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Theory Rules

Theory Rules: Art as Theory / Theory as Art

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 322
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  • Book Info
    Theory Rules
    Book Description:

    This volume answers some important new questions about the points of intersection between theory and visual art.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6464-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. INTRODUCTION: The Art as Theory / Theory and Art Conference
    (pp. 3-20)
    Jody Berland, Will Straw and David Tomas

    Most of the papers collected in this volume were first presented in their original form at the conference “Art as Theory/Theory and Art” held at the University of Ottawa near the end of 1991. The conference was hosted by the university’s Department of Visual Arts, and received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canada Council.

    The impulse to hold the conference sprang from informal discussions between the three co-organizers in 1990 and 1991. It grew from a shared recognition that Theory (with a capital T) has emerged as a privileged site of mediation...


      (pp. 23-32)
      Will Straw

      My title was devised in a hurry over a year ago when the publisher asked for one and I plucked a song title from my preconscious. It would, I hoped, enumerate the contradictory feelings I was anxious to describe. These feelings are the fuzzy substance of an ongoing ambivalence which, for myself and many others, has been a common response to newly emergent relationships between Art and Theory. In my own case, as one who taught Film Studies for a decade, this ambivalence first emerged in response to the preponderance of theory-films produced over a decade ago — films which...

    • BACK TO THE FUTURE: The Sequel
      (pp. 33-56)
      Thierry de Duve

      The pages you are about to read were written in 1987. They had another title then, but “Back to the Future” would have been just as fitting. At the time, I was a professor at the University of Ottawa, in the same Department of Visual Arts that hosted the conference whose proceedings you are holding in your hands. My colleagues and I were discussing what improvements we might introduce into our teaching methods, when I sensed intuitively that the very system — the modernist system — upon which art teaching was based (art teaching in general, not just our own)...

    • THEORIZING CULTURALISM: From Cultural Policies to Identity Politics and Back
      (pp. 57-78)
      Virginia R. Dominguez

      “Institutionalized Theory in a Post-Colonial World” can mean a number of things.¹ “Theory” and “post-colonial” are key terms here, but “institutionalized” should not be overlooked. What does it mean to situate theory in institutions? What does it add to our invocation of postcoloniality?

      While an explicit metatheoretical discussion of theories of postcoloniality certainly has merit, a different level of questions concerns me here. I find myself pursuing a kind of Foucauldian analysis of institutions and their discursive positivities — one that conceptualizes theory not just as named “Theory” but as the presuppositions and creations constituted by the objects of our...

    • IN DEFENCE OF THE REALM: Public Controversy and the Apologetics of Art
      (pp. 79-100)
      Kevin Dowler

      InThe Rhetoric of Purity, Mark Cheetham draws our attention to Plato’s remarks at the end of theRepublicabout the way art might prove its worth to society and justify its return to the community from which it was to be banished.¹ As Cheetham notes, there are two ways in which this restoration might occur. The first would be that art defends itself immanently, as it were, through its own production. It is not made clear how this would come about, although there is the suggestion that this might be accomplished through the restriction to epideictic rhetoric, to “paeans...

      (pp. 101-114)
      Jamelie Hassan

      This article is dedicated to Greg Curnoe¹ and like many of whom I will speak, he was a fighter. Not surprisingly, Greg Curnoe was an admirer of world champion boxer Muhammad Ali, who figured prominently in his murals of 1968, commissioned for the Dorval airport. After they had been in the public transit area of the airport for only one week, Transport Canada removed the panels because of the potential offence that Curnoe’s anti-American content might pose to Americans visiting Canada. That offence came from a reference to Muhammad Ali and his refusal to fight in the Vietnam war, a...

      (pp. 115-130)
      Barbara Harlow

      “Film hoardings,” R. Srivatsan explains, are billboards, hand-painted billboards, or wall paintings in India advertising films. In the concluding paragraphs of his inquiry into the nature of the industry and its practitioners in India, their popular influence as well as the resistance that they exhibit to encroaching technologization, Srivatsan questions his essay’s very interrogation of their significance: “How would one who is not a painter try to develop a strategy to counter the hegemony of the visible?”¹ “This question,” the author goes on, “can be translated to read: How should one try to convert an active consumer into a counteractive...


      (pp. 133-156)
      Jody Berland

      We live in an era of conferences, panels, and interviews whose proceedings — as this volume attests — are more and more active in the mapping of contemporary thought. Aside from offering rapid entry to the tidal wave of publishing in contemporary cultural theory, these events provide a series of records, often assiduously documented, of strategic encounters between our current thoughts and the evolution of “public”/published intellectual discourse. When something unexpected or exemplary happens in these events, we mark the occasion — the twist or deepening of our ideas brought on by what we encounter there — by referring to...

