Topics in American Art since 1945

By Lawrence Alloway | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The subject of art criticism is new art or at least recent art. It is usually the first written response. The early readings of works of art by critics may or may not be confirmed in time, but, after all, the intentions of artists are subject to changing interpretations too. Nonetheless, the closeness in time of the critical text and the making of the work of art gives art criticism its special flavor. To a considerable extent the genre remains what it was when Denis Diderot invented it, the record of spontaneous response and fast judgment to the presence of new work. However, there is a difference now, caused by a speed-up in the application of analytical methods to the crowded present.

Art history is the model that has lead critics toward specific topics or more closely defined problems. On the other hand, there is a risk of the influence of art history abridging the freedom of the critic. This happens when a deterministic view of the succession of history is imposed prematurely on the current scene and the recent past. Such historical foreshortening is a way of suppressing the numerical density and stylistic diversity of the present by means of pre-emptive formulas. Appreciative writing, dealing with congenial bits of the general culture, which used to be the art critic's highest aim, is rare now. The article, a piece of prose with a specific target, has replaced the broad consensual themes essential to the essayist. I should add that I am not an art historian, and what I write is art criticism with footnotes.

This book consists of a selection of reviews and articles written in the sixties and early seventies. If a piece seemed reprintable, after the shock of rereading, because it made a point that still seemed interesting, I have let it stand. This is not because I am infatuated with my words once they are in print, but because I want to preserve their historical identity. Art criticism is occasional, written in response to particular events such as exhibitions and anniversaries. Tampering with the words could only reduce what evidential value a text might have, entangling the directness of early response with second thoughts and hindsight. I have reprinted, therefore, but not rewritten, except for small changes for the sake of consistency, often initiated by the copy editor. Footnote density, for example, in what follows fluctuates according to the sources of the different articles.

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