Supervisor: Prof. David Clarke and Prof. Q.L. Wan
This thesis articulates and demonstrates a reflexive practice of investigation into the meanings of artworks in the lives of individuals. Particular, observed instances of experience and interpretation are considered through the employment of a ‘toolbox’ of approaches drawn from situational sociology (and ethnography) and object relations theory as employed in clinical psychoanalysis. As in ethnographic study and practitioners’ accounts of psychoanalysis, attention is given to the investigator as the principal instrument in the investigation and the source of resulting descriptions.
In form, the thesis is composed through parallel lines of abstraction (and concern for published discourse) and concrete observations. The practice of proceeding on these two levels simultaneously (and the digressions that this process occasions) is a significant aspect of the thesis, realising as it does a reflection on the epistemology of inquiry and description. An important consequence of this undertaking is to demonstrate alternatives for art historical research and writing, emphasising the context and situated character of interpretative practice and its understanding.
As a part of this thesis, a small-scale study was undertaken between 1992 and 1997 with approximately sixty persons who interpret contemporary and historical art in Hong Kong and Taiwan. This had the primary aim of considering how methodological and descriptive strategies might illuminate the circumstances of the subjects, and to recognise further issues that might arise from the actualities of fieldwork and participant inquiry. A secondary concern was to explicate a portion of the art field in Hong Kong and Taiwan; in particular, the activities, strategies and interpretations of persons who employ Chinese art in articulations of self or as a part of their engagement with social circumstances.