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Critical Theory in the Midwest: The State of the Discipline (


Most of my art students experience a very down to earth epistemological relationship to the world. There is what there is. Middle America is a land of dualisms: matter and spirit, mind and body, good and evil. In this uncluttered black and white world, post-structural theory seemingly has little to offer but a range of unnecessary and unattractive grays. This presentation describes how I overcome my students’ resistance to intellectualizing perception and art making. I use a physiological perspective that grounds students’ investigation of art and meaning in an investigation of themselves, their bodies, their perceptual responses, emotional reactions and cognitive processes. I meet them where they are and lead them to “discover” polysemia, semiotics, deconstruction, pleasure in genre, the gaze, the over-estimation of consciousness and the myth of authorial intent. This physiological approach provides students with a set of critical frameworks to enrich their understanding of art, however, it also points to where theory often falls flat. Despite all of the decoding, associating and analyzing, it all comes back to a simple, irreducible relationship. There’s me and that thing in front of me. It doesn’t get much more down to earth then that.


Arts and Humanities | Fine Arts | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology