The Code and the Payoff

by Chris Jagers March 31, 2010
A podcast has recently been released on Frieze Art Fair’s site with a panel discussion about Art and Theory. (The most notable figure being Robert Storr, but the entire panel is excellent). When you have 1hr 30min to spare, take some time to listen. It starts slow with a few prepared remarks, and then really gets going during the interaction:
Storr is not saying artists cannot read/practice/apply theory … but he is calling for a closer examination of theory’s relationship to practice. Below, I have (very) loosely paraphrased a few thoughts that stand out to
–  I am a phenomonelgist, so I am interested in the thing itself and the attempt to describe that thing. It’s ashame when conversation get’s reduced to a shorthand of name-dropping authors (the code) to communicate something about a piece in order to get quick communication (the payoff), without the hard work of description. That kind of talk is ultimately unclear and lazy.
– Rather than drown a work of art in theory, I am more interested in getting pulled into the orbit of an object, and then discovering which theoretical tools are most appropiate.
– Theory is transitive, it always has an object. For instance, there is a theory of tap-dancing, a theory of music, etc … there is no such thing as “theory” by itself.
– It is problematic when an artist promotes a theory out of fear … as a desperate attempt to legitamize a practice, after the work has been done.
– I have a problem when theory is taught as this thing that is downloaded by art students, and then used to make art. It doesn’t work that way.
– Art that is simply an illustration/embodiment of a theory is either bad art, or bad theory.
 For more thoughts on this topic, here are two more articles by Robert Storr:

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