Theoretical Perspectives

Theoretical Perspectives

By Adam Stegall

To describe theoretical perspectives we need to understand that there are different lenses to look at art and design through. To put it simply, theoretical perspectives are the conclusions that we come across when we study design through these different lenses. When we as viewers try to look at and understand art, we are looking with preconceived biases and opinions that may inform just how we view the artwork in front of us. In our group presentation, we looked at a number of different perspectives such as Contextualism, Marxism, Freudianism, and phenomenology. You do not have to be an expert on any of these perspectives to understand art or to even make art, but understanding some of these different lenses to view art through may help you achieve a more thorough understanding of your audience and their thought process in deciphering your own work. To give a direct example to how these perspective lenses work to analyze art we looked at Kehinde Whiley’s sculpture, Rumors of War, through each of the different theoretical perspectives that we touched on during our presentation.

The first critical school I am going to talk about is contextualism. Contextualism is basically the most common method to explain or analyze artwork. With contextualism we are looking at art as a product of the environment. This means that art is directly inspired by what is going on in the world around us. This could be rooted in religion, philosophy, politics, or economics. When we discuss Rumors of War from a contextualist standpoint, it is highly important to consider the political climate during the creation of this work of art. This sculpture was made in response to the confederate statues all over the United States that glorify confederate leaders who fought to save the institution of slavery. Showing a black man on the horse in a classical pose similar to that of a confederate statue, the piece directly combats the institution of confederate statues that exist throughout the United States, but specifically the large amount in Richmond. This is one of the reasons the statue has recently been moved to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art on December 10th.

The next perspective that I will go over is marxism. Through a Marxist lens, art is an expression of the class struggle in society. Art is also valued to the sympathy of the proletariat and the hostility of the bourgeoisie. Marxism values the average working person in society rather than the upper class. Marxism speaks on the class structure and is supposed to make statements on the economic disparity in society. When looking at Rumors of War through a Marxist lens, it is clear that black man on top of the horse is our proletariat.

Freudianism deals with considering the inner life of the artist. Developed by Sigmund Freud, Freudianism states that we make art that is representative of our deepest inner most desires. Often times this has to do with our own memories, unresolved conflicts, or even sexual desires. When looking at work through a Freudian lens we want to dissect the work and ask how this work represents the artist’s desires and inner thoughts.

We cannot talk about these theoretical perspectives without touching on the idea of Posthumanism. In short, posthumanism is about taking yourself out of these ideas and viewing art and design in a completely non-human perspective. Some argue that getting rid of a human perspective is the only way to fully understand art itself and explore points of view that differ from our own. It was quite difficult for me at first to even wrap my head around the idea of posthumanism. All art involves a human perspective, so how do we look at art or create art while completely ditching our human perspectives?

Andersen, M. (2019, May 27). What Does “Posthuman Design” Actually Mean? Retrieved from

Cromer, J. (1990). History, theory, and practice of art criticism in art education. Reston: National Art Education Association.

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