Theory is a toy

I woke up in the middle of the night earlier this week and wrote this in my notebook. It’s quite unfinished due to the circumstances of writing but it’s quite a nice start to articulating what I think about theory. I’m going to develop a little on what I originally wrote as I go but there’ll most likely still be a couple of inconsistencies in here. I’ll try to hone it down more at some point. I wouldn’t mind talking about it with someone, too.

handwritten writing

Theory is like a toy. It’s quite plastic. You can reposition it into a configuration that suits. It’s often seen as a very serious thing but there is no need for this attitude. It’s only our servant in understanding art. It’s all too often treated as the master. Let’s not be bullied by it. Let’s invoke it when it suits us and let’s put it back in the cupboard when there’s a danger of tripping over it.

Sometimes I get the feeling that art writers make theoretical frameworks for themselves and then treat them as truth. Theory isn’t truth, though. I’m inclined to think it’s better described as a framework and sometimes a foundation. The toy analogy falls apart here but the underlying point remains. And if a writer makes a framework that is taken as truth when it should be something else then his or her writing can become restrictive for everyone else.

A more fluid, playful approach is possible. Many of the rules agreed by theory are really conventions. But so much has changed that these conventions are now fair game. What fun. But then, in many cases, I’m sure they were never intended to be set in stone anyway.

Here are some statements. I might decide to refocus some of them:

  • Theory is not permanent or immutable
  • Theory can be fun
  • Theory is often badly written, or translated
  • Theory can take a long time to get to a flimsy point
  • Theory is sometimes only useful within its own fish tank. it would shrivel up if removed from that fish tank
  • Theory is plotted by axioms. What if these axioms are no longer agreed upon?

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1 Comment so far
  1. by Libby

    On March 14, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks Dan, this is helpful. Making light of something to often too heavy and in doing so, giving it more weight, in its proper place.

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