From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The concept of gaze (often also called the gaze or, in French, le regard), in analysing visual culture, is one that deals with how an audience views the people presented. The concept of the gaze became popular with the rise of postmodern philosophy and social theory and was first discussed by 1960s French intellectuals, namely Michel Foucault's description of the medical gaze and Lacan's analysis of the gaze's role in the mirror stage development of the human psyche. This concept is extended in the framework of feminist theory, where it can deal with how men look at women, how women look at themselves and other women, and the effects surrounding this. A key text regarding the male gaze is Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) by Laura Mulvey. Outside of visual culture, the concept of the gaze is connected to voyeurism.
Iconic images that represent the gaze is Kiki de Montparnasse staring close-up in the camera in Ballet Mécanique (1924); Un Regard oblique (1948) by Robert Doisneau () and Sophia Loren eyeing Jayne Mansfield's décolleté()
Forms of gaze
The gaze can be characterised by who is doing the looking:
- the spectator's gaze: the spectator who is viewing the text. This is often us, the audience of a certain text,
- intra-diegetic gaze, where one person depicted in the text who is looking at another person or object in the text, such as another character looking at another,
- extra-diegetic gaze, where the person depicted in the text looks at the spectator, such as an aside, or an acknowledgement of the fourth wall, or
- the camera's gaze, which is the gaze of the camera, and is often equated to the director's gaze.
These are not the only forms of gaze. Other forms include the gaze of an audience within a "text within the text", such as Lisa Simpson and Bart Simpson watching the cartoon-within-a-cartoon Itchy and Scratchy on The Simpsons, or editorial gaze, whereby a certain aspect of the text is given emphasis, such as in photography, where a caption or a cropping of an image depicting one thing can emphasize a completely different idea.
Other theorists such as Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen provide the idea of the gaze as a relationship between offering and demanding gaze: indirect gaze is an offer by the spectator, where we initiate the gaze, and the subject is not aware of this, and direct gaze is a demand by the subject, who looks at us, demanding our gaze.
Gaze can also be further categorised into the direction of the gaze, where the subjects are looking at each other, apart, at the same object, or where one is gazing at another who is gazing at something else.
Effects of gaze
Gazing and seeing someone gaze upon another provides us with a lot of information about our relationship to the subjects, or the relationships between the subjects upon whom we gaze, or the situation in which the subjects are doing the gazing.
The mutuality of the gaze can reflect power structure, or the nature of a relationship between the subjects, as proposed by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins, where this "tell[s] us who has the right and/or need to look at whom".
Although it may appear that "gaze" is merely looking at, Jonathan Schroeder tells us that "it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze". The gaze characterizes and displays the relationships between the subjects by looking.
This idea forms a basis of feminist analysis of texts.
Gaze and feminist theory
- See male gaze
Laura Mulvey, in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", introduced the concept of the gaze as a symptom of power asymmetry, hypothesizing about what she called the "male gaze." The theory of the male gaze has been hugely influential in feminist film theory and in media studies.
Responses to "male gaze"
- See female gaze
Male gaze in relation to feminist theory presents asymmetrical gaze as a means of exhibiting an unequal power relationship; that is, the male imposes an unwanted gaze upon the female. While some argue that women who fit the ideal of female beauty enjoy this gaze, many second-wave feminists would argue whether these women are actually willing, noting that they may be merely seeking to conform to the hegemonic norms constructed to the benefit of male interests that further underline the power of the male gaze. (see also exhibitionism)
Gaze and psychoanalysis
The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, an early and influential theorist of child development, found the concept of the gaze important in what he termed "the mirror stage", whereupon children gaze at a mirror image of themselves (usually an image of themselves in an actual mirror, but a twin brother or sister can also function as a mirror image) and use this image to derive a degree of coordination over their physical movements. Lacan therefore linked the concept of the gaze to the development of individual human agency. To this end, he transformed the concept of the gaze into a dialectic between what he called the ideal-ego and the ego-ideal. The ideal-ego is the image of imaginary self-identification - in other words, the idealized image that the person imagines themselves to be or aspires to be; whilst the ego-ideal is the imaginary gaze of another person who gazes upon the ideal-ego. An example would be if a famous rockstar (a category of identification which would function as the ideal-ego) secretly hoped that the school bully who tormented them as a child was now aware of his or her subsequent success and fame (with the imaginary, fantasmatic figure of the bully functioning as the ego-ideal).
Lacan later developed his concept of the gaze even further, claiming that the gaze does not belong to the subject but, rather, the object. In his Seminar One, he told his audience: "I can feel myself under the gaze of someone whose eyes I do not see, not even discern. All that is necessary is for something to signify to me that there may be others there. This window, if it gets a bit dark, and if I have reasons for thinking that there is someone behind it, is straight-away a gaze" (Lacan, 1988, p. 215).
- Film theory
- Feminist film theory
- Eye contact
- Evil eye
- Staring contest
- Audience theory
- Male gaze
- The Gaze of Orpheus
- Visual culture
- Laura Mulvey