What Do You See? A Commentary on the Influence of Images

Standing in the check out line in the grocery store, your eyes do some last minute shopping gazing at candy bars you don’t need and that chap stick you know you’ll lose. Then, they  wander until they find the magazine rack: Cosmo, Stars, People, US Weekly. Suddenly you’re seeing who’s divorcing whom, who’s lost/gained the most weight and (most importantly) how’s North West?

A celebrity’s massive weight loss might make you think twice about that pint of Ben and Jerry’s you’re about to buy, but what goes through your head when you see a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad? Anger? Hatred? Fear?


We’ve seen all of these reactions in the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 7th-9th of 2015. Isn’t this a familiar scene? In 2005, Copenhagen newspaper Jyllands-Posten faced a similar violent reaction to Kurt Westergaart’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.

The gunman in the most recent Copenhagen attacks in February 2015 targeted both an event titled, “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” and a local synagogue. These attacks had been instigated by artist Lars Vilks who published offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad similar to those in Charlie Hebdo and Jyllands-Posten.

In the cases of both Charlie Hebdo and the Copenhagen attacks, offensive images of the the Prophet Muhammad caused extremely violent reactions. There is a striking similarity between these two attacks because they are bound by the involvement of images. But then when we see a photo of a child starving, do we perhaps feel sorry or saddened for a fleeting moment or do we go out and see what can be done to help?

Artwork has the power to resonate and to provoke. Visuals tend to leave an imprint in our minds. The varying reactions we have to People Magazine versus those to Charlie Hebdo and the Copenhagen attacks let us dig deeper into understanding our culture as a whole. Something as simple as a picture on a magazine can elicit completely different responses.

So what do you see? Art or just another picture of Taylor Swift?

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6 thoughts on “What Do You See? A Commentary on the Influence of Images

  1. I feel like it is considered art. 1) somebody had to take those photos: photography is an art. 2) someone had to write the article: writing is an art. 3) Those people on the front covers of magazines had their makeup and hair done…. THAT’S ART!!!

  2. In the case of tabloids I see it as just pictures of celebrities that misrepresent what normal people are like. They tend to over dramatize things and lie to make the information more appealing.

  3. Hannah we think that tabloids tend to sensationalize celebrities with products or brands, because they are not as controversial as certain human rights issues such as having the freedom to expression with your ability to vote, practice a religion, etc.

  4. Helen thanks for the input! We agree it is a form of art, but do you think that using Photoshop to “perfect” an image of a celebrity, who is already wearing makeup and dressed a certain way, is creating a distorted perception of reality? Do you think it infringes on the celebrities’ self-expression, by
    altering the pictures without their knowledge, or is it another form of visual art in “fixing” photos to depict a certain vision of a product or brand?

  5. While I think photoshop is a type of art, I think that the way it is used on people is taking it too far. I mean, if you want to photoshop yourself, that is one thing. But if you do it to others bodies, I think that is unfair to them! Bodies are beautiful and so is the diversity of bodies. Nothing is perfect and that is what makes art amazing!

  6. We agree, Helen! Photoshopping people’s bodies definitely detracts from the natural beauty and diversity of bodies.

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