Subjectivity in Art History and Art Criticism

Eleni Gemtou,University of Athens, Greece

Volume 2, Number 1, 2010Download PDF Version

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v2n1.02


Art history and art criticism belong in a wider sense to the humanities, whose aim is the interpretation and comprehension of human actions and intellectual work.  Both fields draw their basic methodological tools from the hermeneutical tradition.  Their central analytic category is comprehension (verstehen) that seeks to ascribe meaning to the spirit of these actions, or to works of art.  The intention of the art historian is to analyse and integrate artistic works in a wider intellectual and social frame, while the aim of the art critic is to examine the values connected with artistic creations.  Their roles are not always distinguishable, as analysis, comprehension, interpretation and evaluation often co-exist in the studies of both fields.  However, the approach of the art historian should have a scientific character, aiming at objectively valid formulations, while the critic should give equal consideration to subjective factors, acknowledging international artistic values, often taking on the additional role of philosopher or theorist of art. In my paper I examine the varying degrees of subjectivity in the approaches of art historians and art critics.  I give emphasis to the methods and language both use, while I approach the categories of artistic values (aesthetic, moral, cognitive) according to their subjective usage, but also to their role in the comprehension and evaluation of art.  My conviction is that art history and art criticism are complementary activities, as the former creates fertile conditions for the latter’s complete and essential evaluations.

About the Contributors (Vol 2, No 1)

Ahu Antmen is Assistant Professor at Marmara University Faculty of Fine Arts in Istanbul, Turkey. She graduated from Istanbul University Faculty of Communications. She obtained an MA in 20th Century Art from Goldsmiths College, and completed her PhD on “New Approaches in Turkish Art” at Mimar Sinan University. She lectures on 20th Century Art, Contemporary Art Practice, Contemporary Turkish Art and Visual Culture at Marmara University. Her recent publications (in Turkish) include a book on Trends in 20th Century Western Art and monographies on Turkish artists Ali Teoman Germaner and Hale Tenger. She has also edited a volume on Art History and Feminist Criticism. Email:

Amrit Sen is Reader in English at the Department of English & Other Modern European Languages, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan. He has won the Outstanding Thesis Award for his book The Narcissistic Mode: Metafiction as a Strategy in Moll Flanders, Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy. (Worldview, 2007) He is interested in Travel Writing and has recently won the UGC Research Award for his Project titled, The Self & the World in Tagore’s Travel Writings. He also takes a keen interest in the History of Science in India, especially the writings of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray. He would welcome your comments at

Anindya Raychaudhuri is a PhD student at Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory, Cardiff University, researching the constructions of gender in the narratives of the Spanish Civil War. His other research interests include Marxist and postcolonial theory, detective fiction, graffiti and urban studies, and subculture studies. He has written on, among other things, cinema and the Indian Partition, the works of Christopher Caudwell, Doctor Who and on British graffiti-artist Banksy. Email:

Chung Chin-Yi is completing doctoral studies at the National University of Singapore. Her research centers on the relationship between deconstruction and phenomenology. She has published in Nebula, Ol3media and the Indian review of World literature in English, KRITIKE: An Online Journal of Philosophy, Vitalpoetics and SKASE Literary Journal. She is a teaching assistant at the National University of Singapore. She has presented papers on the Beckett centenaries in 2006 in Denmark and Ireland and recently at the Theory Culture and Society 25th anniversary conference. Email:

Debasish Lahiri is Lecturer in the Department of English, Lal Baba College, West Bengal, India. Email:

Eleni Gemtou is Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and History of Science, University of Athens, Greece.  She studied classical archaeology in the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Germany) and completed her dissertation in Art History in the Kapodistrian University, Athens (Greece). Amongst others projects, she worked on archaeological excavations and in museums within Greece, as well as in the educational programs of the British auction house, Christie’s, in Athens. Since 2004 she has been working as a lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in the University of Athens. She published papers in international and Greek journals and participated in a number of conferences. Email:

Gilbert Tarka Fai is Lecturer, Department of English, Higher Teachers’ Training College, University of Maroua, Cameroon. Email:

Josephine A. McQuail is a Professor of English at Tennessee Technological University in the U.S. She served as the Executive Director of the Northeast Modern Language Association from 2003-2006. She has published on a number of subjects, including William Blake, George Gissing, and James Joyce. E-mail:

