IMAGES Journal for Visual Studies

events: Visual studies today: The power of images


Marquard Smith
The Art School: The Future for "Theory"?

What is the future of "theory" in the Art and Design School? Variously considered as Historical and Critical Studies, Critical and Contextual Studies, art and design history, visual and material culture studies, "theory" has always had an ambivalent standing, and has been embraced enthusiastically and treated with suspicion in equal measure. Recent changes are exacerbating this ambivalence: new critical tendencies, practice-led research, new forms of pedagogy, new sites for disseminating (e-flux, TED talks, Art History in the Pub, etc.), and new sites of praxis, as well as the collapse in public funding, the merging of institutions, the redeployment of staff and resource, and the rationalising of provision. We ask, then: What purpose does "theory" serve? What should be delivered, and how should it be delivered? Should "theory" take place in the classroom or the studio? Has "theory" become redundant, and if so why? Has a certain kind of philosophising replaced it? What are the consequences of these demarcative shifts for an artist, designer, or architect’s capacity to contextualise and "speak on behalf of" their practice to colleagues, critics, curators, gallerists, and industry professionals? And what do such shifts mean for theorists themselves? Ultimately, does "theory" even have a future in art and design education, and if it does, what form should it take?