norman rockwell, the art critic, 1955
i'd like to comment james panero's article "criticism after art," published in the new criterion, vol. 24, issue 4, 2005. panero opens in a friendly informal tone:
The business of art criticism is a great deal more practical than you might imagine. This is one of its great appeals for me. Art criticism is less Immanuel Kant and more should I bring an umbrella.point taken, theory shouldn't be overbearing, though it's pretty naive to think that "umbrella," as idea, exists outside of conceptual frameworks. but let's not get fussy.
A world of difference separates those who criticize art from those who seek to know about how art criticism is done, because art criticism is done by doing it. To ask after the details beyond the most practical ones is already a step in the wrong direction. Art critics who make the "criticism of art criticism" their business do not stay in the business of art criticism for long.indeed, anything is done by doing & the sentence in blue walks like a crab. is panero afraid of scrutiny? the question remains "why do you write about this and not about this?" "why are you so happily clueless about the ideas that inform your writing?"
panero is stuck. he's not addressing the serious issues: the art market rules, criticism is a mouth piece of the system and he still wants to argue from a professional perspective. so, he goes back to the moment of professional spaltung. once upon a time in the new york of the 1950's there were just modern critics. suddenly, the 1960's brought up an invasion of alien critics with a post-structuralist mission. see how panero plays the detached conspiracy commenter:
In need of a power base, not to mention a livelihood, Krauss's generation also took to the universities--Krauss herself to the City University of New York, then to Columbia University--where it set about seeding and gaining control of an entire network of art history departments. Krauss became famous for her letters of negative recommendation against dissident thinkers. Her severe legacy is still felt in the universities, even if much of the art being produced today has departed from the minimalist and conceptualist formulations with which she and others once held sway, writing for Art forum those many years ago.
raise the art-terror level on krauss to orange!
critic & art historian rosalind krauss (circa 1970's)
how can one individual (and a woman at that in the late 1960's!) exert such amazing power in the -for the most part phallocentric- land of academic freedom?
An academic-based, anti-modern ideology now repudiates and replaces the high-modernist judgment of Clement Greenberg. October describes its editorial mission as "examining relationships between the arts and their critical and social contexts" Put in simplest terms, Greenberg judged art, for which he was praised by one generation and vilified by the next. Krauss judges the judgment of art. In an article for Art in America in 1974 called "Changing the Work of David Smith" Krauss even charged Greenberg with over-stepping his bounds of judgment in his maintenance of the David Smith estate--the critic's judgment was put in judgment by a former disciple.aw! woman-critic dares to challenge man-critic?
clement greenberg (circa 1960's)
panero throws the most disparate angst-ingredients in one big pot and hopes for spontaneous alchemy. what is history if not change? october can be explained as a generational struggle for power, but also as an intellectual paradigm shift within american intelligentsia. greenberg was the best american critic of his generation and he also had serious conflicts of interest between his critic and curator profiles (regarding david smith's state -as it was pointed by krauss). modern-ism fell out of favor & postmodern-ism had its moment through the 1980's and 1990s'.
when greenberg "judged art" he was also judging art practices. if a powerful critical voice defends X style, she is addressing X's objects as well as X ways-of-doing things. greenberg did not shun theory. he was a known trotskyist in the 1940's (at the helm of greenberg's penmanship for partisan review). 1940's greenbergian criticism is trivially a different practice than in the 1960's during krauss' generation. panero should know all this, but he's projecting his own insecurities: the quintessential tension between academic and non-academic.
so non-academics get an empty defense. en passant we get a confession:
The New Criterion is a modernist magazine. I, too, consider myself a modernist art critic. In New York, when I think of the "relationships between the arts and their critical and social contexts" to take a cue from October, rare is the case that the legacy of modernism and the New York School does not serve as the foundation for the art I see.what's all the fuss about? panero (the non-academic) gets invited to a panel talk at the art institute of chicago by (the academic) critic and art historian james elkins. the former quotes the latter:
[Art criticism's] voice has become very weak, and it is dissolving into the background clutter of ephemeral cultural criticism. But the decay is not the ordinary last faint push of a practice that has run its course, because at the very same time, art criticism is also healthier than ever.... [A]rt criticism is flourishing, but invisibly, out of sight of contemporary intellectual debates. So it's dying, but it's everywhere. It's ignored, and yet it has the market behind it.he swiftly moves to dave hickey, another panel member who articulates the difference between panero's academic vs. non-academic, now reframed as "criticism" vs. "metacriticism" (panero will re-reframe it later as "modern" vs. "post-modern"):
(...) I am a professional writer. I have written about Ed Ruscha for forty years, and then Benjamin Buchloh does the big piece about the Venice Biennale. I'm envious of the assignments, but that's about all. We write about art. Most of the people in October write about criticism; it is a meta-critical project, and they are interested in controlling the forms and shapes of criticism, and the manner of address, and the rhetorical mode --I don't talk about criticism. I talk about things that are green.the discussion takes again a "professional" turn which panero enjoys (and i spare you the details). these are known paid-per-assignment writers, they do this and that). one feels something crucial is missing in this chin-wag. the conundrum is right back at panero and hickey's blind-critical-spot. is academic vs. non academic equivalent to criticism vs. metacriticism? only if you are afraid of critical bacteria.
i disagree with hickey's (and panero's) antiseptic view of criticism, which takes for granted that writing about "things that are green" is a done deal. that is to say, reality is transparent to the critic's eye, the critic is impervious to personal interests, ideologies, aesthetic inclinations, the art market, etc. if one raises an objection to these platitudes, one is labeled, what, a radical post-structuralist? boloney!
coming back to panero, what did he get out of his vis-a-vis?
I recognized how modernism has, perhaps, reached an ebb. Among academics like Elkins, the battles of modernism are now two wars past. As for Hickey, the glossy mirror-image of Elkins, the critical moment is not found in modernism or anti-modernism but in what I call premodernism. Like Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word, Hickey finds succor in the style of Beaux-Arts. He argues for the same eclecticism in the galleries that Elkins wants to a bring to the university. When asked to name his influences, Hickey responded to our panel: "I have an eccentric practice that goes back to Baudelaire, Wilde, Shaw, Hazlitt, and De Quincey." Take out Communism and you have it: Hickey's twenty-first century picks up where the nineteenth century leaves off.panero-as-hickey sounds as one-dimensional as a flat-line. why? zeitgeist contagion, since a transmission of post-modern-to-modern becomes a possibility, get rid of both. we're critics, aren't we? we can throw the baby with the bathwater, even if the whole 20th century is left out of the game!
there are no different criticisms for different realities. there is only one reality. let's puts it in hickeyian: green things are green for reasons that aren't green.
advice to panero: don't be afraid & open the round table to all relevant matters: green things, greenology and/or both.