SELF-UNDERSTANDING – body perception

Swedish artist Georg Pauli said about this painting “A beauty that comes and disappears and returns again”. Indeed the figure appears elusive. Your eyes move over the painting and you discern shapes of legs and arms that seem to fade in and out of an abstract background. While you are focusing on her face, her legs disintegrate into unidentified shapes and colours. You never perceive the woman as a whole.Supposedly she is sitting on, or beside a horse, scratching its ears and feeding it a fruit. However, this being a Cubist painting, every viewer sees something else. Metzinger presents us with a deconstructed scene and leaves it to our “creative intuition” to piece it back together. Instead of a horse, I saw her holding up a mirror to her face.

Thus the painting reflects, to me, how I perceive my own body. As we are looking out of our own body, we never see it as a whole. Directly, we can only see a limited area and so we use mirrors. Even then, we never see ourselves as a whole.

We perceive our body in more ways than visual. Most of all, we feel it. We feel when we are touched, we feel an itch in the nose or pain in the back. Those sensations can temporarily dominate our awareness, but sooner or later our focus will shift elsewhere. We don’t feel our body as a whole.

In our minds, our own body is deconstructed into parts, shapes and feelings like a cubist painting. Just like the figure on the canvas, our own body constantly shifts into awareness and out again into abstraction.


Artwork: Jean Metzinger, 1911-12, La Femme au Cheval (oil painting). More about the painting on Wikipedia.

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