Week 7: Pictorial Bodies – Seminar 1

What do pictures want? There is a belief that objects and pictures exhibit both physical and spiritual things. This can also apply to art and painting. Paintings, as well as pictures, can have will, consciousness and desire.

Pictures have will, consciousness, desire, meaning, and also it owns physicality and a psychological idea. W.J.T. Mitchell in his text What Do Pictures Want? questions and challenges the aforementioned qualities of a painting. The text also raised the question whether a painting is the act of expression of the artist, or whether it is an object that ‘extracts’ the wants of the beholder.

There is a word that sometimes paintings are described, that is ‘theatrical’. But what does the fact that a painting is theatrical imply? There are the following definitions of the word:

Of, relating to, or suitable for dramatic performance or the theater.
2. Marked by exaggerated self-display and unnatural behavior; affectedly dramatic.


1. A stage performance, especially by amateurs.
2. theatricals Affectedly dramatic gestures or behavior; histrionics.

From my viewpoint, I perceive theatricality as a quality that gives life to a painting. In other words, to me, when a painting is theatrical, it becomes alive and it seeks interaction with the spectator, just like the spectator seeks to find out more about the painting and its meaning. A theatrical painting is aware of this existance. Take this painting as an example by Katha Seidman for example:

Katha Seidman, Twin Mimes (Remembering 9/11)

The mime is staring at his reflection  in the mirror, therefore he acknowledges his own existance. Furthermore, his reflection seems to be staring back at the viewer/spectator, thus, it demands from the viewer to look back. There is the idea of the gaze, from the mime to its reflection, and from his reflection back to the spectator.


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