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Art and the etiquette of touch

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  • History Of Art
  • Linguistics


This talk begins with a proposition – that we abandon the study of ‘touch’. I argue that recent models of touch, as they appear within discourses of art and museums, have been distinctly troublesome. There has been a tendency to attribute distinct characteristics to touch and to link it with particular groups: to claim that it is capable of creating harmonious social relations or that it has strategic potential for feminist artists. Within galleries it is posited as a simple mode of engagement with art objects, suitable for access provision or, when it occurs without permission, as evidence of ignorance and unruliness. Almost invariably, touch is understood as having no or little significant variation. There are also problems with its definition and what that encompasses and whether touch is applicable to the bulk of art practice. My suggestion is that instead of discussing ‘touch’ we adopt a notion of ‘tactual practice’. I close the presentation with some examples of what that might mean for the study of art.

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