Art Criticism at its Best

[div class=attrib]From Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian:[end-div]

Works of art are not objects. They are … Oh lord, what are they? Take, for convenience, a painting. It is a physical object, obviously, in that it consists of a wooden panel or a stretched canvas covered in daubs of colour. Depending on the light you may be more or less aware of cracks, brush marks, different layers of paint. Turn it around and it is even more obviously a physical object. But as such it is not art. Only when it is experienced as art can it be called art, and the intensity and value of that experience varies according to the way it is made and the way it is seen, that is, the receptiveness of the beholder to that particular work of art.

And this is why critics are the only real art writers. We are the only ones who acknowledge, as a basic principle, that art is an unstable category – it lives or dies according to rules that cannot ever be systematised. If you treat art in a pseudo-scientific way, as some kinds of art history do, you miss everything that makes it matter. Only on the hoof can it be caught, or rather followed on its elusive meanderings in and out of meaning, significance, and beauty.

Equally, an uncritical, purely literary approach to art also risks missing the whole point about it. You have to be critical, not just belle-lettriste, to get to the pulse of art. To respond to a work is to compare it with other works, and that comparison only has meaning if you judge their relative merits.

No such judgment is final. No critic is right, necessarily. It’s just that criticism offers a more honest and realistic understanding of the deep strangeness of our encounters with these mysterious human creations called works of art.

That is why the really great art historians were critics, who never fought shy of judgment. Kenneth Clark and EH Gombrich were extremely opinionated about what is and is not good art. Were they right or wrong? That is irrelevant. The response of one passionate and critical writer is worth a hundred, or a thousand, uncritical surveys that, by refusing to come off the fence, never get anywhere near the life of art.

[div class=attrib]Read more of this article here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Photograph of John Ruskin, circa 1870. Image courtesy of W. & D. Downey / Wikipedia.[end-div]