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Cultivating Picturacy
Visual Art and Verbal Interventions

By James A. W. Heffernan

Cultivating Picturacy
Hardback, 430 pages $39.95
Published: 30th September 2006
ISBN: 9781932792416
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All Literature

Though English has no word for the visual counterpart to literacy, Heffernan argues that the capacity to interpret pictures must be cultivated and deserves a name: picturacy. Using examples such as the pre-historic cave paintings of Lascaux, film versions of Frankenstein, the provocative photographs of Sally Mann, and the abstract canvases of Gerhard Richter, the volume illustrates how learning to decode the language of pictures resembles the process of learning to read. While words typically frame and regulate our experience of art, the study also explains how pictures can contest the authority of the words we use to interpret art.

List of Illustrations

List of Abbreviations



1. Literacy and Picturacy: How Do We Learn to Read Pictures?

2. Speaking of Pictures: The Rhetoric of Art Criticism

3. Alberti on Apelles: Word and Image in De Pictura

4. Text and Design: Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience

5. Marginal Language: Word and Image in Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion

6. Painting Against Poetry: Reynolds' Discourses and the Discourse of Turner's Art

7. Wordsworth, Constable, and the Poetics of Chiaroscuro

8. Self-Representation in Byron's Poetry and Turner's Art

9. Looking at the Monster: Frankenstein and Film

10. Love, Death, and Grotesquerie: Beardsley's Illlustrations of Wilde's Salome and Pope's Rape of the Lock

11. Hockney Remakes Hogarth: A Gay Rake Progresses to America

12. Peter Milton's Turn: Painting, Photography, and Printmaking at the Turn of the Millennium

13. Reza, Pollock, Richter: Language and Abstract Art


Works Cited


During the past 25 years, James Heffernan's nuanced and clear-eyed writings on words and images have firmly placed him among the finest practitioners of interartstic theory and criticism. This new volume reveals him at his very best. Picturacy should be required reading for anyone wishing to learn how—and how not—to read pictures.

—Richard Wendorf, Stanford Calderwood Director and Librarian, The Boston Athenaeum

Wide-ranging, steadily insightful, and richly illustrated, Cultivating Picturacy offers both a method and a model for reading the visual image. Cultivating Picturacy will stand alongside the works of Norman Bryson, Nelson Goodman, and W. J. T. Mitchell as a fundamental contribution to the field of inter-art scholarship.

—Ernest B. Gilman, New York University

"James Heffernan's Cultivating Picturacy is a treasure for scholars and students interested in the history, theory, and practice of text-image relations. The volume, beautifully produced and illustrated by Baylor University Press, contains a breadth of reference, richness of analysis, and limpid prose that are truly marvelous. It consists of fourteen essays (including the introduction), almost all published in the period 1988-2000, which, taken together, crown a distinguished career in what used to be rather quaintly called 'sister arts' criticism, but which is now, in the age of metastasizing visual-verbal media, among the most urgent topics of cultural history and aesthetics."

—Gillen D'Arcy Wood, Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net #52 (November 2008)

"For two decades, James Heffernan has covered the intermedial field precisely by letting his favored topics flow smoothly into associated questions generated from them, one issue dovetailing transparently into another due to the engrossing, subtle clarity of the critic’s prose. Having wondered at the start about 'why we have no word to denote the visual counterpart of literacy, no word that designates the capacity to interpret pictures' (1)—the ability or 'capacity,' that is, but also the grain of attention involved—literary scholar Heffernan not only gives us such a term but offers an extended case in point for its flexible understanding, telling application, and real aesthetic yield. Entitled by neologism, the book brings news in every chapter."

—Garrett Stewart, European Romantic Review 19, 5 (December 2008), p. 536

James A. W. Heffernan (Ph.D. Princeton) is Emeritus Professor of English at Dartmouth College.

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 430 pages
 9in x 6in

 Baylor University Press

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