writings on photography & other media
Don Snyder
Alphabetically by Title


Alphabetically by Title

Many questions hover over projects of this sort. Why do these theory courses exist? What are they really driving at? Why assign essays in them? And finally, isn’t there any other way of seriously investigating this kind of material?

Succinct as always, Victor Burgin provides an answer to the first two questions, in an interview (with writer Peter Suchin) done shortly before he left North America to take up a position at Goldsmiths College in London:

The question of the place of theory in art schools is a particular instance of the more general question of the role of critical thought in society as a whole. Everything we say and do implies theories about the way the world works. There is no possibility of ever being “without” theory. So the choice is not between “having” theory and not having it. The choice is between being conscious of the theories we subscribe to – and therefore being able to revise them – and simply living them as common sense, or as personal “opinions”. Any criticism of common sense threatens [our] culture of conformity….
The idea that art itself is a theoretical activity may be dated to the 17th century, when painters seceded from the crafts guilds to create the first art academies. So the very origin of the art school is in the idea that making art is a way of thinking, and that thinking involves critical self-reflection. Similarly, the university, by definition, is a theoretical institution….

The third question – why assign essays? – may not have any single answer, but the work published here provides good evidence of the seriousness of purpose, range of thought, and spectrum of issues that have preoccupied the individuals in this course during the term. It is presented on the preceding pages as accurately as possible. For the hours of effort that went into this writing, readers will always be appreciative: a good essay brings the same satisfaction as anything else made with care and commitment.

And finally, as to the last question: maybe there are other ways to investigate these issues, but writing always brings something to the fore that is both unexpected and particularly apt, struggle though it may be to get the words right. As one individual wrote in an e-mail:

Writing has always been the most difficult thing for me. It takes me hours to conjure up a cohesive sentence, especially when discussing issues about photography, the love of my life. In a certain way, I feel that photography is my boyfriend and graduating from Ryerson is our first ‘break-up.’ Yet, in all honesty, photography was the worst kind of love; he always has, and always will, flirt with whomever he wants.

So in the end the written word brings its own perspectives, its own surprises, and even its own forms of recognition: self-recognition, and recognition by or for others. These recognitions can serve as their own kind of reward, offered to both writers and readers, for honest participation in this project.

April 2004

Course Materials

2010 Function and Image Arts: Origins and Change
2010 Portfolio Eleven
2009 Portfolio Ten
2008 Portfolio Nine
2004 Alphabetically by Title: Afterword
2004 Portfolio Seven
2003 Appendix
2003 Introduction - Function #5
2003 Portfolio Six
2001 Introduction - Function #3
2000 Introduction - Function #2
1999 Introduction - Function #1
1998 Images and Ideas
1985 Elite's Paces