In this “remarkable tour de force” (Publishers Weekly)-a “ceaselessly thought-provoking book” (Kirkus Reviews)-art historian James Elkins marshals psychology, philosophy, science, and art history to show how seeing alters the thing seen and transforms the seer. Black-and-white photographs.
Because our viewing of people, places and objects is molded by thoughts of using, possessing, keeping or cherishing what is seen, we actually perceive very little of what we look at, claims Elkins. In a remarkable tour de force, this art historian uses scores of intriguing photos and illustrations (of a mermaid, ice halos in Alaska, the surface of atoms, a eunuch, a medieval Russian icon painting, etc.) to buttress his thesis that seeing depends on context, desire and expectation. Elkins, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, analyzes how we read the human face and discusses pathologies of vision such as blindness and glaucoma. He pays special attention to phenomena that we view with ambivalence or dread-naked bodies, executions, death (a few of the images reproduced here are grisly). He sometimes overstates his case, as when he lamely argues that we exist in "a world full of gazes" because "each object has a certain force, a certain way of resisting or accepting my look and returning that look to me." Nevertheless, his inquiry is a rewarding adventure that draws freely on psychology, literature, art history, neuroanatomy and philosophy to illuminate modes of seeing and of being. (Mar.)