Reynaldo Thompson, an artist, curator and writer par excellence, is Coordinator at the School of Digital Arts of the University of Guanajuato, Mexico. His visual art and architecture background helps him to play with the interaction of space, time and art. In 2006 he was awarded a scholarship from the CONACULTA and has participated in more than 30 solo and group shows in the United States, Latin America and London. His works have been shown in collective and solo shows in spaces such as the Dallas Museum of Art for the Day of the Death (October-November, 2002), the Centro Cultural de España in Mexico city with the show Chateau de l’ame: trilogy of water (February- March, 2006) and the Museum of Modern Art of Santo Domingo with the video-installation Red Alive (June 14, 2008). His works have also been exhibited in many other public and private shows. Thompson also participated in an experimental project in London organized by Phyllida Barlow and sponsored by the Arts Council of England entitled What do artists do? in October 2008.  In June 2009 he will have a solo show in Demolden Gallery Project in Santander, Spain.  He had also participated as a curator in many exhibitions in the last three years. Email:

Sarawut Chutiwongpeti graduated from the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, in 1996. Since then, he has been working as a media artist with Cyber Lab at the Center of Academic Resources, Chulalongkorn University. In 1998, he secured funding and travelled as a visiting artist/researcher to several countries such as Canada, the United States of America, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and Japan. He is associated with a number of international organisations and centres.   Sarawut has organised many international solo and group exhibitions of his works. He has won many national and international awards for his original works. More of his works can be found at  Email:

Shira Bat-Ami Segal is doing her doctoral research on Representations of Pregnancy and Childbirth in Avant-garde Cinema and Home Movies in the Department of Communication and Culture, Indiana University. She is also Associate Instructor of C360 Motion Picture Production in the same department. She has published a number of research papers and presented papers in quite a few conferences and seminars. Email:

Siddhartha Dasgupta is Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Bhatter College, Dantan, West Bengal, India. He did M.A in International Relations from Jadavpur University in 1999. He worked (2000-2003) as Political Affairs Officer at the Consulate General of Japan, Kolkata. He is doing doctoral research on “Bengali, Bangladeshi and Islamic Identities in the Politics of Contemporary Bangladesh: Cross-border Implications for West Bengal”. He has also completed a UGC Minor Research Project (MRP) on Indo-Bangladesh affairs. He has published quite a few papers in reputed journals. Email:

Sreecheta Mukherjee is a freelance writer on fashion designing, arts and crafts. She runs her blog Designs from India at She studied Textile Designing from International Institute of Fashion Design (INIFD), Kolkata. Email:
Tom Lavazzi
is Associate Professor of English, Kingsborough Community College, New York, USA. His poetry and criticism appears in such journals as American Poetry Review, Postmodern Culture, Women in Performance, the South Atlantic Review, Symploke, Talisman, Midwest Quarterly, The Little Magazine, Mantis: Journal of Poetry, Criticism, Translation; Genre, Poetry Motel, Poetry New York, Post-Identity, Rhizome: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, and Sagetrieb, among others; his work has been anthologized in Finding the Ox: Buddhism and American Culture (SUNY Press, forthcoming), Dialogism and Lyric Self-Fashioning: Bakhtin and the Voices of a Genre. (Pennsylvania: Susquehanna University Press), Modernism and Photography (Praeger), Synergism: An Anthology of Collaborative Poetry and Poetic Prose (Boshi Press), Carl Rakosi, Man and Poet (National Poetry Foundation), Contemporary Literary Criticism (Gale), Poetry Criticisms 42 (Gale), Home Grown (Blue House), and Jumping Pond: An Anthology of Ozark Poetry (Sand Hills Press).  I have published three volumes of poetry: Stirr’d Up Everywhere, Crossing Borders, and LightsOut.  A book of experimental critical performances, Off the Page: Scripts, Texts and Multimedia Projects from TEZ (a performance group he founded in 1995) is forthcoming from Parlor Press’s Aesthetic Critical Inquiry series (2009). Email:

Editorial (Vol 1, No 2)

The second issue of Rupkatha journal is ready for access. The gratitude due to contributors should be acknowledged not just as a matter of courtesy but because they have introduced interdisciplinary methods of study, making parts of this issue a good reflector of the transformation of disciplines. At least a couple of essays investigates the relationship between nature and the impulse of literature. The other essays raise issues of history and individualism in literature.

Indeed interdisciplinary studies is the need of the hour. The fundamental idea for interdisciplinarity derives from an evolutionary necessity; namely the need to confront and interpret complex systems. To put it simply this means that [a] the entities that we investigate within the environment of contemporary science are perceived to be more like organic or interrelated complexes. The entity that is studied [say like one from logistics, or psychiatry, or dietary cuisine, for examples] can no longer be analyzed in terms of an object of ‘biology’ or ‘chemistry’, but as a contending hierarchy of components which could be studied under the rubric of multiple or variable branches of knowledge. Thus for example a health insurance program involves a consideration of [economics] distribution of wealth, pharmacology, social behaviour, statistics, and probability. Any policy decision on implementation of a viable health care system will have to factor in knowledge from multiple disciplines. Human knowledge can no longer be classified in accordance with the academic compartmentalisations of even classical 19th century science.

