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HomeMessage or noise ? The readability of images

Message or noise ? The readability of images

Message ou bruit ? De la lisibilité des images

Annual congress of the German Center for Art History

Congrès annuel du Centre allemand d’histoire de l’art

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Published on Monday, September 04, 2023


Les images envoient-elles un message ou se contentent-elles de faire du bruit, et c’est déjà bien beau ? Dans l’alternative formulée par Michel Foucault au sujet du savoir médical, apparaît de façon sous-jacente la question de la lisibilité, celle d’une lisibilité élargie, non-textuelle. De façon corollaire, émerge aussi la question de l’illisible, du diffus, de l’indistinct des images. Plutôt que d’assourdir le bruit des images, ce colloque le cherchera, tel un principe fécond pour enrichir le débat sur la lisibilité des images.



Do images convey a message, or do they merely create noise, and that in itself is good enough? This alternative, formulated by Michel Foucault in relation to medical knowledge, implicitly addresses the question of readability, that of an extended, non-textual readability. It also raises the question of the uncertainty and ambiguity of images, the inability to read them.

While the notion of noise is often conceived in contrast to silence or to the unambiguous transmission of messages, its application to images is not to be understood merely metaphorically in this context. On the contrary, considering the photographic image and its granularity or accidents, the graphic noise generated by data visualizations (“chart junk”) or, in terms of information and media theory, the alteration of an image during its transmission, one could argue that in this technical sense, noise itself constitutes a more or less intended component of images.

Setting aside the use of sound in visual arts or the model of synesthesia, the conference focusses on the noise of images, in order to question the relationship between what is visible and what may be expressed with words.

From rustling to roaring, from whisper to rumble, a broader conception of noise also refers to elements of images that may be perceived as accessory at first glance. Ornaments, details, the background of an image or its materiality are in fact often easily dismissed, as if looking at something depended on reading the contours of forms we already know, casting aside marginal elements, which are vague or undefined and thus impossible to decipher.

Noise, however, also concerns how we experience images, from sensing them to searching for an interpretation. The latter is often accompanied by the desire to transform what is seen into intelligible code, to something that can be read.

Finally, noise interferes with the judgment of historians, art historians, or anyone attempting to read an image, since that judgment is inevitably structured by biases and gaps that constantly challenge our thinking. Recent computational approaches in the humanities are not immune to this type of noise: despite the ideal of transparency and accuracy, in some cases data selection, algorithmic processing, and visualization techniques have shown to generate further bias and confusion.


Tuesday 12 September

Centre allemand d'histoire de l'art, salle Julius Meier-Graefe

14h - Peter GEIMER and Marie SCHIELE : Introduction

1st Panel : Visualité du bruit

Max BONHOMME et Francesca GOLIA : Introduction and moderation

  • 14h30 - Antonio SOMAINI (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle / Paris III) : Bruit, diffusion et espace latent. Les nouveaux liens algorithmiques entre le dicible et le visible
  • 15h30 - Vincent DEBIAIS (CNRS / EHESS, Paris) : Excès et inaperçu. Les bruits sur l’image médiévale de la transfiguration

16h30 - Break

  • 16h45 - Wolfram PICHLER (Universität Wien) : Drawing with and against the grain: Notes on Goya’s Bordeaux albums

17h45 - Break

Evening conference (DFK, salle Julius Meier-Graefe)

  • 18h - Georges DIDI-HUBERMAN (EHESS, Paris) : Lu sur le fil

19h30 – End of the first day, diner at the DFK

Wednesday September 13

Centre allemand d'histoire de l'art, salle Julius Meier-Graefe

2nd Panel : Seuils de lisibilité

Sarah FLITTI et Anna SIEBOLD : Introduction and moderation

  • 9h30 - Jean-Baptiste GEORGES-PICOT (EPHE Université PSL, Paris) : « S’il fallait les nommer une par une, cela dépasserait la mesure ». Une esthétique du trop dans les images tibétaines
  • 10h30 - Emmanuelle ANDRE (Université Paris-Cité) and Joséphine JIBOKJI (Université de Lille) : L’hypothèse du bruit ou l’apparente lisibilité des dessins de cinéma

11h30 - Break

  • 11h45 - Johanna DRUCKER (University of California, Los Angeles) : Data Opacity. Translation, Mediation, Transparency and other Visualization Myths

12h45 – Lunch

3e Panel : Interférences visuelles

Guillaume BLANC-MARIANNE et Louis-Antoine MEGE : Introduction et modération

  • 14h30 - Jonathan DENTLER (German Historical Institute, Washington DC) : Visual Noise from Wire Photography to “Cognitive Automation”
  • 15h30 - Pauline MARTIN (Photo Elysée, Musée Cantonal pour la photographie, Lausanne) : Quels bruits le flou produit-il ? Le mot et la forme

16h30 - Break

  • 16h45 - Peter SZENDY (Brown University, Providence) : L’image-rumeur

Evening conference (INHA, auditorium Jacqueline Lichtenstein)

  • 18h30 - Hito STEYERL (Universität der Künste Berlin), in conversation with Peter GEIMER and Georges DIDI-HUBERMAN


  • DFK, Hôtel Lully, 45 rue des petits champs
    Paris, France (75001)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Tuesday, September 12, 2023
  • Wednesday, September 13, 2023


  • bruit, image, art, théorie des images, Bildwissenschaft

Information source

  • Max Bonhomme
    courriel : mbonhomme [at] dfk-paris [dot] org


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Message or noise ? The readability of images », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Monday, September 04, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1bqb

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