May 29, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 18

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    Laing Award to Mitchell for Picture Theory essay collection

    The University of Chicago Press has presented the 1996 Laing Award to W.J.T. Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in English, for his book Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation.

    "I'm really thrilled, surprised and incredibly pleased," Mitchell said. "Knowing that my book was chosen in competition with distinguished volumes in many academic fields leaves me feeling overwhelmed by the honor."

    Picture Theory is a study of the interplay between the verbal and visual across culture, from literature to visual art to mass media. Mitchell analyzes classic theoretical texts, including Pliny on ancient art and Foucault on the relations between images and texts, and an array of cultural representations, including Oliver Stone's movie J.F.K., Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, the Vietnam War Memorial and the musical Sunset Boulevard.

    "In Picture Theory, Tom asks what a picture is and finds that the answer cannot be found without extended reflections on texts, and particularly on the ways in which texts act like pictures," said Provost Geoffrey Stone, who presented the award along with Morris Philipson, Director of the University Press, at a May 16 reception. "As one reviewer noted, Tom Mitchell 'has written a superb book, one that is bound to have immense impact across a very broad spectrum of fields and disciplines. It will be a classic the moment it appears.' "

    The Laing Award is given annually to the faculty author, editor or translator of the book published during the preceding three years which adds the greatest distinction to the list of the University of Chicago Press. It is named in honor of Gordon J. Laing, who served as editor of the Press for more than 30 years and established its reputation as the premier academic publisher in the United States. The award has been received by such distinguished faculty members as Edward Shils, Mircea Eliade, Paul Ricoeur and S. Chandrasekhar.

    Last year, Picture Theory won the College Art Association's Charles Rufus Morey Book Award for the most distinguished book in art history. Mitchell is the first scholar outside the field of art history to receive the award.

    Mitchell is the author of two other books, Iconology (1986) and Blake's Composite Art (1977), and the editor of Critical Inquiry. He has edited four collections of essays: The Language of Images (1980), On Narrative (1981), The Politics of Interpretation (1983) and Against Theory (1985). He is currently working on a book that explores Americans' fascination with dinosaurs. He has been a University faculty member since 1977.