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Seeing Things: From Mantelpieces to Masterpieces

University of Aberdeen

Professor Stephen Pattison delivered a series of six Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen, entitled Seeing Things: From Mantelpieces to Masterpieces.

In the first of his six lectures, ‘Ordinary Blindness’, Professor Pattison outlines how a practical theologian approaches contemporary beliefs and practices, in this case related to sight and seeing. He examines the cultural assumptions and practices adopted by Westerners and describes how we tend to overvalue and misunderstand the apparently autonomous sense of sight.

In Lecture 2, ‘Touching Sight’, he contrasts Western culture’s tendency to distance sight with ‘haptic’ or touching vision. Haptic sight posits the possibility of entering into a rich, person-like relationship with at least some visual artefacts.

Lecture 3, ‘Sticky Objects’, explores factors that allow people to get personally and deeply engaged with visual artefacts.

In Lecture 4, ‘Getting Personal’, Professor Pattison argues that artefacts can be so full of intention and emotion that they can in some way be regarded as person-like. These artefacts index their creators and acquire a secondary social agency that things shape, enable and contribute to human action, both materially and symbolically.

In Lecture 5, ‘Drawing Near’, the professor gives reasons for taking person-like relationships with artefacts more seriously, suggesting a ‘joyful attachment’ as more likely to preserve and enhance human life than objectification in visual perception.

Lecture 6, ‘Loving Things’, suggests the types and nature of relationships that might be fostered. Dr. Pattison indicates how these subject-to-subject rather than subject-to-object relationships might be consistent with Christian thought and practice.

In summary, these lectures critique the dominant mode in the West of relating to artefacts, a result of Cartesian objectification, which set a distance between mind and matter. Citing Paul Tillich’s encounter with an object of art that left him ‘shaken’ as an example of how people might more richly engage with artefacts, Professor Pattison argues how more enriched life might be if people developed haptic vision which engages the object in a more person-to-person-like way. These lectures are to be the basis of a book to be published in 2007.


Seeing Things: Deepening Relations with Visual Artefacts

SCM Press
  • Larry Pullen