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The Subject in Art: Portraiture and the Birth of the Modern

The Subject in Art: Portraiture and the Birth of the Modern

The Subject in Art: Portraiture and the Birth of the Modern

By Catherine M. Soussloff

“It is immensely satisfying to read a book about portraits which attempts to treat them with the gravity warranted by the sheer volume and intensity of their production in European art practice. Soussloff’s exploration of portraits in various media—her examples are drawn from painting, caricature and photography—does help to illuminate her field and argument.”—Lara Perry, ArtBook

“Soussloff's theoretical approach is genealogical, and the scholarly task she sets for herself is both important and demanding.”—Katerina Reed-Tsocha, British Journal of Aesthetics

The Subject in Art is a challenging book, and sometimes while reading it, it seems easy to get lost in the details, but the main points are rewarding, and they present in total an important addition to the modern theory of the subject. The book is a valuable read. . . .”—Brian E. Butler, Consciousness, Literature and the Arts

Challenging prevailing theories regarding the birth of the subject, Catherine M. Soussloff argues that the modern subject did not emerge from psychoanalysis or existential philosophy but rather in the theory and practice of portraiture in early-twentieth-century Vienna. Soussloff traces the development in Vienna of an ethics of representation that emphasized subjects as socially and historically constructed selves who could only be understood—and understand themselves—in relation to others, including the portrait painters and the viewers. In this beautifully illustrated book, she demonstrates both how portrait painters began to focus on the interior lives of their subjects and how the discipline of art history developed around the genre of portraiture.

Soussloff combines a historically grounded examination of art and art historical thinking in Vienna with subsequent theories of portraiture and a careful historiography of philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches to human consciousness from Hegel to Sartre and from Freud to Lacan. She chronicles the emergence of a social theory of art among the art historians of the Vienna School, demonstrates how the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka depicted the Jewish subject, and explores the development of pictorialist photography. Reflecting on the implications of the visualized, modern subject for textual and linguistic analyses of subjectivity, Soussloff concludes that the Viennese art historians, photographers, and painters will henceforth have to be recognized as precursors to such better-known theorists of the subject as Sartre, Foucault, and Lacan.

175 pages
Duke University Press, 2006
6.2 x 0.2 x 9.2 inches
ISBN 9780822336709
Art History, Theory

$23.95 $23.95