The Painter’s Knife Representations of Fragmented Bodies in Painting
Many artworks, historical as well as contemporary, represent fragmented bodies, detached organs or dissected corpses. How may we read art’s intense attraction to images of body pieces? How did so many incidences of cuts and beheadings find their way into painting? Is it mere coincidence that the painter’s essential tool, alongside his brushes, is none other than a painter’s knife?
These types of questions have provoked the attention of art theorists and scholars such as Linda Nochlin and Julia Kristeva. This essay offers a critical reading of the views of these two thinkers on the dissected body in art and suggests an alternative solution from a Lacanian perspective. Basing my thesis on Jacques Lacan’s concept of the cedeable object, I argue that a painting is a product of an object that must be lost for representation to take place. Cutting away the object is exactly what makes painting possible, whether what is cut is manifested in the painting in the form of an image of a severed organ, or in any other way. It thus follows that the images of the fragmented body are intrinsic to painting.
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