Saturday, November 13, 2010

Compassionate Objectivity? A Postcolonial Question

I am currently reading excerpts from Five Centuries of British Painting: From Holbein to Hodgkin by Andrew Wilton for Dr. Magleby's 18th C. Grand Tour seminar. In a caption on page 84 for George Stubbs' painting, A Cheetah and Stag with Two Indians, 1765, the author states: "The men are painted with the compassionate objectivity that Stubbs brought to all of his subjects."

As we discussed postcolonial theory in ARTHC 300 on Thursday, and I have been reading a lot of postcolonial theory for a paper I am writing, this statement really made me think. Is it even possible for a white, upper middle class, male, British painter in the 18th C. to objectively portray men from India? In any time period how can someone so ingrained with a Western mentality ever portray men from India with objectivity? Why is his objectivity "compassionate?" To me, there is something even problematic about the use of the word "compassionate" ....

I am really curious - what does everyone else think? Is it possible for an artist with a Western perspective to portray those outside of that perspective objectively?

Personally, I think the portrayal is definitely not one of the most problematic depictions of the East by a European artist, however, I really think it is impossible for any one to portray another culture, or people from that culture, objectively - and I certainly think that Stubbs' painting is not an objective portrayal.

1 comment:

  1. I heartily agree Emily! I don't see anything compassionate about that depiction - patronising - sure.

    To paint such subject matter in a Western Colonial style, devoid of the stylistic markers of that particular culture is to render it a disservice.

    Sure it tells us a lot about how the Western artists viewed that culture at the time, but that's about it.

    Things did start to change with the likes of Gauguin for example - and artists these days are better at cross cultural immersion - but those wild colocnial boys... no way.

    Kind Regards
    H Niyazi
    Three Pipe Problem