Responses for Irving Sandler (A Later Seizure), November 21

1. What should art criticism be doing?

No “should” about it. There are only the people who behave with this term “art criticism” peculiarly in mind. Do as you like, say what you will, and gimme a break.

2. What are the issues or polemics, if any, for art criticism?

Defection of an intellectual audience. By the 1980s most smart people were looking elsewhere for useful analogies in the arts. Artists, art writers, and all those handlers might pause to consider why that is and if it matters.

A lot of art goes along merrily without suffering any serious impingement from the sorry art world. The state of criticism, meanwhile, suffers from a deeper homelessness than that of flimsy art, or, on the other hand, art that, as Keats said, has a too-palpable design upon us.

Criticism of late is ruled by the pedant’s racket. Pedants devise methods of discussion unimpeded by any conscientious sense of words, the look, sound, and smell of them, not to mention the pleasure of their company and their great help, if administered correctly, in alleviating stupefaction.

3. Is there a crisis in criticism?

The idea of a crisis exists only to sell print.

4. Has art criticism been marginalized in the art world consensus? Is it influential in terms of what readers think and do?

Criticism should not be influential before being accurate and interesting to read. Criticism certainly is marginalized by art that performs its own description and interpretation of itself, and, by being basically right about its subject matter (economics, people relations), makes evaluation meaningless, which, more often than not, it should be. Such art is admirable in its way but essentially a conversation stopper.

5. Who and what is an art critic?

Nowadays an art critic is usually someone suffering from the so-called “monetization” of education, an academic needy of purpose and maybe on the lookout for the little glitter the art world can cast her way.

6. How would you define yourself as a critic? Reviewer? Essayist? Theorist? Artist-critic? Blogger?

The last print journal I wrote for identified me as “a poet who also writes about art.” Fair enough, I thought then. Of course, there’s the puzzle of what a poet writes “about” when not writing about art.

7. For what audience do you write?

One never knows. This is part of the trouble with criticism—most critics fail to imagine an addressee. In any age an art form has at most three or four critics worth reading. Baudelaire is worth reading, but he made the crux of his art criticism the fact that he couldn’t identify his readership.

8. Has the Internet been good or bad for art criticism? Does it raise the issue of elitism versus populism?

Alex Katz once remarked that everyone understands art at their own level. It is both beautiful and horrifying to imagine, or just go find, how many levels there can be. Art, too, understands its own level. Part of an art work’s work is to know its place.

9. How do you deal with the proliferating mediums in the art world today?

I blink.

10. How has globalization of art and the art world changed art criticism?

It has changed the business but not the mode of response, if there is any.

11. How has the enormous growth of the art world changed art criticism?

It has become harder to know whether one is responding to art or to management.

12. How do art magazine policies affect art criticism?

The art magazines’ weird combination of panic and self-importance put them beside the point. But of course, unless we’re talking about newspaper critics, the only outlet is the magazines. The prose is lifeless, the ideas are charades of thought; nothing of real interest there beside the occasional juicy reproduction. As industry journals go, one might just as well subscribe to Road and Track.

13. Are gender-based and political issues still viable in art criticism today?

Don’t people talk about these things in their sleep?

14. Is it a function of art criticism to analyze art world institutions?

Self-analysis is fool’s sport.

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Bill Berkson

BILL BERKSON is a poet, critic, and professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute. His most recent book of poetry is Repeat After Me; of critical prose, For the Ordinary Artist.