Saturday, December 21, 2013

Art and Art Criticism

In an article on the English stained glass artist Patrick Reyntiens, "God in a stained glass window" (The Spectator, December 14, 2013), Andrew Lambirth opens with comments on art and art critics:
Writing about [the English artist] Graham Sutherland in 1950, the critic Robert Melville observed: 'When one looks at a picture one finds oneself over the frontier or one doesn't. Criticism has no power of making converts to an experience which occurs without the intervention of reason . . . . Criticism considers the sensitive flesh of the image and discovers its spiritual stature: indeed, unless we pursue the meaning of the image as language, painting may well fall silent and rest content in the pride of its flesh.'
Lambirth then remarks:
This quotation is of relevance here for several reasons: because one of my principal roles as a writer is to function as an art critic; because Melville rightly identifies the limitations of criticism; and because he also points out criticism's ability to uncover the spiritual stature of a work of art. I see my brief as a critic primarily as a purveyor of information, a sort of animated signpost, attempting to point out something that readers should then judge for themselves. I hope my enthusiasm or censure will inspire others to look and think independently. It is the act of looking at art -- of sharing in this fundamental but highly sophisticated activity -- that means most to me.
I'm wondering what Dave Hickey would say to this. Recall Hickey's words reported in an earlier blog post:
In images, beauty is the agency that causes visual pleasure in the beholder, and since pleasure is the true occasion for looking at anything, any theory of images that is not grounded in the pleasure of the beholder begs the question of art's efficacy and dooms itself to inconsequence! (Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty)
Melville's remark about finding oneself "over the frontier" in one's experience of an artwork sounds a bit like Hickey's "visual pleasure in the beholder,"  but I'm not sure that they agree on the purpose of art criticism.

If any of my readers know more about this than I do -- and that would include most readers -- please feel free to comment.



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