How to be an art critic

February 18 2013

In his latest review, of the British Museum's Ice Age show, the great Brian Sewell slips in a few insights in to how it should be done. Or, rather, not done:

I am compelled by the British Museum’s latest exhibition to confess that I have no business to review it. It is common for the jobbing art critic to criticise artists and exhibitions of whom and which he knows nothing, to précis and paraphrase the catalogues and press releases, and to enthusiastically adopt established aesthetic positions because he thinks them safe (many reviews of the current Manet exhibition at the Royal Academy demonstrate the point).

Others, more arrogant — Roger Fry an outstanding historical example — have only to see a work of art or craft for the first time, be it from Polynesia or the pueblos of central America, to become an instant expert in the field; even worse, writing on art, we have hosts of blethering philosophers who believe philosophy to be the key to understanding everything, and plagues of novelists and creative writers confident of their ability to interpret and judge the visual arts — the day is upon us when Martina Cole appears on BBC2’s Friday night Review Show “…talking of Michelangelo”.

Update - a reader asks:

I thought I'd ask you about what you think art criticism is good for, and what makes it well done.

I'm hardly qualified to answer. But my advice would be; read lots of Brian Sewell, and avoid Guff at all costs.

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