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Visual Art and Embodiment in a World of Subjectivity

©Beth Carruthers 2003

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“The more benign version of sight, which refuses to stare aggressively at its objects, is dependent on a primordial opening to Being which is prior to the very differentiation of the senses…. Here the viewer is situated within a reflective, circumspect visual field, not outside it…” [Jay, 275] This opening to Being may not be as far distant from our everyday lived world as we might like to think. Our own lived experience “forbids us to conceive of vision as an operation of thought that would set up before the mind a picture, or representation of the world, a world of immanence and ideality” [Merleau-Ponty, 162]

Vision is powerful in both our ability to see and our ability to visualize – vision permeates our Being and extends us into the world, connecting. Seeing does not innately consist of the projection, or imposition of an interior vision onto the world. Neither does seeing appropriate the world. "Immersed in the visible by his body, itself visible, the see-er does not appropriate what he sees; he merely approaches it by looking, he opens himself to the world." [Merleau-Ponty,162]

The senses are an opening within the world. They allow us to experience the other, and more than that, to engage in an intimate exchange, “the experience of an active interplay, or coupling, between the perceiving body and that which it perceives” [Abram, 57]. Presence is the necessary beginning of an intentional dialogue between self and other at the heart of the artmaking process. The world is always speaking, but most of the time we do not allow ourselves to listen attentively. What if we were to listen, attend, respond – knowingly participate in the conversation?