The End of Reading

I love to read. Some things more than others (e.g. almost any science fiction more than Emily Dickinson), but everything counts: cookbooks, maps, dictionaries, credit card statements, Duane Reade receipts—everything. Of late, though, I’ve stopped reading art criticism, except when professionally obliged to do so, which is often, so I get my fill. But when I read it recreationally, I find myself skipping ahead after the first paragraph, cutting to the end, backing up a few lines, looking for strange names or funny titles (rare are these), and then moving on to something else pretty quickly, my 1090 tax forms for example. Perhaps I should be concerned about this. Perhaps I should analyze the problem and subject it to a kind of diagnostic, a battery of tests or a critical blood panel, the better to identify the anemia.

But worrying about what art criticism is, what it could be, how it has changed, what affects it, how one should do it (or how one shouldn’t do it), where it is best practiced, or who does it best (or worst) are questions best left to boozy dinners. The questions themselves will only be answered by writers writing. If there is a crisis in criticism, it won’t be solved by critics writing about the crisis, it will be solved by writers writing about art (or books, or politics, or money, or power, or sex) and writing well (or trenchantly, or fiercely, or bluely, or lucidly—cue Twain rolling in his grave). No good writer writes without self-reflection (either liberating or crippling). But bemoaning the state of art criticism or celebrating its newly open pastures is not going to make writers write better or think better (the same thing of course), and it’s not going to make art criticism better. It will make it worse. Why? Because it is boring. And boredom is the death of writing, because boredom is the end of reading.

More Articles by the Author

Jonathan T.D. Neil

JONATHAN T. D. NEIL is editor of the Held Essays on Visual Art for the Brooklyn Rail. He also serves as Executive Editor for the Drawing Center and Editor at Large for ArtReview.