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.
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
"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
"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."