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Current Writing in Art

Criticism
James Elkins

jelkins@artic.edu

Syllabus
Revised Thursday, September 23, 2004
Original location of this syllabus:
http://www.jameselkins.com/syllabi.html

This is a seminar on art criticism, intended to complement ARTHI 5008,


“History of Art Criticism.”

Philosophy of the course

Art criticism is seldom taught as an historically and theoretically informed


practice. Usually it is taught idiosyncratically, as a matter of individual teachers’
practices. This course and ARTHI 5008 are meant to provide a grounding in the
history and theoretical issues at work in art criticism. The two courses can be
used as a basis for more specialized courses in the history of criticism, or for the
development of an informed critical practice.

Format of the course

The class will be conducted at a high level; most of the time we will critiquing
texts rather than expositing them. A basic understanding of the texts will be
assumed at the beginning of each class. You should read the assignments in
advance of class, and take notes on them; in class we’ll read through them and
stop at problem points.

Class requirements

1. Participation, and preparation of critical notes on the texts. These should be 1


or 2 pages long, and should consist of your critiques and questions regarding
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particular points in the texts. Use them in class to guide your questions; I will
collect them after each class. (40 % of the grade)

2. Presentation of a paper on an individual critic. (40% of the grade.) The paper


consists of four parts:
i. A bibliography of the critic, as thorough as you can manage. (Between
one and 10,000 pages.)
ii. A descriptive paper on the critic’s work, with special attention to just
one text, in which the critic addresses issues of wider significance
than just the work at hand—a position paper, “manifesto,” large-scale
review, etc. (10 pp.)
iii. A critical essay on an artist or artwork of your choice, intended to
exemplify the critic’s approach, concepts, and possibly style. (5 pp.)
iv. A critical analysis of the critic, using ii. And iii. As evidence. What are
the strengths of the critic’s approach? What are the limitations? (5
pp.)

3. Revision of the paper (more on this below). (20% of the grade.)

Critics can be chosen from the list below; others are possible with permission.
After we choose, I will make up a schedule for presentations.

Papers need to be finished a week in advance; you should copy them for
everyone, and hand them out so everyone can read them before the following
week’s class. The handout should include: (a) the four-part paper as described
above; (b) a Xerox of the essay you chose (see ii above); URLs of relevant
artwork, or color Xeroxes, so everyone can follow the argument.

Reading other students’ papers before class is also required. On weeks when
students are presenting, you are responsible for reading their papers exactly as if
they were required readings: you still need to prepare 1-2 pages of notes, to be
handed in after class. (If you would like, you can write your notes and questions
on the critic’s text and not the student’s presentation of the critic.)

The presentations should be about 20 minutes; we’ll follow them with


discussion. Presenters should not read from their papers, but outline the
possibilities for further research. (That also means presenters can’t sumamarize
their papers, or illustrate their papers… the material in the presentation should
be completely new, taking the texts in new directions.) Be sure to prepare some
lecture notes in advance, so you have 20 minutes of material that is not in your
paper!

Two or three students may collaborate in one presentation; in that case, the
paper should be in separate sections with the authors identified.
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I will make suggestions after the paper is presented, and the final version of the
paper is due on the last day of class (or a day or two afterward). Mark what you
revise by underlining it (Command-U), so I do not have to re-read the entire
paper.

The 2003 class added a fourth requirement, which we can vote on:

4. Research on an art magazine or journal, a brief presentation on it (10


minutes), and a sample essay that is in the style of the journal. The idea of this is
to try publishing some art criticism. First you need to choose and research the
journal or magazine: read back issues, see where it’s published; look up what the
editors have written and where they went to school (or what kinds of art they
make). Then you will write a letter to the editor proposing that you review a
show of your choice. In class, you’ll report for 10 minutes or so on the nature of
the journal (circulation, public, kinds of essays, people involved) and we’ll read
your sample essay. The same scheduling as with the presentations applies here,
except that no final revisions are needed. Just hand in the essay itself and a 2-3
page report on the journal.