Furthermore, processes of nature would have to be deciphered as a combinatorial operation of both scientific and emergent characteristic s. This is especially true of aesthetic reflexes which are a vital part of human behaviour. Singing, Darwin said, is an example of antiphonal harmony that originated in mating calls. A piece of communication—be it a dance performance or a visually textured painting—offers an entire range of acculturation.

Again the beauty of a piece –and frankly speaking – its complexity lies almost beyond the human capacity of reconstructive integration; any piece of art remains unique and unreduplicated in this sense.

The Humanities may be the only discipline outside the new ‘sciences’ that affords an opportunity for studying the most subtle or occluded forces that shape and retain stable forms of communal beliefs and rituals. The combined and orchestrated multi-functionalism of nature gives rise to such moments as those of memory, excitability, preference, suppression, and harmonization. The neuro- aesthetics of cultural expression are still unknown to us. First, there is hardly any consensus on the exact nature of human consciousness, let alone the entire range of deviant functions or multi-tasking that the brain is capable of. As far as aesthetics is concerned, we have to re-define the propensity for parallel perceptions, or what Aristotle unerringly called mimicry, which might help in explaining the capacity and /or competence in designing and short-routing experiences of ‘metaphor’ and allegorical images, or things like suggestivity and excitability [of emotions].

I am inclined to believe that the first steps in this direction could be taken through a fuller knowledge of pharmacological sciences and clinical anatomy, reflexology or discharge behaviour, learning, and sensitization through acts of communalisation.

Another interesting project that has to be undertaken is a study related to the conditions of experience we associate with such states as those of ‘god’ or ‘immortality’.

But there may be something irreducible in the components of experience, and therefore of knowledge itself which derives from the former. Either this, or the other position has to accepted. According to the anthropic principle there is no vantage point and that we are by nature not equipped to know, or gather total knowledge – however small or exclusive the domain may be. Perhaps the latter position is more modest and appropriate here. Unknowability is no safe haven—but a form of recognizing the complexity and paradigmatic failure of intuition.

Chief Editor

Tirtha Prasad Mukhopadhyay

Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities,
Volume I, Number 2, Autumn 2009, PDF URL of the editorial:, ©

“The Noble Savage and the Civilised Brute: Nature and the Subaltern Angst in Swarup Dutta’s Machh Master (The Expert Angler)

Sajalkumar Bhattacharya, Ramakrishna Mission Residential College, West Bengal, India


Parallel reading of history from the subaltern point of view is not only possible, but it also often proves to be revealing. It often unearths a new discourse, which challenges the canonized history or even subverts it. This paper offers a reading of a recent Bhasa (Bangla) novel Machh Master (The Expert Angler) where the Naxalite Movement that rocked Bengal in the sixties, has been narrated and analysed from the viewpoint of one dalit subaltern. The novel attempts to create a binary between this ‘uncorrupted’ world/mode of existence and the civilized, sophisticated, intellectual, but essentially ‘corrupted’ urban world. In this natural savage world and its eco-system, the urban, elitist Naxalite movement turns out to be nothing but an imposition and an intrusion. At the end, disillusioned Neul detaches himself from this movement, goes back to, and embraces Nature in a desperate bid to get back his pre-lapserian mode of existence. Neel, chief agent of the Naxalite movement, too is influenced by these children of Mother Nature, and undergoes a transformation. This paper explores this interesting role of Nature in this new reading of the history of mankind.

Finding the voice of the Peasant: Agriculture, Neocolonialism and Mulk Raj Anand’s Punjab trilogy

Jonathan Highfield, Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island, USA


Mulk Raj Anand’s Punjab trilogy–The Village (1939), Across the Black Waters (1940), and The Sword and the Sickle (1942)–speaks directly to the destruction of traditional agricultural systems under colonial rule and the absorption of the agricultural goods and human labor of India into a global economic system. The Punjab trilogy traces the life of a character searching for another India, an India free of oppression, misery, and classism. Lalu Singh looks at the situation in the Punjab from an ever-widening orbit, only to recognize that global movements devalue the very people they purport to help. In the end he rejects theory for action, returning to the peasant society he fled as a youth. His decision has resonance in the twenty-first century as formerly colonized regions face the neocolonial onslaught of biopiracy and genetic trait control technologies.

