"See that boy" : looking at boys and men through art and theory : queer theory and practice deployed as a deconstructive and strategic method for art historical enquiry
This thesis continually encircles desirable objects and theories of desire in art history and queer theory, in order to understand and locate this procedure within art historical interpretation. This thesis works in the theoretical space between queer theory and the discipline of art history, using the work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg tactically, to demonstrate that iconology falters here, as does any easy reliance on categories of sex, gender and sexuality to interpret their work. From the early 1990’s many art historians working in gay and lesbian studies attempted to employ deconstructive vocabularies in order to continue iconological investigations into the work of ‘late modernist’ art – including artists such as Johns and Rauschenberg – for very clear and laudable political reasons. I argue that this project mainly relied on essentialist and reductive assumptions concerning the sexed and gendered subject in order to explore the suppression of abnormal sexualities in relation to an artist’s work. I question that project here in the art historical texts I cite, and temper that analysis with deconstructive/queer theories of subjectivity. In this text I ask many questions that are central to my role as a queer art historian, questions that, in the ‘post modern moment’ of realisation revel in what Butler calls the “valorisation of unrealisability”. I do not look for a foundational justification for my project, which would be counter to my thesis, which argues that the a posteriori creates the a priori of ontology. I only hope to difference arguments that create reductive, totalising (as well as heterosexist and misogynistic) views of the art objects and the projects of art history, arguments that make the methodologies of art history into an inert mathematics.