There is also an informal purpose for this year’s class:

5. In fall 2005, SAIC will host a conference on art criticism. You can be part of it,
if you’re around, and you can help choose critics during this class. There will also
be an event in June 2005 in Ireland—another conference, which I am putting
together. It is described under “Conversations on Art” on:

http://www.imagehistory.org

If you can make it to Ireland you can participate in that one too. A book will
result from the two events.

Textbooks

My book, What Happened to Art Criticism? Available online; buy it using the link
on my web page,
http://www.jameselkins.com

and I will get a tiny commission!

Most readings will be “on reserve” in the mail room on the 6th floor, beyond the
Art History office. That is an honor system: borrow the copy, Xerox it, return
the original. (Like Flaxman reserve, but without the hassle.) Some readings may
also be posted on the website.
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Research

Research on the critic’s bibliography should be thorough. I will expect everyone


to have gone through the list of databases on the MA Research page:

http://www.artic.edu/webspaces/arthi/Research.html

If you’re studying a newspaper critic, try the paper’s web site, and be sure to
search Lexis/Nexis (newspaper database).

Research is very important: if I find sources in Lexis/Nexis or one of the


databases listed on the Research page, and you haven’t found them, your letter
grade may be lowered. (Really!) Plan on spending several days searching for
bibliographic information. Texts in languages you don’t read should still be listed.
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Schedule

These are the dates of the classes, and the topics for each class.
Read the schedule carefully: weeks when I will be out of town are rescheduled
for Fridays and Saturdays.
The schedule may be adjusted as we go along; the up-to-date syllabus will always
be posted on the website.

1 September 2 room 716, I Introduction


PM
2 September 9 room 716, 1 Topic 1 (see below); also all
PM presentations scheduled
3 September 16 room 716, 1 Topic 2
PM
4 September 23 room 716, 1 Topic 3
PM
5 September 30 room 716, 1 Topic 4
PM
6 October 7 room 716, 1 Topic 5
PM
7 October 23 room 617, 2 The October roundtable
(Sat.) PM
8 October 28 room 716, 1 Rosalind Krauss
PM
9 October 29 (Fri.) room 617, 5 Class cancelled
PM
10 November 4 room 716, 1 Jean-Louis Schefer
PM
11 November 12 room 617, 5 Anna Okubo, Laurence Alloway
(Fri.) PM
12 November 18 room 716, 1 Claire Sherman, Joseph Masheck
PM
13 December 2 room 716, 1 Seth Corson, Peter Schjeldahl
PM
14 December 16 room 716, 1 Meg Reuland, Griselda Pollock
PM
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Possible critics (for papers)

You may choose critics not on this list, but only with permission. Students who
read languages other than English are required to find critics whose work is
untranslated (see the end of this list for a few suggestions).

Thomas McEvilley Hal Foster


Joseph Masheck Max Kozloff
Michael Kimmelman Sister Wendy
Jerry Saltz Barbara London
Jed Perl Katy Deepwell
Dave Hickey Irit Rogoff
Peter Schjeldahl Tom Wolfe
Roberta Smith Adam Gopnik
Robert Pincus-Witten Benjamin Buchloh
Hilton Kramer Germano Celant
Michael Fried Jim Yood
Rosalind Krauss Whitney Davis
Arthur Danto Thomas Crow
Robert Hughes Stephen Melville
Lucy Lippard
Robert Rosenblum For students who read French,
Joanthan Fineberg German, or Spanish:
Caoimhín Mac Giolla Leith Jean-Louis Schefer
Aidan Dunne Georges Didi-Huberman
Linda Nochlin Ticio Escobar
Paul Goldberger Wolfram Pichler / Johannes
Susan Sontag Meinhardt
Peter Plagens Daniel Soutif
Donald Kuspit
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CLASS TOPICS

1
Concep ts of ar t cr iticism in moder nism

An informal introduction to the history of art criticism in the


West, with emphasis on modernism. For those of you who have
had ARTHI 5008, part of this will be review.

