Thoughts on: Mental Image and Visual Noise

by Beauchamp Art

The mental image is always more exciting, it has the potential to be at the limits of comprehension, whereas much of what we encounter on an everyday basis is inherently banalised by the routine of the encounter, or the insignificant amount of value that is assigned to it. Like the endless pictures one may encounter, rarely does one stick in the mind. John Cage said “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise” [Cage, 1961: 3-6. In Kahn, 1999: 135], I believe this to be true of the majority of sensory encounters and information received; it has to be filtered heavily for the mind to be able to comfortable comprehend the world, if everything was a unilateral spectacle, distraction would be infinite, and focus would be impossible.

Ubiquity begets homogeny, a constant stream must fill an ocean; and to attempt to navigate the shifting tides without some form of guide or direction would surely result in desolation; to drown in the sea of information, to be blinded or choke on the data smog, to be lost in a constantly changing collective structure; whether a physical or online network, or a wall of images; may result in an inevitable overload. Thus perpetuating an increasingly complex and systematic filtering of the exponential volume of information-noise in to a clear single thought is necessary; one looks through chaos to find familiar comprehensible forms; to look at the noise, at everything at once, would be an impossibly omnipotent task, and blinding in its enormity. The collective [visual] information structures, enabled by the technologies of the 21st century, is truly sublime to behold, so much so it is unbeholdable unless deconstructed into its constituent parts.

Data smog. [Schenk] claims our information supply is so contaminated with useless and redundant data that information is no longer valuable or empowering, but is overly abundant and is making us helpless. ‘At a certain level of input, the law of diminishing retunes takes effect; the glut of information no longer adds to our quality of life, but instead begins to cultivate stress, confusion and even ignorance’.” [Schenk, 1997: 183. In van Dijk, 1991: 173]

One must read a single word at a time to make sense of a page, its silhouette would be a meaningless structure without some degree of organised collective forms. Language; verbal, written, and visual, is reliant on a series of socially constructed individual parts which only make sense in conjunction with other example of comparable information; the pragmatics of linguistics is the semiotics of visuality; is the harmonies of music, without which all is impenetritable noise.

Non-spontaneous written communication allows one to re-draft, cut and edit one’s thoughts considerable more than spoken discourse, where attempting to change or compress what one is saying as one speaks requires discipline, or may result in unfathomable tangents or a devastated rhythm of speech.

“There is a problem of ‘communication overload’ for those people trying to protect themselves from being reachable at any time and place as a result of digital and cellular telephony.” [van Dijk, 1991: 184-185]

The mental image maintains a more constant potential for unexpected expansion in understanding, whereas the world outside the mind must conform to the laws of the universe. The spectacle of a waiting room is minimal, there may be a few chairs, outdated travel magazines, and a flickering light bulb, but but one’s escapist potential within these frameworks is limited to a wider imagination, based on the history of one’s previous experiences and prophetic visions of the future. Though in a modern holding lounge [or other non-place] persons are not limited by their geographic location of creative abilities, for they can find escape in portable networked devices that allow them to re-engage with the trivialities of online social supplements, browse the seemingly endless websites, and become lost in the noise of life. The mental image is halted, covered with a grey mist, as one sinks into a sober stupor, as one attempts to follow an unending narrative, where the only true resolution is death, but even that is unrelinquishing to those who continue on.

The spectacle of the mind is the spectacle of the age, this era is gluttonous in its production and consumption of information and images, enable by the acceleration and self-awareness of modernism.




  • Cage, John. The Future of Music: Credo. In Silence. (1961) Middletown: Wesleyan University Press. In Kahn, D. (1999) Noise Water Meat: History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Jan A G M van Dijk, 1991. Network Society, Social Aspects of the New Media. 1999 Edition. SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Schenk, David (1997) Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut. New York: HarperEdge.



“There is a problem of ‘communication overload’ for those people trying to protect themselves from being reachable at any time and place as a result of digital and cellular telephony.” [184-185]