All Consuming Images

All Consuming Images: The Politics Of Style In Contemporary Culture by Stuart Ewen is a book that attempts to define what style is contemporary culture by looking at it from many different perspectives. Historically he talks about the use of art, psychology in the development of consumer culture. 

While we are familiar with the term style, it’s exact meaning is elusive. I highly recommend this book to anyone and in particular for those interested in marketing. 

Quotes from Introduction

  1. Within the conventions of these disciplines (art historians), style is a visual motif, characteristic of a particular era. p3

  2. Style is often defined by its currency, but it is also defined by its consumption. One of the main points of style is that it will not remain current. p4

Chapter 1: Images Without Bottom

  1. This is essential to the magic of style, its fascination and enchantment. Part of the promise of style is that it will lift us out of the dreariness of necessity. p14

  2. Style makes statements yet has no convictions. p16

  3. The imagery of elite culture is an ongoing aspect of style. p16

  4. In the world of style, ideas, activities, and commitments become ornaments, adding connotations and value to the garment while they are, simultaneously, eviscerated of meaning. p20

  5. Often silently, at time unacknowledged, style works on the ways that people understand and relate to the world around the. Its influence can be seen within the insecure, but nonetheless formative, boundaries of adolescence, when the search for identity accelerates. p20

  6. Style, moreover, is as intimate component of subjectivity, intertwined with people’s aspirations and anxieties. p22

  7. Style is a visible reference point by which we have come to understand life in progress. p23

  8. Style is also a significant element of power. p23

Chapter 2: Goods and Surfaces

  1. Now, with the birth of photography, the physical environment could be forced to yield its manifold appearances directly. Form could be separated from matter. p25

  2. Conspicuous consumption, as Thorstein Veblen would name it, was the mark of status. 27

  3. With the expanding marker in artisan craft, however, art became a prestigious item to purchase. The trade in art objects began to grow; style was becoming something one could acquire. p 27

  4. The mechanical reproduction of styled goods, previously possessions of extreme wealth, signaled the beginning of a mass market in style. The possibility of what Warren Susman has termed a “culture of abundance” was rearing its head. p32

  5. Before the nineteenth century the term design had referenced the planning of a product from its inception…By the 1830s, the term design was assuming a modern definition, describing the superficial application of decoration was becoming more and more distinct from the overall plan of production. p33

  6. The symbolic province of elegance had been democratized…Only the quality suffered. p38

Chapter 3, The Marriage Between Art and Commerce

  1. Behren’s work at AEG created the prototype for industrial design departments to come. He understood that design could not be limited to a particular building or commodity. In order for design to project a new “spiritual content,” it was necessary to erect an imagistic panorama: a new symbolic totality, constituted by an interconnected, crossreferenced, viable whole. p 42

  2. By 1915, the marriage between business planning and aesthetics had already shaped the visible aspects of commerce. p 43

  3. Calkins intuited that the success of merchandising depended on the ability to construct an unbroken, imagistic corridor between the product being sold and the conscious (and unconsciousness) of the consumer. p 45

  4. In service of the emerging apparatus of representation, many corporations simultaneously employed a social scientific apparatus; for monitoring and analyzing mass psychology; for studying–among other things–the impact of images on the mind of the consumer. p 47

  5. Styling, it was increasingly argued, must speak to the unconscious, to those primal urges and sensations that are repressed in the everyday confines of civilization. Like art, psychoanalysis was being evaluated as a “new business too.”. p49

  6. “Style obsolescence,” reported a major industrial design firm in 1960, “is the sine qua non of product success.” p 51

  7. Style is something to be used up. Part of its significant is that it will lose significance. p 52

Chapter 4: Chosen People

  1. This highly individuated notion of personal distinction–marked by the compulsory consumption of images–stands at the heart of the “American Dream.” p 58The cT

  2. The conviction that personal status looms as a ready possibility for everyone is a faith that was fueled by nineteenth-century industrialism. The proliferation of styled goods, which crossed into the lives of an increasing number of people, provided a spectacle of upward social mobility. p59

  3. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the expanding market in appearances was helping to feed a notion of class defined primarily in consumptive rather than productive terms, highlighting individual, above common, identity. p62

  4. This middle-class commitment to the ideal of social mobility was fed by the expanding market in appearances that characterized nineteenth century industrial life. p 63

  5. Feeding and responding to the increasing concern with the symbols of status, consumer industries and the advertising establishment surrounded more and more goods with the clock of prestige. p 70

  6. What was coming to fruition, for unprecedented numbers of people was a society in which mass-produced, stylized goods were functioning as an intricate system of personal certification, as “identity kit.” p 70

  7. Addressing the historical transformation of individual identity, historian Warren Susman described it as a shift from the importance of “character” (intrinsic self) to the importance of “personality” (a moldable, extrinsic self). p 74

Chapter 5: The Dream of Wholeness

  1. Style was a way of saying who one was and , or who one wished to be. p79

  2. The assembling of a commodity of self, this “dream of wholeness,” implies a sense of partialness and fragmentation that resides just beneath the surface. p79

  3. Taylorism envisioned a society in which there was consolidation and cooperative planning among those who ruled; for those working within the system, it fostered conditions of individuation, social competition, and dependency. p81

  4. Personal traits, once the facets of a person’s character, were now being mass produced as instruments of persuasion, masks to cover those aspects of character that might get in the way of sales. p83

  5. Everybody in the world is seeking happiness–and there is one way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. p84

  6. Ultimately, as direct selling methods gave way to “absentee” methods (packaging, advertising, product design), the application of salesmanship to everyday existence would employ, more and more, the use of disembodied images. p85

  7. In the pursuit of this ideal, photographers regularly draw upon an inventory of disembodied parts, in order to construct the semblance of wholeness. p87

  8. Style is a process of creating commodity images for people to emulate and believe in. p91

  9. This (Bernard Waldman) was the beginning of the Modern Merchandising Bureau, which spun off a number of trade names that specialized in cinematic fashions. p99

  10. Celebrities, collectively, supply us with the most accessible vision of what wealth means. Yet while their lived provide a vernacular depiction of wealth, they also tend to mask the relation between wealth and power…. Yet these are essentially consumer aspirations; to purchase without restraint, to enjoy the envious glances of those around them. p100

  11. The industrial regimentation of the body, the rationalization of emotional expression, and the capitalization of the imagination are all aspects of commercial culture. Fragmentation and deception have become normalized in a society that is predicated on freedom. p102

  12. One of the most available routs to satisfaction is consumption. p 103

  13. There will always be added sales appeal in products that have a personality (J. Gordon Lippincott) p107

  14. Make your reader ‘feel himself into’ your imagery with a sense of mastery impulse, like that which makes a child want to learn a new game.” (Thomas Atkinson) p.106