A Little Theory Goes a Long Way – Michel Foucault

Technologies of the Self, A seminar with Michel Foucault, edited by Luther H. Martim, Huck Gutman and Patrick H Hutton, University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.

I’ve been reading some theory lately and in particular I wanted to write a little about Michel Foucault. This is an attempt at more securely rooting my artistic practice in theory.

In Technologies of the Self Foucault outlines the history of how “selves” were constructed, citing ancient Greco-Roman and Christian methodologies. There used to be a prevalence amongst members of society of “taking care” of themselves. The methods of taking care ultimately led to “knowing oneself”. However the notion of taking care of oneself has gradually been superseded by the principle that knowing oneself is more acceptable.

In taking care of oneself, the individual takes a thorough and whole interest in himself as a person, with a particular interest in truth and ones soul, but also in politics and society. A person constructs himself. As a result one knows oneself.

In Christianity there was a propensity to know oneself rather than take care of oneself. This results in knowing or looking for instances of sin. Christianity encourages asceticism of part of oneself in order to avoid this sin. Knowing oneself means knowing one has qualities that are not desirable and in order to avoid these qualities one gives up a part of oneself.

Taking care of oneself seems to be narcissistic (particularly since knowing oneself has been deeply indoctrinated into our culture for centuries).

As an artist I am interested in what artworks provide audiences or spectators with. The notion of constructing oneself is what drew me to this text. Here Foucault provides us with historical evidence of how selves “were” constructed and how our propensity for knowing rather than caring for ourselves came about. What I am interested in is: can an artist provide an audience or spectator the opportunity to consider, reflect, reconstruct and change their “self” in order to help them take the care that is lacking, through an artwork?

Or is it essentially my interest in Ranciere and Schiller and my understanding of the term free play that they use that has developed my interest “self” construction? Is free play the best way of offering a spectator emancipation from the tendency of “knowing” and the isolation and guilt that knowledge brings? Can an artist engage/encourage a state of taking care by creating a stillness, a silence and truth that can be offered in an artwork?


2 thoughts on “A Little Theory Goes a Long Way – Michel Foucault

  1. I think there is a propensity in modern society, particularly for women, to become almost invisible when it comes to self identity. We spend so much time caring for our families that we neglect the self to the point where we lose our own identities. It is only by looking at ourselves that we can truly understand how amazing we actually are and only when we know how amazing we are can we fulfil our own potential.

  2. I use my own art both to know and take care of myself. My work comes from within. I hope I can communicate some of this to the individuals who view it, although I do seem to disturb the viewers quie often. This is a interesting piece and worth discussion

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