18 May 2005

Critical Theory

Two new titles from the Oxford University Press 'very short introduction' series both deal with the issue of what's now called 'Critical Theory'. Cynthia Freeland's Art Theory takes a number of art objects - from painting and sculpture to buildings and even the gardens at Versailles - and shows how various contemporary theories can explain their meaning. Jonathan Fuller treats a variety of texts in a similar manner in his Literary Theory. And they come to roughly the same conclusion - that the meaning in a work of art is not fixed. It varies according to the context in which it is perceived. This is bad news for those hoping for a secure guide to interpretation. But the good news is that at any given time there will be a number of competing explanations or theories - and the most persuasive will prevail. So there.

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