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Visual Art and Embodiment in a World of Subjectivity

©Beth Carruthers 2003

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Vision is not a tool. If we attempt to treat it as one, we may also become vision’s victims, as we objectify, dissect, pin down and are pinned down by the disembodied gaze. Because we are not separate from the world, as we take apart the world in this way, we take apart our selves.

Attending and Shining Forth
If we are to redeem vision, we must look in other ways and in other places. The place where I have found a discussion of vision and embodiment that resonates most closely with lived experience is in the discipline of phenomenology - particularly in the work and writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. What occurred to me immediately on learning about the phenomenological attitude is its parallel with the way that I perceive the world as an artist. I call this process listening, or attending, and have often heard it referred to as a state of presence, or of being present-with.

The phenomenological attitude may be described as a focused attending to the other. In order to allow the world, or a being in the world, to reveal itself to us, to “shine forth”, we must put aside our expectations, projections, objectifications and judgements, allowing the world to speak. Allowing ourselves to see, or to hear, the other may be a better way of putting this, since everything is, in its own Being, without us, shining forth – it is our attention that requires adjustment.


(Heidegger believed that by setting aside our preconceptions, we allow an object to shine forth in it’s own being)