An Admission of Bias
It is impossible to approach art history entirely devoid of either bias or the influence of personal interests just as it is impossible to enter the field successfully without a subsequent acknowledgement of one’s own preconceptions. This realization has brought me face to face with the Western orientation of my own personal tastes as well as with how these preferences influence my methodological interests and, paradoxically, a subsequent purposeful dissociation from these methodological interests.
I have reached a point in my learning of art history where I can comfortably say that I have become aware of how my Western mindset plays into my interpretation of art. Through a concerted effort I have managed to analyze my own preferences and what that says about the mindset I’ve been inundated with thus far. Yet, in spite of my awareness towards this bias, I still bring one-sidedness to class discussion, not through a dislike of non-Western art, but simply in having little to no knowledge of several forms of non-Western art. Even my usage of this term “non-Western” illustrates the truth of my partiality in that I view all other forms of art around the world in a sense as “other.” Ultimately, in some ways I will be contributing to art history’s penchant for the West during our class discussions because, while I can comfortably analyze the Venus de Milo through a feminist lens, I feel that thus far in my studies I cannot do the same for a Buddhist Yakshi sculpture. Altogether, the knowledge that I bring is doubtlessly one sided, and I need to be aware of this fact throughout the course to somewhat lessen the effect my biases may have on my methodological interpretations and on the learning environment of those around me.
Not only do I have deeply ingrained conceptions of that which I find appealing or interesting in art, I also have preconceptions of what I expect this course to be and how I ought to approach it. In approaching this class and after having been made aware of the biases I bring to my understanding, I somehow came in with the mindset that in order to be successful in this course I couldn’t allow myself to lean more towards one methodology, otherwise this would cloud my judgement even further. Yet, this notion of needing to approach the different methodologies in a completely nonpartisan manner has already been lessened following just the first few readings. As D’Alleva makes it a point to emphasize, “…your own interests and experiences will guide your theoretical investigations,” this idea is even further reiterated by Hatt and Klonk in saying, “In other words, we should remember, in practising art history, that we are historical subjects too.” Therefore, while it is still ill-advised to completely dedicate myself to one methodology or theory and neglect all other structures of interpretation, it is also equally debilitating to not allow myself to indulge in a theory I find fascinating out of fear of being unbalanced in my understanding. One of the essential points of this course is to find a methodology that speaks to me and to let myself take an interest in that mindset, thus opening up doors of interpretation that would otherwise not have been experienced and potentially leading to newer and as yet undiscovered realms of art history to be delved into.
Setting this preconception aside, I can easily say that some of the primary methodologies and theories that interest me are feminist, post-colonial, and queer theories. Permitting my personal interest to determine which methodological paths I would like to take, I am clearly interested in critical theories that deconstruct prior notions of personal identity, more specifically in the realms of gender, race, and sexuality. This sampling of theories also exemplifies that I study art history more so for the historical side of the discipline, yet I would also like to gain a better appreciation for the study of the formal and visual aspects. I do have an interest in visually based theories such as aesthetics, however this interest is one that lacks any prior experience in my studies.
All in all, I’m a strong proponent of the concept that all people should be encouraged to interpret art themselves rather than feel the need to concede to the interpretations of people with art historical backgrounds in the field. Everyone’s own genuine interpretation is valid and as Hatt and Klonk said, “Perhaps an artwork has as many meanings as there are viewers.” While I do believe this, I would like to utilize this course as a tool to enable my own interpretations to become far more focused and analytical through more than just a single lens. It is through a thorough understanding of methodologies and theories that “…you channel your visual and contextual analysis into a more focused inquiry around a particular set of issues.” Ultimately, the reason this is my primary motivation and ultimate goal for this course is because I would like to not only contribute to art historical discourse, but to do so effectively and productively to leave a mark in this ever evolving discipline.