Theory vs. Making

by Chris Jagers October 20, 2009
Helen Stoilas has just published an excellent interview with Robert Storr titled: Robert Storr: Most theory has little bearing on art. Here is a snip from the opening remarks:
Storr: "I’m not sure that art and theory were ever that
close to begin with. There are some artists who read theory seriously
but not all that many. And some of the theoretical writing that was
done about artists was very important, but what people now call theory
is a vast field and a relatively small amount of it bears directly on
art, or at least on art production.
We’re in a
very strange situation where some artists have derived a lot from their
theoretical reading but never as systematically as people are inclined
to think. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who I know read theory carefully,
nonetheless made a point of saying that it was not to be read in a kind
of rigorous, academic way, but to help unblock thoughts and open up
A lot of artists don’t want to tip
their hands and show how selective and shallow their understanding is;
a lot of people who do theory full time don’t really want to
acknowledge that the process of making art is fundamentally different
from the process of writing theory. And, therefore, even though you may
share a vocabulary, you don’t share at all the same kind of generative
process or goals."

The whole interview is full of his insights about "theory" in relationship to making art, american culture, historical significance, etc…

Ed Winkleman has since posted about this with an interesting twist. What I understood to be Storr asserting a nuetral fact about the difference between making theory and making art, Winkleman interpreted to imply that artists cannot be good at both (which Ed takes issue with). 

As this conversation usually develops, commentors start *implying* that artists SHOULD BE engaged with theory. I disagree with this. Read his comments for another excellent conversation. Winkleman clarifies his position in the comments section nicely … but I am still bothered by the implications.



bucket October 20, 2009 - 21:46

Wonderful post. I’m happy to read this. The older I get the more I realize how not all things attributed to something mean they make up that thing.

[email protected] October 22, 2009 - 07:12

The excerpt from the interview above speaks directly to an essay I just wrote about this very topic. Since it’s not too long, I’m posting it here… enjoy!

Art is a melding of the body and the mind. You do the process with your body, but the mind leads the way. The mind thinks it is the one and only. It is the mastermind, the genius.

But it’s not. Genius happens when the “mind that runs the brain” daydreams long enough for the “mind the runs the body” to take control. It is this under-mind that makes great art. This is the poet that can speak in form.

But the key word here is – MAKING.

I had it all wrong. Art isn’t about ideas. We talk ideas to death, for art. But art is about the process. We can talk all day about how we might do this or that, but process is better contemplated in the silence of action itself.

Through action – through the act of doing, our brains daydream. Hands work more and more on their own, moving into autopilot, as we think aimlessly about the meaningless trevails of our day. Above us, hovering like a ghost, impotent and passive, is our original artistic idea – the thing we invented with our brain’s mind.

If we give up this ghost, and let it drift away from our focus, a wonderful thing may happen. While we are listing to the radio or pondering the nonsensical prattle of our lives, the hands keep moving. The hands have a plan.

You creep forward, day by day, completing rote task by rote task. Then suddenly, a piece is before you. And incredibly, you made it – you remember doing it, but it’s not your hand. It’s someone else’s.

As fresh as a strangers work, but you did it! And you can’t believe it believe it.

Or did you?

That’s when it’s great….


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