Paintings and the nuanced gaze: studies in the application, complication, and limitations of psychoanalytic gaze theory

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Paintings and the nuanced gaze: studies in the application, complication, and limitations of psychoanalytic gaze theory

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Title: Paintings and the nuanced gaze: studies in the application, complication, and limitations of psychoanalytic gaze theory
Author: Jennings, Catherine Marie
Abstract: This study investigates how well Lacanian psychoanalytic Gaze theory integrates with traditional art historical approaches, and evaluates the interpretive potential of this combined method when applied to western figurative paintings. Gaze theory's flexibility and adaptability are explored in three diverse situations and the meanings it uncovers are compared to those produced through iconography and iconology. Finally, the integration of Gaze theory, historical context, and iconography creates a "nuanced Gaze" capable of embracing the individuality of artist, audience, and subject, while encompassing the evidence offered by the painting as a unique object. Chapter II focuses upon Titian's Lucrezia Romana Violata da Tarquinio (ca. 1568- 1571), which depicts a man and woman from a legendary Roman story; Chapter III considers John Singleton Copley's double portrait Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin (1773); and Chapter IV examines Mary Cassatt's quasi-portrait of a solitary introspective woman, Study of a Woman with a Fan (Miss Mary Ellison) (ca. 1878), viewing the painting against a contextual screen built by first considering several Cassatt works in which Mary Ellison appears anonymously in a theater loge. Among the issues considered within these three chapters are the role of narrative, gendered subject-object relationships, public and private space, and both social and artistic desire. Employing the nuanced Gaze as a method for interpretation exposes the painted image, not as a seamless representation, but rather as a crafted surface whose inconsistencies mark traces of desire. The nuanced Gaze also illuminates how an individual composition combines with historical context to reveal the gendered and social positioning and interaction of internal and external "viewers," a cast of gazing characters that includes the painted subject(s), the artist, and the work's original audience. For each of the artworks studied in this investigation, the meanings discovered through the application of a nuanced Gaze theory are richer and more complex than those produced by iconography or unmodified Gaze theory alone. This result indicates that the nuanced Gaze does form an effective tool for interpreting western figurative paintings
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2346/10955
Date: 2001-05

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