has changed, due to the current use of social media, which has greatly affected the dialogue between designer and viewer/audience. Note too, that I referred to the designer and not to the artist. This is an interesting point to ponder for a moment. I would like to add that for the most part, I was and still am, a designer. However, with my illustration background, I believed that I became a stronger graphic designer. When it came to digital manipulation of an image, changing the color balance and rendering objects, I had more of a painterly quality to my work than other graphic designers had. But, how did my role as a designer effect the viewer? How did my work impact the viewer? Would my work have any lasting effects?  The author points out that design has the effect of“… bringing individuals together long-distance, around standardized opinion and behavior.” As a graphic designer, I’m telling the viewer how I think they should feel.  My work makes suggestive decisions based on the colors used, the placement of the fonts, the type of fonts used, and the imagery chosen to persuade the viewer. All this needs to be done immediately for the viewer to get ‘the message’ within seconds of reading the image. Advertising and design can be a powerful tool. I admire it, but I am also skeptical of its message. Today, through the use of social media- the viewer can react immediately to a design. Take, for example, the Trump and Pence initial logo.  What was the “T” doing to that “P”? Just as quickly as it was unveiled, it was changed. Obviously, others were disturbed by it as well as I was. Thus, this example shows how today the role of viewer is an essential part to the design.

Another aspect of the viewer’s role is to understand the impact and the longevity of work produced by technology. Let’s take, for example, Andy Goldsworthy’s work. As an environmental artist, Andy Goldsworthy’s relies heavily on capturing his work with the usage of technology. Does the use of technology that captures these moments of time take away from the experience of the art itself? Has anyone ever asked whether or not these images are digitally enhanced?    

             Unfortunately, there is no way that one can experience his work without these images. We use our imagination as we gaze at the image. Of course, Andy Goldsworthy is an artist, not a designer. But,  his work has inspired the designer in me to be an artist. I am using my digital imagery to print directly onto silk. This has helped me to understand the strengths of my abilities in the digital realm, in order to enhance my artistic endeavors. This relationship is a give and take.

              Lastly, the author reminds us to think about the overall experience. He says “… aren’t they also talking about an artificial reality involving digital simulation that would oppose the ‘natural reality’ of classical experience?” I do not want the “classical experience” to be overlooked by a digital simulation. That is why I would like to involve my work into the natural environment. I create and design through technology, but I influence what the technology produces. I hope the result is well received by the viewer and its effects produce an everlasting impression.  
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Andy Goldsworthy, Red leaves on cracked earth, 2006


The Vision Machine, by Paul Virilio, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1994 pg. 76


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