In 'Phenomenology of Perception' (1945) Maurice Merleau-Ponty warns against considering depth and breadth as interchangeable. Rather than following Merleau-Ponty's thinking, this article considers the productive potential of equating depth with breadth, citing works by British painters Jane Harris, Beth Harland and John Wilkins. The tableau is proposed in this context as a holding apparatus, one that facilitates and contains a switch and shift between positions and dimensions. Holding is considered in three key ways: holding back, holding fast, and holding attention, each one describing both the internal workings of the tableau and its external relations with an observer. This holding characteristic is put forward as part of the constraints and potential of addressing a pictorial form, and connected to Michael Fried's writing on absorption, and the absorbed and diverted attention described by Jonathan Crary. George Berkeley's theories of vision are discussed via Merleau-Ponty, with breadth offered as a sideways version of depth, exposing the space between things and implying a repositioning of the viewer in order to facilitate visibility. Although Merleau-Ponty outlines this exchangeability in order to discount it, this flexibility between one position and another, thinking oneself into a position rather than being there, is considered here as an active part of a pictorial practice, one that can inform a stand off between oppositional terms.
JVAP 12 (1) pp. 25 - 37