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Visual Art and Embodiment in a World of Subjectivity

©Beth Carruthers 2003

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It seemed to me that the internal splitting I was experiencing as an artist was mirrored in myriad cultural ways, and that the splitting of vision has a long history – one that has everything to do with our way of Being in the world.
This essay is a response to the anti-ocular from inside the practice of visual art. It is also an enquiry into a theory of visual embodiment and what I like to call Visual Being in the world. I believe that art has an important role to play in our culture. By drawing us into a relational and sensual world, art denies dualisms, while affirming differences. As Jeanette Winterson says, “art, by its nature, objects” [Winterson, 139].

My intention is to unravel some prevailing cultural beliefs about art and the visual by way of a personal journey through visual art and arts practice. I also intend to show how art is embodied in the world, engaged with myriad others. To do this, I consider the relationship between the lived and the visual through the practice and experience of artmaking. I then follow with an enquiry into the nature of the artwork in the world and the relationship between the work and the viewer. There is no intention on my part to engage with an in-depth analysis of anti-visual discourse, but as much as possible, to locate my enquiry within an exploration of lived experience. As an enquiry, this essay promises no final truths, but a process, a journey through the contested territory of the sensual world of art and vision.

Many wonderful texts inform this essay. Among them are Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on art and the visual, Eye and Mind, Laura Sewall’s work on visual perception in Sight and Sensibility, and David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous.