We began by considering shame. This is a social emotion. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre went so far as to claim that its existence refuted solipsism (the idea that I am the only conscious mind in the universe). In his famous example from his book Being and Nothingness he describes a voyeur looking through a keyhole, completely absorbed in what he can see, only pre-reflectively aware of himself as a conscious being. Then he hears footsteps in the corridor behind him. He feels shame, the disapproving look of the other, and becomes reflectively aware of himself as a 'looked at look' (possibly in this he is also in Bad Faith, a particular kind of self-deception that involves denying your own freedom since he accepts the Other's view of how he should be, and realises he has fallen short of that expectation).
Many religions have encouraged a degree of shame about exposing the body. In the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, Eve feels shame at her nakedness once she's eaten from the tree of knowledge. In Masaccio's famous image she tries to cover her nakedness. The art critic John Berger discussed shame in depictions of Adam and Eve, and also the conventions in Western of art of the nude in Ways of Seeing - originally a 4-part TV series from 1972, but now usually encountered in book form.
You can watch Ways of Seeing, the classic TV series, on YouTube here . The discussion of shame, and the convention of painting the nude occurs in episode 2 - he's good on the spectator's role in relation to depicted nudity (in Berger's view, the convention of nude painting was largely about displaying women as sexual objects for male viewers in contrast with nakedness, such as in the Rubens portrait of Hélène Fourment where although partly undressed, she is depicted as an autonomous individual rather than as a passive object. Berger thought there were only about 20 such pictures in the Western oil painting tradition).
In the galleries we looked at a range of works in Poetry and Dream (level 2 West):
We focused on questions about awareness of being photographed or depicted and where the pose and treatment of the depictions of bodies stood on a spectrum from shame, embarrassment, indifference, ignorance, pride.
The Russian posters were distinctively different from the other pictures in that they had a meaning fixed by their propaganda purpose (even where that was hard to read because of lack of contextual information), and the images of women were specifically targeted at women viewers (the woman viewer was supposed to identify with the woman in the picture and change her behaviour accordingly); in contrast other pictures were open to a wider range of interpretations.
With the reclining nudes there was a strong sense that the intended viewers of some, such as the Balthus picture Nude on a Chaise Longue were heterosexual men, the subjects eyes were closed and although aware of being seen, where themselves recipients of a voyeuristic (bordeline padedophile? )male gaze. The odalisque pose was used almost as a shorthand symbol or tag in Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust in contrast with his late Nude Woman With Necklace where idealisation and passivity are replaced with direct confrontation with the viewer, possibly tinged with misogyny in the depiction - despite the high degree of abstractions of the image. There is also a corresponding aggression in the way that Picasso has applied the paint.
The photographic works by Lisette Model raised questions about performance of the self and how the awareness of being seen changes the subject. The photographs by Errazuriz, in contrast, were all collaborations with the subjects: in some a transvestite plays a role, but others seem more directly revalatory of character (closer to the clothed equivalent of John Berger's 'naked' images, rather than the dramatised presentation of a nude).
Next week we will look much more closely at the nature of photographic representation and how its documentary aspect distinguishes it from most painting, together with the issue of whether a photograph can be of something which is not actually happening in front of the lens when the shutter falls. Questions of propaganda and use of images raised by the posters will also be relevant to the interpretation of images in Conflict, Time, Photography.