“It’s all delicious”: an alternative model for art criticism

John Dewey once wrote that art criticism should help viewers engage artworks deeply, that is, in a way that resembles the creative process itself. But how exactly should the critic go about doing this? There aren’t many examples or models. The conventions of criticism—that it should provide context, rationale, explanation, etc—often leave little room for meaningful interaction with the artwork.

So I’m always on the lookout for criticism that somehow manages to encourage the viewer’s active engagement, such as Calvin Bedient’s introduction to Hank Saxe’s ceramic sculpture. Give it a read—it’s only 300 words long.

It’s so simple: it’s basically a list of 7 qualities Bedient sees in Saxe’s work. Yet it works. It’s like gesture drawing: quick and suggestive, but grounded in perception. The basic points help us “see” the work, while simultaneously leaving much to be explored/expanded upon/debated. The “speed” of the writing—8 tiny paragraphs—captures something methodical argument cannot (cf. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature). And though anchored in the work, it’s not afraid to be conjectural—see for instance the comment on “withholding.”  The piece as a whole serves more as a starting point than a conclusion.  

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