My tutor recommended looking into the critical theory of the Gaze. I wasn’t familiar with this theory and my tutor warned it was quite heavy.
Before beginning the article I thought of what the the verb ‘gaze’ conjured up. It can be to look intently at something. To be scrutinised severely. To lay your eyes upon something truly magnificent. To stare seems more powerful than to gaze However, after an in depth study there are far more connotations of meaning relating to gaze. There generally aren’t pleasant connotations of the word stare. You would stare at someone you were suspicious of, something you were alarmed by. To gaze however is something more powerful, relaxed or romantic, something that might take longer or be more general in a sweeping way. One would gaze at a sublime view, their true love, they may even gaze longingly at their meal in a elegant restaurant. From an art POV, I assumed we would be looking into the effect of gazing at the cinema screen or a painting. Such as the theory in The Power of Movies where Colin McGinn likens watching cinema to gazing into a new dimension.
I read the article here
It was very informative and interesting reading the article. I have ventured into the psychology of photography but philosophy is something I haven’t considered as such. I will research more into this in the next part of the course. The article showed how the word gaze is used in art forms. It explored the many synonyms of the word and investigated how it could be perceived. Each paragraph asked questions, focusing on a different subject each time.
“In this painting, the spectator himself becomes the subject of the painting, captured by the gaze of the painter insofar as he remains a spectator gazing at the painting. As the spectator thus becomes part of the spectacle the “observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange. No gaze is stable…subject and object, spectator and model reverse their roles into infinity.”2 The interplay (or communication) between the two gazes thus blurs the boundaries between the two roles until it becomes unclear who exactly is gazing at whom; the gaze becomes a mode of interaction between spectator and the work of art.”
With this statement it is suggesting that the power of the gaze is so intense that the viewer abruptly becomes part of the painting. Almost as though the artist realised the full power of the painting would only be created on human contact. Though all art only comes alive with this contact. That said you could imagine a painting left in the attic, it’s eyes staring out of the painting, perhaps something worthy of a horror movie or to portray something nostalgic.
This suggests that the viewer is a removable part of the art. Thinking about this, could one say that we are the one gazing or the one being gazed at. Just because one object may be in the real world and another in a two dimensional form is the power any more less powerful from that of the two dimensional being. Such as the intense stare of a subject in a painting.
I bring attention here to the quote in Doctor Who in which Amy Pond, one of the main protagonists, was trapped in a trailer with the deadly Weeping Angel. The weeping angel is a creature that you will never see move. Instead whenever you blink it moves violently fast so it is suddenly much closer. The only way in which to beat this creature was to keep eye contact and not blink. “The eyes are the window to the soul.” However later this is turned on it’s head as the Doctor realises, ‘The eyes are not the windows to the soul they are the doors,” and in this they have possessed her with this gaze. The intensity of the gaze between painting and viewer could be irrevocably linked as they become petrified. Indeed the article states “there is a perverse pleasure in looking and not being able to look away. Much like the gaze of Medusa turned the onlooker into stone, so too does the image hold the power to immobilize its viewer.” This makes the connection of a painting and viewer almost mystical, ethereal, of ascending to another dimension for the moment frozen in time.
The Male Gaze
The article delves further into the gaze from both genders. Laura Mulvey a British feminist film theorist saw, “that the cinema is the medium for male subjects to further exert their mastery over female objects, identifying with the dominant gaze of the camera.”
This opens all new pathways from the generic gaze to the Male Gaze which has been studied in great depth. It suggests that the ‘male gaze strips all identity and humanity from the woman on screen, rendering them as an object for the male gaze to ravish. When you read the percentage of how around only 16% of characters in the movies are female does this suggest that the cinema is made purely for the enjoyment and sexual satisfaction of men. Mulvey argues that women serve for only two functions, of an erotic subject to be enjoyed in the narrative and also for the viewers. Nowadays with feminism and equal rights we see more feminine heroes in roles usually played by the opposite sex. Katnis in the Hunger Games, Tris Prior in Divergent and Rey in Star Wars, the Force Awakens. See my piece on Feminism in StarWars
All are good examples of strong female characters, they become characters to look up to and transcend beyond the movie screen.
It is believed that watching movies is a Socophilia practise, love of watching. However the way it is described makes cinema feel like something distasteful, that people who go to the cinema are going for voyeuristic reasons. When in actual fact we all go to the cinema or watch a movie for escapism, to see a good story. I do feel that the issues with investigation of theories such as this is that some seek to over sexualise every situation. Why can’t going to the cinema be seen as something innocent?
There are even those that see the gaze as unseeing. Becoming more blind the more one forces themselves to see the painting.
In conclusion it is clear that the gaze is a very powerful force, drawing the viewer into participating in the painting or movie, albeit it often unintentionally. The gaze can be interpreted by each individual person in a different way however the power of the gaze will always latch onto the viewer. I will finish this off with a thought from the photographer Michael Freeman, who says that the human eye is always irrevocably drawn to another person in a photo, painting or video no matter how small or seemingly unapparent that person is. People are drawn to people thus we will always interact with another person in a painting and one of the most intense ways of this is to have the eyes meet. To gaze upon one another.