I recently read an essay by John R. Clarke titled “‘Just Like Us’: Cultural Constructions of Sexuality and Race in Roman Art” and an essay by Diane Wolfthal called “Imaging the Self: Ritual and Representation in a Yiddish Book of Customs”. While both write on seemly different topics, they each observe what the “Other” is to a historically dominant culture and explain why this is significant. In Wolfthal’s case, she goes on to introduce how the “Other” recorded themselves visually and how that compares to later, outside representations of the “Other”. Clarke’s thesis is focused more on why the “Other” was not so strange at the time – it is simply our modern values and understandings projected onto these images that make them “Other”. Relative perspective is central to both their essays, as Wolfthal states
“[But] recent art history has shown that no representation is a passive reflection of reality; all are cultural constructions that have a point of view.”
This makes me consider a question I raised while reading Art & Otherness by Thomas McEvilley, specifically, can we truly ever understand art from a culture other than our own? If so, how? And if we can’t – what will be the consequences? I would like to answer, “Yes, of course we can come to understand art from other cultures through scholarship and intentional communication”. However – other than contemporary art, and possibly some Modern art, where we can still talk to the creators of pieces, can we ever really be sure on the artist’s meaning and intention, besides the historical and cultural norms? It remains to be answered.
Ellee Banaszak, Hope College, Class of 2017
Source: Pinder, Kymberly N., Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History (pp. 1-36)