A couple of dictionary definitions…
ART: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
THEORY: a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.
If a thing needs explanation of its reasons for being and its creation then the common assumption is that the thing’s purpose may be difficult to comprehend without the intervention of the appropriately qualified expert to elucidate the unqualified. The expert will explain the intricacies and complications of the specialist language that has been developed to support understanding of the functioning of the thing. The expert will translate the language of the specific into the language of the general – which begs the question as to why as simpler language wasn’t possible in the first place.
The rarefied world of contemporary art theory must rank equally with contemporary economic theory in being culpable of the crime of being intentionally opaque in its mechanisms and justifications. And since of course both can only be understood by the appropriately qualified language experts in their relative fields, we further qualify them by refusing to deny the unnecessary complications of each respective specialist language.
We falsely assign higher qualities of expertise (which in the arts translates as talent) to those that can express themselves fluently (no matter how incomprehensibly) in a given specialist field of endeavour. If we do not understand that expression then we quietly step down to a position of comparative inferiority in the scale of understanding of that field of endeavour. We back down in the face of the ‘expert’ who clearly knows more about the subject than we do. But we are not deferring to the authority of the subject. We are deferring to the expert’s familiarity of the language about the subject. And that is a very different thing.
Interestingly both recent economic and art theory are treated by some of its most highly regarded practitioners of being nearer to fact than theory. And their respective specialist languages keep the critical general public at bay and the informed critics side-lined as reactionary throwbacks to a bad and wrong history.
“That joke’s not funny anymore” conte on newsprint, 2016