'Let Slip the Dogs of War'

A paper presented for Battlelines: Painting Portraits Today, chaired by Brandon Brame Fortune, National Portrait Gallery. 2009 College Art Association National Conference, Los Angeles, CA.


Can we speak of contemporary painting as a battlefield, with portraiture as a casualty? Or can portraiture exist more as a weapon? This paper examines the position of the human portrait in contemporary painting by contrasting it with the contemporary pet portrait, dog portraits specifically. While human portraiture may be derided for its sentimentality, dog portraiture embraces sentimentality, embodying it and flaunting it unapologetically. Does the inherent “self-awareness” of pet portraiture constitute a valid strategy in the standards of contemporary discourse? Does the human portrait speak to culturally derived constructs while the pet portrait speaks to something irreducible, something “natural”? And, in this irreducibility, does the portrait genre find a posthumanist voice that offers a broader context for consideration?