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December 11, 2006

New book by history of art and visual culture professor Catherine Soussloff

By Scott Rappaport

In her new book, The Subject in Art (Duke University Press), history of art and visual culture professor Catherine Soussloff uses illustrations of paintings and photographs to demonstrate both how portrait painters began to focus on the interior lives of their subjects, and how the discipline of art history developed around the genre of portraiture.

Cover of The Subject in Art

Grounding her work in an examination of philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches to human consciousness from Hegel to Sartre and from Freud to Lacan, Soussloff challenges prevailing theories regarding the birth of the modern subject and argues that our idea of the subject emerged in the theory and practice of portraiture in early 20th-century Vienna.

"This book started out to be about the relationships between human beings in modern Europe at a time of immense changes in art, technology, and science -- the beginning of the 20th century," said Soussloff. "As I pursued my research into the culture in Vienna at the Getty Research Institute, I came to understand the significance of the portrait and of the theories of portraiture developed concurrently by artists and art historians. I would say that artists and art history formed the basis of later psychoanalytic and philosophical investigations of the subject that have proven so potent in our own times."

Since she joined the UCSC faculty in 1987, Soussloff's research has focused on some of the key theoretical and historical concepts that have structured our culture's understanding of the visual world.

"My work on the visualized subject seeks to locate the significance of the human being in history in order to provide a greater understanding of our culture's operations in the present," said Soussloff. "A belief in and an enormous respect for our human imaginations and creativities underlies all of my research and teaching."

"In our world today, art and visual practices of all sorts can give us the most accessible and democratic means of discovering these great human potentials, whether they be in the fields of science, social science, or the humanities," Soussloff added. "As an interpreter of art and the role of the visual in the world, I feel both privileged and enormously responsible to a future whose foundations will rest on what has been seen by us."

Soussloff was recently elected chair of the Editorial Board of Art Journal, one of two print journals published by the College Art Association of America--the professional association of art historians, artists, and museum professionals. Earlier this year, she co-convened a two-day colloquium on book publishing in art history at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute that was attended by major U.S. and European editors and publishers of art books. A discussion from that event which she edited, called "Art History and Its Publishers," as well as an essay titled "Forum: Publishing Paradigms in Art History," will be published in the Winter 2007 issue of Art Journal.

Last July, Soussloff was appointed to a Presidential Chair on the UCSC campus in recognition of her "distinguished scholarship and continuing efforts in the areas of interdisciplinary teaching, research, and publication activities on performance and the visual arts."

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