Requir ed r eading:
Elkins, “Art Criticism,” Grove Dictionary of Art.
The Grove Dictionary of Art is available online from any computer on
campus, via the Flaxman web site:
http://www.artic.edu/saic/programs/resources/library/dbalpha.html
Once you are on the Grove site, search for “Art Criticism” and choose
the first search result; that is my article.
Optional r eading:
Lionello Venturi, History of Art Criticism.

2
Gr eenberg

A small selection of Greenberg’s texts, intended to emphasize the


question of his ongoing influence on current criticism.

Requir ed r eading:
Greenberg, “Complaints of an Art Critic,” in Clement Greenberg: The
Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 4, Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-
1969, edited by John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1993), 265-72.
——, “Modernist Painting,” “After Abstract Expressionism,” “Post Painterly
Abstraction,” and “Avant-Garde Attitudes: New Art in the Sixties,” in
Ibid., 85-93, 121-33, 192-96, 292-302 respectively.
Optional r eading:
Thierry De Duve, Clement Greenberg Between the Lines: Including a Previously
Unpublished Debate with Clement Greenberg (Paris: Dis Voir, 1996).
Caroline Jones, “Critical response II: Anxiety and Elation: Response to
Michael Fried,” Critical Inquiry 27, no. 4 (summer 2001): 703-15.

3
Ar tfor um
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A sample of the first decade of Artforum critics who reacted


against Bloomsbury critics and other “fustian” writers.

Requir ed r eading:
Michael Fried, “An Introduction to My Art Criticism,” Art and Objecthood
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 1-74.
Rosalind Krauss, “Introduction,” in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and
Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1985), 2-6.
——, “Poststructuralism and the Paraliterary,” Ibid., 291-95.
Amy Newman, Challenging Art: Artforum 1962-1974 (New York: Soho Press,
2000), selected pages.

4
The current state of art criticism I

Requir ed r eading:
The Visual Arts Critic, edited by András Szántó (New York: Columbia
University National Arts Journalism Program, 2002).
Available online at:
http://www.najp.org/publications/research/visualart/images/tvac.pdf
Anonymous, Charter of the International Association of Art Critics,
available online at
http://www.aica-int.org

5
The current state of criticism II

Requir ed r eading:
Elkins, What Happened to Art Criticism?(Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press
[distributed by University of Chicago Press], 2003).
This may be published before the class meets; otherwise I will email it
to everyone.
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Modules not used in 2004

x
Blooms bury critics and “fustian” w riting

A sample of English and American criticism from the early and


mid-twentieth century: the kinds of writing that Greenberg and
and Artforum critics reacted against.

Requir ed r eading:
Roger Fry, “The Post-Impressionists,” “The Port-Impressionists--II,” and “A
Postscript on Post-Impressionism” (all 1910), in A Roger Fry Reader,
edited by Christopher Reed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1996), 81-85, 90-94, and 95-110.
Christopher Reed, “Introduction” to A Roger Fry Reader, 1-6.
Hilton Kramer, “Bloomsbury Revised: A ‘Postmodern’ Fry,” The New
Criterion 15 (1997): 14-19.
Optional r eading:
John Canaday, “Odd Forms of Modern Criticism: When ‘Interested
Sympathy’ Becomes an Obsession, Anything Can Happen,” New York
Times, October 23, 1960, reprinted in Canaday, Embattled Critic: Views
on Modern Art (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1962), 14-20.

x
Cr iticism in the w ake of Pop art

Some art-critical origins of theories of postmodern pluralism in


the arts: Danto, McEvilley, Alloway.

Requir ed r eading:
Arthur Danto, [reading to be announced]
Thomas McEvilley, “The Art of Doubting,” Sculpture in the Age of Doubt
(New York: Allworth Press, 1999), 3-30.
——, “History, Quality, Globalism,” in Roger Denison and Thomas
McEvilley, Capacity: History, the World, and the Self in Contemporary Art
and Criticism (Amsterdam: G & B Arts, 1996), 119-33.
Lawrence Alloway, “The Function of the Art Critic,” New York University
Education Quarterly 2 (1974): 24-28.
——, “Anthropology and Art Criticism,” Arts Magazine 45 no. 4 (1971): 22-
23.