OF ART CRITICISM
An art critic's function is the description, interpretation, and evaluation of new, or at least recent, art. Though critics enjoy the art of the past, their publications on it are less likely to be decisive than those of art historians. Critics can rethink or refeel the art of the past in fresh ways, but art historians do this too, effected as we all are by the changing assumptions of our time. An art critic with a retroactive focus would be one who was not facing what I take to be the critic's special area— the present, defined as a complex of paths whose nodes are to be sought and guessed at. Thus critics are closely dependent on the art being produced in their own time, both for subject matter and for their own set of values. Art criticism is as much a topographical as a memorializing mode, the latter being the province of art historians. However, as Max Kozloff has observed, description can be an act of "laconic interpretation," so the mapping procedures that I advocate are by no means passive.
Art criticism in many ways is a condensation of the observations scattered through earlier guidebooks, technical manuals, and aesthetic treatises, but it was founded as a separate mode of writing by Denis Diderot. He reviewed the annual Salons from 1759 to 1781 in pieces that varied from a few harassed pages to book-length texts, but always in a basically discursive form. It is clear that his working method was to visit the Salon with a catalogue and react to the works with a mind well stocked with prior ideas, some of them habitual, some of them fresh. This walking-thinking-writing form was, of course, the model for Baudelaire's Salons and the method is one that continues to our own____________________