The Persistence of Art Criticism
Criticism is autobiography; we can only write from what we know, and are. The dancer cannot dissemble, claimed Graham. Much less the critic. Though he or she can be namby-pamby, noncommittal, or sloppy. These sins are to be avoided.
Criticism responds to what is done by artists. The highest form is to be a sweeper-up after the artist has left the studio to go to the bar downstairs. Frank O’Hara: “Irving Sandler continues to be the balayeur des artistes / and so do I (sometimes I think I’m ‘in love’ with painting).” The critic doesn’t tell the artist what to do; the critic has the privilege of analyzing what the artist has done.
On the other hand, artists, in their work, are also critics—and critics do play a role in deciding what should or should not be regarded as essential.
The best critics are often practitioners (artists or poets): Elaine de Kooning, Fairfield Porter, Edwin Denby, Merlin James. But some, like Sanford Schwartz, are pure critics. A good critic changes the way you see the world.
Much blogging is superficial. Most important, in any endeavor, is a group that shares enthusiasm, though not necessarily tastes. Venues—in print, on line, or in person—still carry the most weight. As Pound advised Creeley when the latter wanted to start a journal—get some people to do it with.
The art world still discusses avidly what prominent critics have written, and therefore that writing continues to play a vital role. (Though I should cite Merlin James’s excellent essay “The Non-Existence of Art Criticism.”)
It would be great to have a magazine that did not rely on ads.
VINCENT KATZ is a poet, translator, and critic. He is the editor of Black Mountain College: Experiment In Art (MIT Press), which will receive a second printing in 2013. He has done collaborative books with, among others, Rudy Burckhardt, Wayne Gonzales, and Matthias Mansen.