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Brand, Peg Zeglin, , . Beauty as Pride: A Function of Agency’
2011, APA Newsletter 10(2): 5-9.
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Added by: Hans Maes, Contributed by:

Abstract: This is basically a paper about artistic evaluation and how multiple interpretations can give rise to inconsistent and conflicting meanings. Images like Joel-Peter Witkin’s First Casting for Milo (2004) challenge the viewer to look closely, understand the formal properties at work, and then extract a meaning that ultimately asks, Is the model exploited or empowered? Is Karen Duffy, pictured here, vulnerable and “enfreaked” or is she potentially subversive, transgressive, and perhaps self-empowered? I will offer an argument in agreement with artist/author/ performer Ann Millett-Gallant that favors the latter interpretation, but will augment and complicate the issue by also introducing a pointed question or two taken from a recent analysis by Cynthia Freeland on objectification. I judge the works by photographer Joel-Peter Witkin to be representations of disabled persons who are empowered through agency and pride, but I also worry about the risk of multiple, conflicting interpretations on the part of viewers who do not, or cannot, entertain such enlightened readings. Like second wave feminist views about pornography that depicted women in demeaning ways, or feminist critiques of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party , Witkin’s photos can be judged as potentially offensive. But they are also objects of beauty – both in terms of aesthetic properties (they are magnificent studies in black and white, shadows, the human body, with many classical references) and because of the feeling of beauty and pride felt by the posers, who become performers of their own beauty and pride. I argue that beauty trumps offensiveness. Pride wins. But I’m not sure that everyone will agree.

Comment: Questions the ideal standard of beauty portrayed throughout the history of art, particularly in form of the female nude, and examines works of art that defiantly challenge that ideal. Argues that in certain representations of disabled persons the model is empowered and not exploited and that beauty trumps offensiveness. Pride wins.

Artworks to use with this text:

Joel-Peter Witkin, First Casting for Milo (2004)

Portrait of Irish artist Karen Duffy engaged in a silent performance of ‘disarming’ Venus. In her own words, she is aiming to ‘liberate herself from histories of oppressive representations of women and disabled women in particular.’

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Freeland, Cynthia, , . Intimacy
2010, in: Portraits & Persons, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 195-241.
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Added by: Hans Maes, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Sumary: Begins with a discussion of objectification, first at the cultural and social level, as investigated by Catharine MacKinnon, then at the personal level, as investigated by Martha Nussbaum. Freeland also considers what ‘subjectification’ might amount to and how portraits can either be objectifying or subjectifying.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture and depiction, as well as the links between aesthetics and ethics, and objectification in general.

Artworks to use with this text:

Lucian Freud, Naked portrait (1972-3)

he people in Freud’s ‘naked portraits’ are not shown as active or autonomous, but rather as inert material things. Their boundaries are violated, says Freeland.

Mary Cassatt, Children Playing on a Beach (1886)

Portraying children as autonomous, distinct individuals with inner lives.

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Freeland, Cynthia, , . Portraits in Painting and Photography
2007, Philosophical Studies 135(1): 95-109.
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Added by: Hans Maes, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: This article addresses the portrait as a philosophical form of art. Portraits seek to render the subjective objectively visible. In portraiture two fundamental aims come into conflict: the revelatory aim of faithfulness to the subject, and the creative aim of artistic expression. In the first part of my paper, studying works by Rembrandt, I develop a typology of four different things that can be meant when speaking of an image’s power to show a person: accuracy, testimony of presence, emotional characterization, or revelation of the essential “air” (to use Roland Barthes’ term). In the second half of my paper this typology is applied to examples from painting and photography to explore how the two media might differ. I argue that, despite photography’s alleged ‘realism’ and ‘transparency,’ it allows for artistic portraiture and presents the same basic conflict between portraiture’s two aims, the revelatory and the expressive.

Comment: Considers two fundamental but conflicting aims of portraiture: the revelatory aim of faithfulness to the subject, and the creative aim of artistic expression. Explores how the two media of painting and photography might differ. Argues that despite photography’s alleged ‘realism’ and ‘transparency,’ it allows for artistic portraiture and presents the same basic conflict between portraiture’s two aims, the revelatory and the expressive.

Artworks to use with this text:

Richard Avedon, Jacob Israel Avedon (1969-1973)

Photographs of the artist’s dying father. These frank portraits succeed at both artistic expression and the subtle rendering of the sitter’s inner psychological states or character.

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Langton, Rae, , . Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification
2009, Oxford Uuniversity Press.
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Added by: Emily Paul, Contributed by:

Publisher’s note: Rae Langton here draws together her ground-breaking and contentious work on pornography and objectification. She shows how women come to be objectified — made subordinate and treated as things — and she argues for the controversial feminist conclusions that pornography subordinates and silences women, and women have rights against pornography.

Comment: Any of these chapters would be really useful for a feminist philosophy or ethics course, and can be studied in a ‘stand alone’ sense. In particular, the ‘sexual solipsism’ chapter itself contains numerous discussion points. It could be good for different groups of students to each be assigned a different chapter, and then to present to the class as a whole.

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