Pull back, remember, slow down, zoom-in, anticipate, run around.
So much of what matters about art is in people’s heads; we make things up and sometimes other people take it seriously. Critics think out loud about artworks with the hope that their thoughts make sense and that others will care. Make-believe upon play-acting upon collective fictions come apart and reassemble within the space of good writing. Contemporary critics are the lucky beneficiaries of many powerful and critically evolving perspectives that can augment the thoughtfulness of their craft. Cultural historians, philosophers, anthropologists, psychoanalysts, and writers of fiction, among so many others, contribute to the (not always agreeable) ways we write about art.
Samuel Beckett wrote that “to restore silence is the role of objects.” If he is right, critics have the special challenge of giving eloquence to the language-killing effects of art by means of chattering. But in our time what counts as art has exploded like popcorn. Hungry and attentive critics must stay alert and adapt.
Within the context of my artist’s prerogative to not answer any of Irving Sandler’s questions about art criticism, I will address each of them.
Try to find new ways of thinking and seeing by means of artworks.
Make a new heaven and a new earth with enthusiasms tinged with sadness at the possibility that it might not be possible.
Art criticism should always be in a state of crisis.
Yes and no and no and yes. Our ability to assess and measure what counts is even weaker than our ability to imagine the total state of things at any moment. Maybe consensus is not desirable.
A critic is a bottom-feeding clown-fish with strange powers.
I am an artist pretending to be a critic writing essays disguised as reviews.
I write for enemies that haven’t yet realized they are friends.
The more art criticism the better. But if writing is not compelling then the foes of art win (they hate our freedoms).
I try to stimulate my appetite for “proliferating mediums” with appropriate drugs.
The forces of commerce are frightening and famously uncontrollable but the opportunity to experience and address new art from parts of the globe previously less visible is exhilarating.
Growth makes it harder to stay informed. Internet aggregators, list-makers, and focusers are useful, but compelling responses to art in crafted language will always matter, I hope.
Rough edges get burnished off by magazines, but I love the printed form and hope it sustains vitality and adaptive health.
Politics; as much as ever!
Someone’s got to do it, but I’d rather talk about art institutions over a beer and keep my writing focused on artworks.
DAVID HUMPHREY is a New York artist who is represented by the Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, NY. He is a senior critic at the Yale School of Art. An anthology of his art writing, Blind Handshake, was published by Periscope Publishing and is distributed by Prestel.