Rabindranath Tagore’s English Prose: “Some Qualities of Permanence”

Fakrul Alam, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh


This paper explores the enduring qualities of Rabindranath Tagore’s English prose and puts forward the thesis that not only the Gitanjali poems but also many other of his English writings attained “some qualities of permanence” almost wholly because of his artistic skills. In addition to the strength of his ideas and the intensity of his feelings, the main reason why his prose works found an appreciative audience for a long time in the west can often be attributed to his adroit use of the English language in his letters, lectures, essays and speeches and his ability to adjust his style in accordance with the occasion, the audience, the genre and the subject matter. Without the impact the English prose writings have had, Tagore’s international reputation would not have survived thus far. Indeed, the enduring popularity of a work such as Nationalism tells us quite clearly that while as far as his argument is concerned there is a lot that is still relevant for the world in Tagore’s English writings, they should still appeal to us also because of his eloquence and writing skills.

Aesthetics of Indian Feminist Theatre

Anita Singh, Banaras Hindu University, Uttar Pradesh, India


This study addresses a number of Indian feminist plays (both by men and women) that were written and performed in the last century and early years in this century. The paper focus specifically on Indian theatre because of its long established theatre tradition that goes back to 1st century B.C. Ironically in such a country there were hardly any women dramatist to speak of before 19th century. At the core, the belief of a Feminist theatre is in the efficacy of theatre as a tool for conscientization, for critiquing social disparities and for self exploration and expression. Feminist theatre is a source of empowerment; it enables women to speak out. It is at the intersection of art, activism and social relevance and sees theatre as an instrument of real change in women’s lives.  It is an exploration of women’s own unique idiom, their own form, their language and ways of communication. It is a challenge to the established notions of theatre.

Representation of Indigenous Women in Contemporary Aboriginal Short Stories of Australia and India: A Study in Convergences and Divergences

Indranil Acharya, Vidyasagar University, West Bengal, India


This paper tries to review and reassess the tribal situation with special reference to the tribal women in India and Australia. It is an attempt to locate the ‘Aboriginal woman’ question in the context of women’s movement in both countries. In Australia the women’s movement, on the whole, has not been successful in incorporating Aboriginal women into its concerns and activities. Relations with Aboriginal women have constituted a problem with the women’s movement. Despite many differences in socio-cultural set up the stories of Anil Gharai and those of Australian Aboriginal writers share many common traits and cut across cultural differences. It establishes the theory of pan-aboriginality that exists in countries that possess a sizeable population of indigenous people.

Perspective: Exile Literature and the Diasporic Indian Writer

Amit Shankar Saha, Calcutta University, West Bengal, India

The essay takes a holistic view of the word “exile” to encompass a range of displaced existence. It illustrates through John Simpson’s The Oxford Book of Exile the various forms of exiles. The essay then goes on to show that diasporic Indian writing is in some sense also a part of exile literature. By exemplifying writers both from the old Indian diaspora of indentured labourers and the modern Indian diaspora of IT technocrats, it shows that despite peculiarities there is an inherent exilic state in all dislocated lives whether it be voluntary or involuntary migration. More importantly, a broad survey of the contributions of the second generation of the modern Indian diaspora in the field of Indian writing in English depict certain shift in concerns in comparison to the previous generation and thereby it widens the field of exile literature.

About the Contributors (Vol 1, No 2)

Amit Shankar Saha is a PhD researcher in English Literature at Calcutta University. He has previously published at Muse India, Humanicus, Cerebration, Families and various other journals.

 Anita Singh is Professor, Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India. She received her doctorate in English on the doomed heroes in Arthur Miller’s plays from Banaras Hindu University in 1988. Vastly experienced as a teacher with 23 years of experience her areas of interests are American drama, Indian English fiction, Indian feminist theatre and feminist theories. She is widely published both as a critical and creative writer with a number of articles, translations, book reviews, and short stories in various journals, anthologies, and magazines. Her published works include: Arthur Miller: A Study of the Doomed Heroes in his Plays (1993), Indian English Novel in the Nineties and After: A Study of the Text and its Context (2004), And the Story Begins: My Ten Short Stories, (2007). She has actively participated and presented papers in many national and international seminar and conferences. Prof. Singh’s short story ‘The Wait’ won the ‘Special Commendation Award’ in ‘Muse India Fiction Contest’ for the year 2008.

