It has been fun reading The New Art (1966), one of critic Gregory Battcock’s contemporary anthologies of critical art writing. Also sobering, how dated and/or blinkered many assumptions these pre-eminent minds operated under turned out to be. Not the least of which is the illustrious role of the critic himself, and I do mean him. Here are some choice quits from Battcock’s own introduction, which are not unrepresentative of the attitudes of many of the contributors:
Art is humanism and reality, and as such cannot be seen accurately in terms of the past. At this point, responsible criticism becomes absolutely essential. The critic has, as it were, to paint the painting anew and make it more acceptable, less of a threat than it often is. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the art of our time could not exist without the efforts of the critic. It is, however, to be remembered that words are ores and art is art; in presenting art, the critic cannot resate or reproduce it. All he can do is assume some of the concern for clarification in his effort to leave himself free to experiment as obscurely as he likes, unhampered by any need to compromise his integrity for the sake of public approval.
Objections to this state of affairs can logically be only of degree and not kind, since an art of total clarity wouldn’t be art, and would need no criticism at all…modern Art is a discipline, not a World’s Fair all three members of its essential triad– artist, critic, and viewer–obtain only such rewards as they are prepared to work for or for which they have the love to spare.
love that. Sounds pretty tough. Here’s another part about one of those marginal figures left out of the essential triad:
another characteristic aspect of the new criticism is revealed in the way it’s practitioners tend to review group or retrospective exhibitions almost solely in terms of the selectivity displayed by the person responsible for the show, while oaring little or no attention to the merit of the individual artworks or artists included. This peculiarity is very much a part of the new way of looking at art; the position of the curator or director is regarded as equivalent to that of the artists whose work he selects, since he is the creator of the exhibition, if not of the individual works within it. The critic’s own right to creativity comes through his relationship with the artist whom he alone fully understands, appreciates, and can interpret to others.
good times, good stuff.