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Visual Art and Embodiment in a World of Subjectivity

©Beth Carruthers 2003

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Vision itself has a mixed reputation in Western culture. We love it, vilify it, attempt to master it, pin it down for deconstruction and use it as a tool for the deconstruction. Vision is a problem because it ties us to the body as sensual beings. On the other hand vision is also a problem by virtue of being disembodied, located in the mind, home of the objectifying gaze. Antiocular discourse has claimed that vision is inherently distancing, objectifying and even pornographic. [Dijkstra] Wildly diverse critics of a “carnal sight” [Biernoff], from St. Augustine to Irigaray, have argued that taking pleasure from the visual is spiritually, morally and/or ideologically suspect. But visual pleasure is an integral part of who we are as beings embodied within a sensual world. Vision, along with the others senses, is how we locate ourselves within the vast matrix of Being. The visual is a web of relationship linking self, other and world. “Nature is on the inside”. [Merleau-Ponty, 164] We are within nature and it within us. How can we not be nature?

The splitting of vision – a little historical context

Implicit in a quest to re-embody the visual is an assertion that vision has been disembodied. If vision has been disembodied, how did that happen; and which vision are we speaking about? There appear to be several. Psychologist James Gibson speaks of two ways of visual perception; ‘”the visual field” and the “visual world” [Jay, 4], Lacan and Foucault differentiated between “the eye” and “the gaze” and Plato spoke of differences between the inner eye and the eye of the senses.