 Fakrul Alam is Professor of English at the University of Dhaka and also Honorary Adviser, Department of English, East West University. He did PhD on “Daniel Defoe and Colonial Propaganda”, University of British Columbia, Canada, in 1984, and M.A in English from Simon Fraser University, Canada, 1980 and M.A in English from  the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1975.  His current research and teaching interests include Tagore in Translation, South Asian Writing in English, English Writing on India, Melville and the American Literary Renaissance, American Literary History, Colonialism/Postcolonialism. He was a Fulbright Scholar and a Visiting Associate Professor at Clemson University, USA, and Visiting Professor at Jadavpur University, India. Prof. Alam was Director of the Advanced Studies in Humanities of the University and Adviser, Dhaka University Central Library. He is currently a member of the Education Policy Implementation Committee constituted recently by the Government of Bangladesh to formulate a new education policy for the country. He is the author of the books: Imperial Entanglements and Literature in English, South Asian Writers in English, Jibananda Das: Selected Poems, Bharati Mukherjee, and Daniel Defoe: Colonial Propagandist. He has been editor of Dhaka University Studies and the Asiatic Society Journal. He was in the jury of the Eurasia region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for 2003.  He is currently co-editing The New Tagore Reader (with Radha Chakravarty) for Visva-Bharati and working on his translations of Tagore’s verse.

 Indranil Acharya is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English, Vidyasagar University. He obtained his Ph.D. on the poetry of W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot in 2004. He completed one UGC Research Project on Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Fiction in 2008. Prof. Acharya is at present the Deputy Coordinator of DRS-SAP project in the Department of English on the recuperation, documentation and translation of Oral and Folk literary materials of the South Bengal districts. He has widely published in diverse areas like Modern British Poetry, Translation Studies, Indian English Literature and Subaltern Literature. He is currently on the editorial board of the Journal of the department of English, Vidyasagar University.

 Jaydeep Rishi is presently Assistant Professor in the Department of English, at Sarojini Naidu College for Women, Kolkata, affiliated to West Bengal State University. Formerly, he served as the Head of the department of English at Sudhiranjan Lahiri Mahavidyalaya, affiliated to University of Kalyani. He completed his MA from University of Burdwan in 1997. He was awarded PhD in English Literature from the same university in 2006. He is a recipient of University Gold Medal, Sadananda Chakraborty Gold Medal and Junior Research Fellowship. His area of interest is Indian English Literature. He has published quite a few papers in reputed journals and has presented several papers in national and international conferences. He is also an amateur wild life photographer.

 Jonathan Highfield is Professor and Head of the Department of English at Rhode Island School of Design, USA. He did PhD on “Imagined Topographies of Liberation.” with a focus in 20th century multi-ethnic literatures, postcolonial literatures and the narratives of topography from the University of Iowa in 1995. He teaches a variety of courses on literature and culture in formerly colonized regions. He received Fulbright Award in 2001-2002 for his research on the effects of ecotourism on village economies in Ghana, where he taught at the University of Cape Coast. In 2009, he travelled to India to teach a short course titled “Narrative Flows: Waters of Faith, Identity, and Sustenance in Bengal”. He has been widely published in journals like The Jonestown Report, Kunapipi, The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, and Antipodes. He co-edited with Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang and Dora Edu Buandoh The State of the Art(s): African Studies and American Studies in Comparative Perspective.

 Sajalkumar Bhattacharya is Selection Grade Lecturer in Ramakrishna Mission Residential College, Narendrapur (an autonomous college with a Postgraduate Department in English), Kolkata, West Bengal, India.  As a guest faculty, he teaches the Postgraduate students in MUC Women’s College (University of Burdwan), Bardhaman, West Bengal. His areas of interest include 19th century British Fiction, Post-Independence Indian Fiction in English and Bhasa Literature. He did his M.Phil on Thomas Hardy’s Fiction. He is pursuing PhD in the University of Burdwan, and he has been awarded a fellowship by the UGC for the research. He has published quite a few articles in reputed journals. In April 2004, he presented a paper ‘The Inspired Guru, the Mesmerised Leader and the Problems in Perception on Teaching Literature in Indian Classrooms’ in the 19th Oxford Conference on the Teaching of Literature, at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, UK.

 Somdev Banik is Assistant Professor in English in Govt. Degree College, Kamalpur, Tripura. His field of specialisation is Postcolonial Literature. He did PhD from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India. He has published some papers and interviewed authors like Amitav Ghosh and participated in a few national and international seminars and conferences.

Soumitra Mandal is a young artist who loves  painting landscapes and drawing illustrations. He is studying English literature in the Vidyasagar University.  He has participated and won prizes in many cultural competitions.

Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, Volume I, Number 2, Autumn 2009

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