Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

Words to Work By

From Peter Schjeldahl's review of a controversially uncanonical 2000 Guggenheim show called 1900: Art at the Crossroads, which of course I missed--review and show both. Due to the magic of a technology called the book and an economic risk called the essay collection--Schjeldahl's 2008 Let's See, which reads just great two years late--I recently came across the following quote and feel I can still do a service by sharing it with you a week later:

[Organizer Robert] Rosenblum's brand of art-love vexes me with its levelling embrace of the good, the bad, and the kinky. Liking so much, can one care for anything? But such caprice is a timely antidote to the ten-best-list mentality in a field where most people's attention flags after the top two or three items. We need to recover the pleasure principle in our experience of art and in our public talk about it. Taste cannot be exercised too often or on objects too lowly. Art works are like people who are mysteriously possessed of a will to please us. Perhaps they fail--they may be fools, for example--but how can we not be touched by the effort? Grateful tact is most in order when the intention succeeds to a degree, but less than wholly. That's where art's engines of pleasure are most instructively exposed. A cultivated appreciation of the pretty good sets us up to register the surprise of the great, which baffles our understanding and teaches us little except how to praise. Greatness, a bonus for those who are in the game, can occur only when the game is widely and gladly played.

Though it omits the cleansing catharsis of the well-earned, sharply worded pan, hell, it's only a paragraph, and as such can serve as a credo--one among several, in the best case--for anyone on the criticism beat. What Schjeldahl doesn't mention is that it's best to write as sharply as he does when putting it into practice--or at least to try. So I'll mention it for him.

1 Comment

By j. sot on October 7, 2010 2:30 AM

Taste cannot be exercised too often or on objects too lowly.

fine, but just who gets to decide what is to be considered as being "too lowly"?

(also: what is "taste," and can i buy some cheap?)

Articles, Oct. 6, 2014

For Max Salazar, 1932-2010 Mind-Blowing Yurrup