The Modern Portrait
Instructor: Professor Susan Sidlauskas
Portraiture would seem to be one of the most straightforward forms of representation: paintings, sculptures, photographs, among other media, of actual people, living or dead. Yet until recently, the research on portraiture was fairly unadventurous, with confusion about the very idea of what constitutes a portrait. How much does likeness, or resemblance, matter? Must the person have actually lived? Can an artist use a fictive persona as a self-portrait? Must the portrait say something about the "self" of the sitter? To paraphrase the scholar John Gage: If the best portrait is the one "most like" an individual, than what is it "like?" How can gender and class be manipulated in portraiture? Does a portrait reveal as much about the artist who made it as it does about the sitter? And how do we separate the influence of one from the other? Or do we, instead, need a different way to understand the dynamic relationship between the two? This is a rich time to be studying portraiture. Not only are there new studies and exhibition catalogues to be investigated, the practice of portraiture, in various subversive forms, has re-entered contemporary art. We will focus on the modern portrait (late 18th to early 20th century, both European and American), with excursions into contemporary practice. Students are encouraged to work on research projects in their own special field of interest (i.e. Classical, Renaissance, Photographic/Video, Contemporary, etc.). Students will do response papers to assigned readings, give a brief report on their chosen research topic, a 15-20 minute summary of their research findings in the last weeks of the semester, and hand in a final paper which reflects the contributions and criticisms of the class and the professor.