The Gaze And The Act Of Looking Cultural Studies Essay

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How does Laura Mulvey describe and understand "the gaze" and how is "the gaze" different than the act of looking? Discuss how either Yoko Ono's Cut Piece or Yves Klein's Anthropometry of the Blue Period (1960) troubles the gaze while also reflecting issues/concerns facing post-WWII artists (as was discussed in class)? (15 Points)

Psychoanalytically-inspired studies of spectatorship focus on how 'subject positions' are constructed by media texts rather than investigating the viewing practices of individuals in specific social contexts.

Mulvey differentiates two types of looking for the film spectator, voyeuristic and Fetishistic. Voyeuristic looking

involves a controlling gaze and she argues that this has connections to enjoyment in being cruel. "Pleasure lies in asserting guilt-asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness" (Mulvey 1992,29) Fetishistic looking involves "the substitution of a fetish object or turning the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous. This builds up the physical beauty of the subject, transforming it into something satisfying in itself. The erotic instinct is focused on the look alone"

She suggests, the overly emphasized female image and the idea of a female movie star. Women are objectified and seen as objects.

Yoko Ono's Cut Piece was performed during the activism of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War protests of the Women's Rights Movement. Yoko Ono performed Cut Piece at Yamaichi Concert Hall in1964. Sitting passively, Ono invited attendees to the stage to remove pieces of her clothing with tailor scissors. But more striking than the aural interplay of scissors and fabric is the aggressiveness with which the Kyoto audience assumes the role of voyeur, taking advantage of the performer's passivity and willingness to be 'undone' by strangers. This work, performed on the point of the feminist art movement, is one example of many in which women publicly tested the boundaries of their oppression. The results of these artistic experiments, some bordering on hatred and violence, were often surprising and transformative to the artists themselves, furthering their commitment to social change.

How does Douglas Crimp define an "ethics of anti-voyeuristic looking"? How is this "ethics" achieved by Andy Warhol's film Blow Job, according to Crimp? What other contemporary (post-1945) artworks have we discussed that you feel achieve an "ethics of anti-voyeuristic looking" and how do they achieve this? Be specific. (15 points)

Ethics of anti-voyeuristic looking is like guidelines that you use when watching a type of film. You aren't actually watching the unethical act but only see the responses. So the ethics is that you can't really judge this act as dirty or porno graphic because you can only assume what is going on. Voyeurism is characterized by "repetitive looking at unsuspecting people." The particular ways Blow Job claims itself as film with the defined framing, lighting of the subject and the slowed speed don't exactly confuse the experience of voyeurism but, cancels it altogether. At the same time, the star of Blow Job can barely be said to be displaying himself. He seems completely uninterested in the company of Warhol's camera and gives no effort to accommodate himself to it. This is how Crimp constitutes Blow Job as an ethics of anti-voyeuristic looking because There is no way you know the person unless you make the subject an object of both sexual ownership and knowledge, which Isn't the case. The actor in blow-job is classifying himself as a purely sexual being and nothing else. This makes him completely passive and a will-less individual, and subject only at the will of the spectator.

Mario Banana is another film that could achieve ethics of anti-voyeuristic looking Mario lowers his eyes imitating coyness, then looks directly at the camera. The veiwer just can't help looking right back at the camera. A banana enters the frame. It catches Mario's eye. He continues to glance knowingly at the camera. The banana moves center screen, toward Mario's mouth and he holds the fruit up, eyes it, licks it, sucks it. This is one reason that this type of 'looking' could come into play because he isn't actually doing anything but eating fruit but the manner he is doing it makes you unsure that is exactly going on. The other thing is that to be voyeuristic he has to repetitively look at unsuspecting people and the viewer is anything but unsuspecting. Which would make it anti-voyeuristic in addition to the ethics involved in how he behaves in front of the camera; would make this also an example of ethics of anti-voyeuristic looking.

What does Jackie Stacey find lacking in Laura Mulvey's theorization of the gaze and what examples of visual pleasures that Mulvey's theories cannot account for does she provide? Are there other examples of works/films we have looked at that draw attention to different types of visual pleasures that cannot be explained by Mulvey's formulation? Be specific. (10 points)

Stacey contests Mulvey's definition of the film spectator because it not only lacks empirical evidence of real female viewers it also offers a cynical view for the possibility of feminine agency in film. Rather than being an ideal, the objective of an entire audience speaks only to the representative. Given their divergent politics, it is ironic that the cognitive response to visual pleasure. Stacey objects to the set alignment of passivity with femininity and activity with masculinity and to a failure to account for the female spectator. A major reason underlying the critical responses to Mulvey was her argument seemed to intend to treat both spectatorship and maleness the same. As if there male were the only spectator and only heterosexual kinds of masculinity. Stacey disputes that both male and female subjects adopt the gaze. The female spectator does not just adopt a masculine reading position. But is involved with both passive and active subject positions.