    • IMITATING AUTHORITIES: Theory, Gender, and Photographic Discourse
      (pp. 157-176)
      Elizabeth Seaton

      In a highly malevolent act of remembrance, much of the photo-based work produced in art schools during the eighties may be recalled as being very serious, as though there was this death-watch going on in which any theoretical faux-pas was closely monitored. It can be recollected as a period of countless Mary Kelly spin-offs, floating Charcot bodies, and snippets of disembodied text accompanying fuzzy photographs. At best, these repetitive photographic practices — as if to confirm a Bourdieuian notion of the avant-garde — seemed to speak to no one but other likeminded cultural producers. At worst, their engagement with theory...

    • THE EXCLUSIONS OF THEORY: Feminist Ambivalence in Art Practice and Criticism
      (pp. 177-192)
      Janet Wolff

      The premise of the conference “Art as Theory: Theory and Art” was the centrality of theory to contemporary art practice. But this centrality, as became clear at certain moments during the conference, is both problematic and contested. Here I want to consider resistances to theory, especially with regard to feminist art practice. In the context of a commitmenttotheory, I will explore the very real, and often justified, reservations in play in three related areas: first, art practice and criticism; second, feminism in general; and third, feminist art practice and criticism.

      In November 1990, a seminar was convened at...


    • AN IDENTITY IN CRISIS: The Artist and New Technologies
      (pp. 195-222)
      David Tomas

      One of Raymond Williams’s motivations for compiling and publishing his seminal vocabulary,Keywords, was “to show that some important social and historical processes occurwithinlanguage, in ways which indicate how integral the problems of meanings and of relationships really are.” These relationships, traced through clusters of “interrelated words and references,” were not only “new kinds of relationship, but also new ways of seeing existing relationships” which “appear in language in a variety of ways.”² Williams went on to note that “the kind of semantics to which these notes and essays belong is one of the tendencies withinhistorical semantics:...

      (pp. 223-242)
      Janine Marchessault

      In the early seventies, Jean-François Lyotard set out to draft a new form of cinematic eroticism which he called “acinema.” He imagined this to be a cinema not of memory, nor of identification or emotion, but one of abstract lyricism in motion. In the acinema, the representation of the fantasmatic body is replaced by the cinema’s material supports which take on the task of libidinal agitation: “the film strip is no longer abolished (made transparent) for the benefit of this or that flesh, for it offers itself as the flesh posing itself.”¹

      The victim is no longer the body represented...

    • THE SUBLIME: The Limits of Vision and the Inflation of Commentary
      (pp. 243-256)
      Olivier Asselin

      The issue of the relationships between contemporary art and theory is really that of a particular instance within a more general problem, and a less recent one—that of the relationships between the so-called visual arts and language. Contrary to the “idée reçue”* of their immediacy, a corollary to the no less traditional view of innocence of perception, the arts of vision are permeated with language. From the point of view of its production, the work is often already motivated by language. Its principles and techniques of production are consigned and communicated by the medium of language (by oral teaching...

    • INTRODUCTION, DISSEMINATION, AND EDUCATION: Michel Foucault, ʺIntegrated Intellectuals,ʺ and Writing on the Visual Arts in English Canada
      (pp. 257-282)
      Tim Clark

      My paper examines some of the reasons for, and consequences of, the introduction and dissemination of Michel Foucault’s work in the context of writing on the visual arts in English Canada. I based my research on the premise that writing on the visual arts in Canada denotes a discursive/socio-institutional practice. In conducting this study, I wished to know whether there are economic, political, and discursive factors that affect the productive activity of universities, museums, and serial publications. With respect to those who incorporate the thought of Foucault in their work, I query whether their positions reflect, at the level of...

      (pp. 283-296)
      Francine Dagenais

      The expression VR or “virtual reality” contains its own ambiguous structure and illogical connotations. The perception of reality is necessarily rooted in subjective experience; accordingly, the perception of a virtual reality is equally rooted in subjectivity — in the interstice between empirical knowledge and being. But how do we define the virtuality of this version of reality? The term “virtual” is a neologism of “virtualiter,” coined (quite fittingly) by a logician, Duns Scotus (d. 1308) in the Middle Ages. According to classical philosopher Michael Heim, Scotus proposed

      that the concept of a thing contains empirical attributes not in a formal...

    • ART AND THEORY: The Politics of the Invisible
      (pp. 297-314)
      Tony Bennett

      In his essay “The Historical Genesis of a Pure Aesthetic,” Pierre Bourdieu offers a useful thumbnail sketch of the historical processes involved in the formation of an aesthetic structure of vision — what Bourdieu calls the “pure gaze” — in which the work of art is attended to in and for itself. The organization of the categories governing how works of art are named or labelled, Bourdieu argues, plays an important role within these processes and he suggests that the term “theory” might aptly be used to describe these categories, the manner of their functioning, and their effects. “Theory,” he...

  7. APPENDIX: Statement of Concerns Sent to Presenters
    (pp. 315-316)
    Jody Berland, Will Straw and David Tomas
    (pp. 317-320)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 321-322)