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What Happened to Art Criticism? [Paperback]

James Elkins

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2003 Prickly Paradigm
Art criticism was once passionate, polemical, and judgmental; now critics are more often interested in ambiguity, neutrality, and nuanced description. And while art criticism is ubiquitous in newspapers, magazines, and exhibition brochures, it is also virtually absent from academic writing. How is it that even as criticism drifts away from academia, it becomes more academic? How is it that sifting through a countless array of colorful periodicals and catalogs makes criticism seem to slip even further from our grasp? In this pamphlet, James Elkins surveys the last fifty years of art criticism, proposing some interesting explanations for these startling changes.

"In What Happened to Art Criticism?, art historian James Elkins sounds the alarm about the perilous state of that craft, which he believes is 'In worldwide crisis . . . dissolving into the background clutter of ephemeral cultural criticism' even as more and more people are doing it. 'It's dying, but it's everywhere . . . massively produced, and massively ignored.' Those who pay attention to other sorts of criticism may recognize the problems Elkins describes: 'Local judgments are preferred to wider ones, and recently judgments themselves have even come to seem inappropriate. In their place critics proffer informal opinions or transitory thoughts, and they shy from strong commitments.' What he'd like to see more of: ambitious judgment, reflection about judgment itself, and 'criticism important enough to count as history, and vice versa.' Amen to that."—Jennifer Howard, Washington Post Book World

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"A brief but heartily polemical book."
(Barry Gewen New York Times Book Review 2005-12-11)

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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How art criticism lost its luster... Feb. 11 2007
By La chichimeca - Published on Amazon.com
James Elkins took the trouble to reflect on how art critics are doing their job or rather not doing it. Finally someone is saying that a lot of art critics are no different from news reporters among others: they either have no opinion, or they do not have the guts to express an opinion or it is not in their interest to express and/or have an opinion. Since James Elkins describes in detail how an art critic earns a living we suspect the latter is true. He explains very well how art critics prefer description to opinion because it does not ruffle any feathers. Though a sad one a very good book that makes us realize how in art criticism, as in other fields, thinking for oneself is either dangerous and/or passe and/or not worth the trouble. In short art criticism has lost a lot of its former excitement: could it be like the art it describes one wonders...
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good and bit heavy handed Jan. 30 2009
By C. Kingsley - Published on Amazon.com
I appreciated this books perspective on different approaches and categories of art criticism. Elkins is good at thinking about and describing possible reasons for 'the crisis' in art criticism. And don't assume that because this book is short it lacks depth, it is very thoughtprovoking. My own criticism of Elkin's perspective is his almost righteous stand for the need for deep historical knowledge of art to provide insigthful criticism. Towards the end he states, I don't think tongue in cheek, 'each writer, no matter what their place and purpose, should have an endless bibliography, and know every issue and claim'. While I think he is saying this to stretch his point, I could feel in the background of the whole book his own bias towards a strong art history foundation, which happens to be his own area of expertise. While there is value in this, I think it detracts from the rest of us being able to have deep responses to art based on our own experiences and reactions and to provide thoughtful criticism based on our responses.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read It. July 6 2006
By J. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Without going into superlatives or hyperbole, the strength of this book lays within its insightful examination of the breadth of critical writings as they pertain to art in the last 50 (or so) years. It was interesting enough that I did not want to put it down, and it was a quick-enough read to keep on the shelf for future review.

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