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Visual Art and Embodiment in a World of Subjectivity

©Beth Carruthers 2003

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Opening the Eye of the Heart - Reciprocity and the Embodied Gaze

CaNte Ista. Those are the words used to describe a way of seeing that is good and true…the true place of the heart is – in that circle where all things are connected… CaNte Ista, through the eye of the heart.
Joseph Bruchac

There is no denying the potency of art. We have outlawed art, burned art and glorified art. This is not because art is a mirror, a narrative, or a representation, but because art is something more. “Art has deep and difficult eyes and for many the gaze is too insistent. Better to pretend that art is dumb, or at least has nothing to say that makes sense to us.” [Winterson, 11] We have turned art into “pictures” in an effort to mask its potency.

A painting, an image is not a tabula rasa on which I write – a passive recipient of my gaze – an object onto which I project whatever meaning I desire. Neither is the world a collection of objects onto which I project meanings. Images speak to us. Art speaks to us. Art proves an intimate, animate world. Art invites us in, at times, seduces us. We are seduced because we desire connection, and perhaps this seduction is a very spark of life between self and other requiring us to be present and attentive. In its very Being, art bears the traces of intimate contact, tells us stories of interconnections and strangely familiar intimacies. We enter the image. The image enters us. Through vision, we experience the world as a place of intimate connections, of constant interchange among self and others. This intimacy frightens and entices, we want to hold it back; but this intimacy does not have to be one of control, of “taking”, as it has been said that a man “takes” a woman. Real intimacy is not about power over another, but of power with the other – or with many others. “Love is reciprocity and so is art.” [Winterson, 139] “…its true effort is to open to us the dimensions of the spirit and of the self that normally lie smothered under the weight of living.” [Winterson, 137]