"Unsolved Issues in Contemporary Art Criticism"
The study of “forms,” “styles,” and “practices of judging” (to use Stephanie Marchal’s expressions) is difficult because judgment itself is not always acknowledged or recognized in art discourse. This lecture proposes several reasons why as openings for further conversation.
1. Judgment is still associated with a reductive version of high modernism.
2. The central response to that version of judgment, Rosalind Krauss’s formulation of method, is obscure and has never been developed. The result is a widespread practice (which I call “North Atlantic art history”) that precludes clear discussion of the place of judgment in art history.
3. Judgment is largely avoided in art criticism, although it persists in journalistic criticism of literature, poetry, theater, and music. This avoidance results in ineffectual formulations such as “all description is judgment.”
4. The few theories of the nature of judgment in relation to contemporary art are bewilderingly diverse (for example formulations by Boris Groys, Irit Rogoff, and Stephen Melville).
5. Many European and North American institutions are turning to quantitative assessment of art students, but the fundamental terms remain uninterrogated—for example “competence,” “coherence,” “eloquence,” “research,” “knowledge,” and “self-reflexivity.” These are the terms the modern academy uses to judge art.
James Elkins is E.C. Chadbourne Professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His most recent book is The End of Diversity in Art Historical Writing. He writes on art and non-art images; other books include Chinese Landscape Painting as Western Art History (Hong Kong University Press) and Art Critiques: A Guide (New Academia). In October 2015 he stopped writing monographs in order to concentrate on an experimental writing project that is not related to visual art.
School of Art & Design Visitors Committee
Thursday, November 9, 3:00-4:30 pm, workshop (Art History in Studio Class), 316 Art & Design Building
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