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What's wrong with the primacy of theory?

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This article seeks to problematise and historicise the current dominance of theory in film and photography courses at HE level. The defeat of culturalists, who championed the cause of experience by the structuralists, who urged the primacy of theory over experience in the 1970s, and the triumph of psychoanalytic film theory at the journal Screen can be seen in retrospect to have been key moments in the resulting hegemony established by high theory. However, it may be time to point out the historical contingency of the hegemony of theory and to consider whether it is justified any longer. The article suggests firstly that it makes little sense to consider many of the types of study currently carried out under the heading of theory (such as research methods, criticism, cultural/industrial histories, pragmatism and political economy of the industry) as theory. Secondly, it suggests that the type of high theory whose dominance was established in the 1970s has become institutionalised and a brake on change. Thirdly, it argues that the dominance of theory has led to a downgrading of the importance of creativity, a narrow definition of skill and an insufficiently strong awareness of the underlying economics of media practices. Various correctives to the current dominance of high theory are considered, including mid-range theory; greater emphasis on histories; reconsideration of the concept of skill; pragmatism; closer attention to media economics; a wider range of doctoral qualifications to highlight the importance of media creativity, and the need for innovative new business models to support critical practice in the future.

Keywords: DArts; Deleuze; practice led Ph.D.s; pragmatism; screen theory

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/jvap.7.2.173_1

Affiliations: London Metropolitan University.

Publication date: November 1, 2008

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  • The domain of visual art hosts a multitude of artistic forms and practices. The Journal of Visual Art Practice supports research across the entire range of this varied field. The journal engages with the progressive nature of the subject, reflecting upon the changing terrain of art in recent years.
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