Part of my studies has been a module that used to be entitled 'Visual Culture', and is now called 'Artworld'. It was a sharp shock to discover the breadth and complication of critical theory surrounding contemporary art; every term seems up for interpretation and I would sit squinting at my tutor, trying to twist my mind around the concepts and wring understanding from the essays we were set. I chose 'Activist Art' as my research topic and ended up crossing the border to go and see the Turbine Hall Commission at Tate Modern by political activist/artist/artivist Tanya Bruguera. I sat on the heat activated floor and tried to make sense of it all; after all, I've been asking for art history lessons and I want to understand the context of my work.
I don't think I do understand most of it, but I ended up deep in reading about what art is doing these days and this has helped with an understanding of what art has been doing previously. Arte Utile, Relational Aesthetics and participatory art are interesting reading, in particular the tension between representation and participation for modern artists. The course was completely hard but unpatronising, fresh, strange and illuminating. I know it's popular to denigrate this theory side of art studies but I highly recommend a dose of full on critical theory to anyone. It might hurt your mind but will also break it open.