-Yves Klein, Anthropométrie de l'epoque bleue is an example we have looked at that draws a different type of visual pleasure that cannot be explained by Mulvey's formulation. Klein wrote this in Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, "So much could be said about my adventure in the immaterial and the void that the result would be an overly extended pause while steeped in the present elaboration of a written painting. Painting no longer appeared to me to be functionally related to the gaze, since during the blue monochrome period of 1957 I became aware of what I called the pictorial sensibility. This pictorial sensibility exists beyond our being and yet belongs in our sphere. We hold no right of possession over life itself. In conventional textual analysis like the ones discussed, the female spectator is marginalized, and her pleasures reduced to masochistic ones. Any independence and autonomy is seen as only relative, and easily recuperated. But fantasy offers more possibilities, and new complexity, or 'possible narratives... all of which display potential and pleasurable subject positions for the fantasist within and outside the text'

Darby English identifies several problems with utilizing the framework of "black art" to discuss contemporary artworks by black artists. Why is this categorization problematic according to English? What does the author mean by "ambiguity of vision" (p. 13) and what does this signal to English about the future direction of "black art" as reflected in the works of the artists he investigates (Walker, Wilson, Julien, Ligon, Pope L.)? (10 points)

Through his engagement with contemporary artists, all of who emerged in the field between 1978 and 1994, a period of significant concern and aesthetic pluralism, reflected by their range of work. Through a wide embrace in his engagement with this diverse body of work, he deftly makes a forceful case about an urgent topic in art-historical scholarship. The framework of "Black art" uniformly has audiences that are often expecting or requiring it to "represent" the race. English shows how severely such expectations limit the range of our knowledge about this work and how different it looks when approached on its own terms.

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Don't categorize artists, give them all the same attention and care and do not degrade their work regarding race. English examines the integrative strategies of five contemporary artists whose work race plays anything but a defining role. -Kara Walker, Fred Wilson, Isaac Julien, Glenn Ligon and William Pope.L-stressing the ways in which this work at once reflects and alters our view of its informing context: the advent of postmodernity in late twentieth-century American art and culture.

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Why is this categorization problematic according to English?

Problems and possibilities arise when questions of artistic priority and freedom come into contact, or even conflict, with those of cultural obligation. English writes, black art is increasingly less able and black artists less willing to maintain its standing as a realm apart.

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He introduces many critical moments of tension within the creation of the term due to its often didactic relationship to black cultural politics, such as historian James A. Porter resisting the an idea of "racial art" in his seminal 1943 work in African American art history. One of the consequences of this effort has been the placing of African American art history in a kind of restraint, in which the field has leaned toward a predictable group of questions revolving around race, racism, and artists' social biographies that are still in currency in analyses of black art. The tendency to impress such issues on the work simply ignores the art object itself. More significantly, the critical reception of the work tended to reduce it to "African American experience" and an expression of "African American culture." Such reductions are critical for English we see not only the foreclosure of possibilities for interpretation but also the placing of the work into an interpretative paradigm that limits what the work and, by extension, what the artist can do.

This ambiguity runs counter to the assumption that African American artists are transparent to social representation. It can relate on levels of more complexity. The phrase "ambiguity of vision" prevails in their work. They have talent that shows beyond race that should suggest a new direction and steps towards integration. In this way the ambiguity of vision guides the claims and also a requirement of art. In Walker's work as a way to recognize the ambiguity of their racial identity, the general approach to Walker's silhouette work is the ambiguity of the figures and her own subjectivity as well as how difficult it is to determine the intention behind the figures, Which could be determined as African American art history, in the drive to preserve its uniqueness and in the desire to keep it "ours," Such inquiries treat the art object as a social document put into the service of racial uplift, of unity and harmony.

He anticipates a future yield, reflecting the enormity of the project but not undermining the massive foundation his work has laid for any such undertaking. English interrogates the notion of "black representational space," From this, sees two functions of this space. The first is its designation of a space marked by the success in access to representation. The second is its designation of a space marked by its limits. That is to say that in its second function, black representational space works as a policing mechanism whereby certain …with audiences often expecting or requiring it to "represent" the race. In How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness,

How is the "the gaze" challenged, reworked, or altered by artists (including photographers/filmmakers/performance artists) of the 1960s? How is "the gaze" troubled by artists (including photographers/filmmakers) working under the general category of identity politics in the 1980s/1990s (roughly 1978-1997)? Please address in detail the work of at least two artists we have discussed and reference/cite the arguments of scholars we have reviewed in relation to this topic (in other words, whose arguments are you drawing and building upon in your discussion of "the gaze" and critiques of its operations)? What similarities and differences do you discern among the works from these two decades and to what historical/social issues do you attribute these similarities/differences?


To what historical and institutional realities are African American artists since the 1970s responding and what inequities are they attempting to address? How does the work of artists we have discussed challenge the notion of racial blackness as a unified identity category (use at least two different examples from two different artists)? In other words, please discuss in detail how the work of artists we have discussed "talks back" to generalized identity categories. Be specific.