Self Aesthetics: Towards a Contemporary Poetics of Portraiture

Anthony Curran

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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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.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Overton, Neill, Principal Supervisor
  • Bowker, Sam, Co-Supervisor
Award date12 Oct 2015
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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