No Disturbing Gazes

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No Disturbing Gazes Jacobus Bracker, M.A., Hamburg

Strikingly, figures on ancient Greek vases are almost always represented with heads in profile facing to left or to right. As a dominant and almost exclusive posture it can be seen as a constant norm in the archaic period and onwards and as a pronounced characteristic of Greek vase painting. Only Gorgons, gorgoneia, and panthers already in Corinthian art, are always iconographically marked by frontal faces. Especially in mythic scenes frontal gazes are almost completely absent. While there have been attempts to group the rare occasions of frontal faces iconographically (lastly Korshak 1987) important questions have been left untouched. For understanding the visual culture of the Greeks it would be crucial to ask why mythical narrative scenes do not show gazes at the viewer or why contemporary researchers express uncanny feelings when describing frontal gazes. Traditional methods of classical archaeology like iconography, iconology, and formal aesthetics do not provide sufficient answers. In my lecture I will analyse the phenomenon with methods of visual culture studies and Bildwissenschaften on the one hand and take a look at the current debates in the philosophy of mind on embodiment on the other (i.a. Gallagher/Zahavi 2012; Lakoff/Johnson 1999; Noë 2004). Applying theories of the gaze and of visual narratology lead to the conclusion that frontal gazes disturb identification processes on the side of the viewer and thereby undermine a basic function of mythological narratives. Looking at the viewer as an embodied viewer who is not only viewing but at the same time perceiving space and time through different senses and having a proprioception may explain why such a disturbing effect is occurring. The lecture will show how the analysis of certain phenomena of visual culture through the lenses of visual culture studies and embodiment theories delivers answers beyond the scope of traditional methods and thereby prove the necessity of developing the analytical tools of classical archaeology further (as introduced for example by Skeates 2010 and Hamilakis 2013).

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