WHAT IS CRITICAL THEORY?
Critical Theory is on of names given to a series of new approaches to study the study of Culture, literature and thought that developed in the 1960’s, primarily in France. It includes the work of Louis Althusser (Marxism) Luce Irigaray (feminism) Jacques Derrida (Philosophy) Roland Barthes (Literary Criticism) and many others.
Critical theory derives from two different meanings, one originated in sociology and the other in literary criticism. Critical theory generally is a broad approach to challenging and destabilizing established Knowledge; it’s the study or critique of society and culture, using the knowledge across social sciences and humanities.
Critical theory is a social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society, theories that strive to improve the world in contrast to traditional theory orientated only to understanding or explaining it, it also often challenges our common sense assumptions about the world and poses controversial questions.The sociological sense refers to a style of the Marxist Theory, Marxism itself can be recognized as both political philosophy and sociology, although to the extent to try and remain scientific.
Criticism and critique are the two different intellectual traditions associated with the meaning of the word critical theory, originating ultimately from the Greek word ‘Kritikos’, meaning judgment or discernment. Many consider the two to be completely different although increasing scholars are interested in the areas of critique where the two overlap. As a whole Critical Theory finds the forms or structures that emphasize our experience, including our experience of literature. In this way we can see the world, and literature in new and unexpected ways.
Critical Theory has had many different aspects and quite distinct historical phases that cross several Social Research in 1929 to the present. Its distinctiveness as a philosophical approach that extends to ethics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of history is most apparent when considered in light of the history of the philosophy of the social sciences.
Critical Theorists have long tried to distinguish their aims, methods, theories, and forms of explanation from standard understandings in both the natural and the social sciences. Instead, they have claimed that social inquiry should combine other than separate the poles of philosophy and the social sciences: explanation and understanding, structure and agency, regularity and normativity. Such an approach, Critical Theorists argue, permits their work to be practical in a distinctively moral sense. They do not even seek to provide the means to achieve some independent goal.
Horkheimer's definition that a critical theory is adequate only if it meets three criteria subjects: it must be explanatory, practical, and normative, all at the same time. That is, it must explain what is wrong with current social world, identify the reasons to change it, and provide both clear solutions for criticism and achievable practical goals for social change. Any truly critical theory of society, as Horkheimer further explained it in his writings as Director of the Frankfurt School's Institute for Social Research, “human beings as producers of their own historical form of life”.
When I first started reading up on critical theory I wasn’t sure how I was going to relate all these theories to me studying my first year of graphic design, but as a get into it further it starts to sink in. We are all somewhat controlled by history and what people in the past have had as led to believe, for right or wrong. Critical theory helps me look at the bigger question in life, weather it is;
• Do we lead our lives thinking we made the decision on how to live it?
• Does desire determine a human being?
• Does media speak for us all?
I think as a designer you need to see the world in all ways possible, having a broader perspective on everything makes people see you work, think and notice. I find Critical thinking is a way of thinking that encourages us to critically ask our assumptions about the world and ourselves. It teaches us to look at what we take for granted.
Horkeimer’s definition of critical theory works in three parts explanatory, practical, normative, and I do relate them to graphic design. When doing design work on a certain topic it needs to be explanatory, For example if your doing a poster it needs to have all the information you need to get the message across. I think we live in a very complex world so the more practical Design work can be the more appealing it will be to everyone else, and im always attracted to things that feel normal to me to I think that a good aspect to incorporate in your design work.
Many Philosophers had an idea about an ideal world, and tried to make us see it in another light threw literature, some include, Aristotle, Socrates, Rousseau, Voltaire, Kant, Foucault, Locke, Proust, Sartre, Beauvoir and Plato.
Plato is known today as one of the greatest Philosophers of all time, he was born in Athens in 429 BC and died 347 BC. Plato as a young man was a true follower of Socrates, and learned a lot about him and how to think. As a designer you need to teach yourself on how to think as well, and how to have the right attitude in life.
Plato spent a lot of time thinking about the natural world and how it works. He thought that everything had a sort of ideal form like a chair, and then an actual chair was a poor imitation of the ideal chair that exists in your mind, I think this is a perfect example of critical thinking. It’s the idea that nothing is ever perfect, that you can improve on anything if your mind will let you.
He also said “ Suppose there is a cave, and inside the cave there are some men chained up to a wall, so that they can only see the back wall of the cave and nothing else. These men can't see anything outside of the cave, or even see each other clearly, but they can see shadows of what is going on outside the cave. Wouldn't these prisoners come to think that the shadows were real, and that was what things really looked like?
Suppose now that one of the men escaped, and got out of the cave, and saw what real people looked like, and real trees and grass. If he went back to the cave and told the other men what he had seen, would they believe him, or would they think he was crazy?
Plato says that we are like those men sitting in the cave: we think we understand the real world, but because we are trapped in our bodies we can see only the shadows on the wall, so If me as a designer that cant see the world for more than just shadows how can I produce work that shows it to everyone else? , The quality of our life and what we produce, make or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought; shoddy thinking is costly, especially in design, both in money and in quality.
When it all boils down to it, critical thinking is up to the sol person to achieve, in short its self-directed, self disciplined, self-monitored, and self- corrective thinking, it’s a good way of effective communication and improve problem your solving abilities. All of these aspects are crucial in the graphic design Industry.
My methods to achieve a better way of thinking need to change, it starts with me and I know entirely what I need to do as a person to be more pro active and develop a more critical way of thinking, for example, getting up early, better diet, exercise the body and in the mind. No one wants to be critical about themselves but that’s the beauty of it, all of society wants us to be like that, its easier to be that way but again Albert Einstein said it better than anyone ever will,
“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”
Albert Einstein was one of the greatest minds in the known world, he believed that imagination was more important than knowledge; he said that it was the preview to life’s coming attractions so for me I hope to develop my knowledge in the field of imagination, to see things in a broad perspective rather than what I already distinctly see.
A year has gone in my graphic Design class and we have done many projects and critiqued them all to some degree, its never an enjoyable experience to have you work analysed with a fine toothed comb or on the other hand do the same to someone else’s work, but now after realising that critiquing is a way of opening up my mind to a world without shadows then I’m all for changing my attitude to achieve this, I’m no Philosopher but I’ve found one who has put it Perfectly
“ Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing, Aristotle, 384 BC-322 BC