The Eye: Spectatorship and Interaction in Art and Visual Culture


Student thesis: Master's Thesis

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Award date4 Aug 2017


The eye, which is thought of as the window to the soul, is a vital organ that provides humans with one of the most important sensations — sight. This thesis concerns the nature of spectatorship and the universal symbol — eye. Drawings of the eye in rock art had already emerged in ancient times before language systems have developed. Likewise, notions of the eye have been developed and widely discussed in mythology, cultural history, psychology, philosophy and media disciplines for millennia. According to modern psychological studies, eye contact is a powerful nonverbal communication path for intimacy from moments after birth. Even without using languages, babies can innately communicate with adults by eye gaze. I believe that one of the most basic human interactions is operating innately and pre-verbally. I argue that the fundamental and innate primary urge to see and be seen (which is active at birth) can be employed to create simple powerful interaction experiences in visual culture and contemporary art. Gaze reactivity stimulates aspects of the spectator that connect to primal innate levels independently from analytic consciousness. This thesis uses extensive literature from across disciplines to construct a non-traditional functional taxonomy of the eye and how it has been operating in art and visual culture from ancient myths such as the evil eye to classical painting to contemporary interactive art examples. The discussion begins by exploring how the eye functions in all humans according to psychological and cultural studies; thereafter it is extended to notions of eye situated in art and illustrates the implications of interactive installations that utilize gaze on notions of agency mediated through the mirror, digital technologies and online platforms. All of these mediated interactions remain profoundly the same at the basic level: encouraging spectators to look consciously back at their selves and the world around them.