About the Program
The MA in Critical Theory and the Arts is a year-long, 36-credit program of study in the arts that has its origins in a recognition shared by most everyone, though rarely explicitly, that art is not simply one more thing that humans happen to make, but the object that potentially and most of all reveals the antagonisms, conflicts and promises of human history and of the moment we inhabit. In this sense, art really does know “us better than we know ourselves.” And once this thought is on one’s mind, the impulse to understand how these considerable realities become coiled up in art, what they genuinely are, no less than wanting to know what it would mean intellectually and socially to do justice to art’s more than important content, may become insistent.
The program in Critical Theory and the Arts engages these questions in a broadly conceived curriculum that focuses on the contemporary situation of the arts: on the problems of making art today, on what art has become and is becoming, and on understanding what is at stake in the relation of these developments in art to contemporary social conflict and reality. This focus is, however, by no means limited to what’s happening “now,” for in understanding art from the perspective of the present, the past—our past—is necessarily illuminated and may even, in a certain sense, come to our aid in what we have to consider.
Much thinking is required here, and this is widely sensed by many. Thinking about art has, in fact, with rare historical precedent, never before been so protean, so inventive and urgently central to the whole of social, philosophical and political reflection. Every major area of thought now turns considerable attention to art in expectation that it will provide the key to solving its central questions. And this intensity in thinking about art is inseparable from what is occurring within art, where it hardly matters whether one is “for” or “against” theory. For reflection on art is no longer separate from its making. On the contrary, today every aspect of art’s reality presents dynamic conflicts and puzzles, and those who are directly involved in the arts can no longer imagine that it is possible to proceed naïvely, mixing passion with thin air. Where artists of earlier generations struggled to disguise the thinking labor that went into their work, today art theory has become part—often an explicit part—of all art-making. To an unprecedented degree, developments in art theory directly transform art. What the arts once were, they soon enough will no longer be; in large measure, they have already been irreversibly transformed. For artists and graduate students from several fields of inquiry, the need collaboratively to understand what has happened, what is happening and what is at stake is salient.