University of Tasmania

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Self Aesthetics: Towards a Contemporary Poetics of Portraiture

posted on 2023-05-25, 14:08 authored by Anthony CurranAnthony Curran
Throughout modernity, portraiture sought to represent the unique essence of an individual. However ideas of self and identity have been subsequently dismantled by postmodern theory within sociology, psychology, feminist theory and post-colonial studies, leaving the concept of self to be considered as a nonessential product of biological, social and psychological fragments. This shift in philosophies of self, or what Martin and Barresi have referred to as the Fall of the Self, has led to a notion of self as unrepresentable and in constant flux. Such a conception of self is at odds with the mimetic traditions of fine art, which have for so long been the foundation of portraiture. However recent developments in late-modern and contemporary art have responded to the postmodern criticality and have attempted to move away from the representational toward experiential and participatory forms of art. As a result, the genre of portraiture has become isolated from the broader debates in contemporary art and aesthetics and from its core subject - individual selves. This thesis investigates contemporary aesthetic theories that have emerged since the fallen self and tests the legitimacy of these aesthetics against each other and through studio practice and exhibition at the local and national level. A tension is identified in which portrait institutions maintain a traditional and mimetic focus where as the broader artworld privileges dematerialized and participatory or event-oriented modes of art. By analysing the aesthetics of both, the world of contemporary art is shown to offer portraiture profound opportunities in engaging with new aesthetic and philosophical developments in self. In addition, a critique of contemporary aesthetics reveals that the practice of portraiture can engage directly with the issues of contemporary art by emphasizing the participatory and experiential aspects of the genre.





School of Creative Arts and Media


Charles Sturt University

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