Expose Yourself to Art : Towards a Critical Epistemology of Embarrassment

Jones, Gwyneth Siobhan. 2013. Expose Yourself to Art : Towards a Critical Epistemology of Embarrassment. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis investigates the negative affect of ‘spectatorial embarrassment’, a feeling of exposure and discomfort sometimes experienced when looking at art. Two particular characteristics of embarrassment figure in the methodology and the outcome of this enquiry; firstly that embarrassment is marginal, of little orthodox value, and secondly, it is a personal experience of aversive self-consciousness. The experiential nature of embarrassment has been adopted throughout as a methodology and the embarrassments analysed are, for the most part, my own and based on ‘true’ experience. Precedent for this is drawn from ‘anecdotal theory’, which uses event and occasion in the origination of a counter-theory that values minor narratives of personal experience in place of the generalising and abstract tendencies of theory-proper.

The context is a series of encounters with artworks by Gilbert & George, Jemima Stehli, Franko B, Adrian Howells, and Sarah Lucas. They are connected by their contemporaneity, their ‘British-ness’, and that they allow the spectator no comfortable position to look from. This enquiry engages with theories of ‘the gaze’ (as both aesthetic disinterest and a dubious sign of cultural competence) and the challenge to aesthetic disinterest made by ‘transgressive art’ which may provoke a more engaged, even embodied response.

Each encounter sparks consideration of differing causes and outcomes of embarrassment that resonate beyond art to broader sociocultural territories particularly in terms of gender and class. The approach taken is inherently interdisciplinary, situated within the affective turn, and engaging with feminist and queer discourses. Moments of embarrassment as ‘thinking-feeling’ are finally configured as a critical epistemology, or a ‘body of knowledge’ offering the opportunity to value the singular truth of embarrassment as an embodied criticality that is critical of coercive patterns of social ‘okayness’ and belonging.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures



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Date Deposited:

27 Jan 2014 13:03

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:56



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