Art criticism as a genre of writing, obtained its modern form in the 18th century. The earliest use of the term art criticism was by the English painter in his 1719 publication . In this work, he attempted to create an objective system for the ranking of works of art. Seven categories, including drawing, composition, invention and colouring, were given a score from 0 to 18, which were combined to give a final score. The term he introduced quickly caught on, especially as the English middle class began to be more discerning in their art acquisitions, as symbols of their flaunted social status.
Critiques of art likely originated with the origins of art itself, as evidenced by texts found in the works of , or among others, that contain early forms of art criticism. Also, wealthy have employed, at least since the start of , intermediary art-evaluators to assist them in the procurement of commissions and/or finished pieces.
Art criticism includes a descriptive aspect, where the work of art is sufficiently translated into words so as to allow a case to be made. The evaluation of a work of art that follows the description (or is interspersed with it) depends as much on the artist's output as on the experience of the critic. There is in an activity with such a marked subjective component a variety of ways in which it can be pursued. As extremes in a possible spectrum, while some favour simply remarking on the immediate impressions caused by an artistic object, others prefer a more systematic approach calling on technical knowledge, favoured and the known sociocultural context the artist is immersed in to discern their intent.
As my final point, it is also worthwhile to reconsider the role of aesthetics in the philosophy of art and art criticism. In discussing the claim that art is an object with a theory, or a meaning embodied somehow, I have focused mainly on the issue of the relevant theory or meaning. I should also have paid attention to Danto's point about embodiment. When the art critic tells us about meaning, especially if that meaning is philosophical or involves a theory of the nature of art, this appears to involve a pursuit of something lofty and mental. "Meaning" transpires on a plane far above that of the good or bad dinners that restaurant reviewers tell us about. (It's only the rare and academic restaurant reviewer who launches into reflections about the meanings of cuisines under examination.) But the Danto-esque art critic will also talk about embodiment. And in my view, it's the embodiment of the Warhol or the Duchamp that seem so lacking in aesthetic appeal and that make the encounter with these works less fully transformative. But on this point Danto's own art criticism seems to have taken on a direction of its own, maybe a bit apart from his theory of art and its philosophy. For he has always talked about embodiment. Recall his mentioning the unique use Hockney makes of perspective, or Sargent and Velázquez's inimitable wrist flicks. The meaning is in the embodiment just as the soul is in the body, just as Danto has adduced on numerous occasions. This factor is probably what explains why there is still room in the Danto lexicon of art criticism for us to use those old-fashioned terms like beauty, as well as the more new-fangled ones that speak of art as a theory of art. Theories of art may be striking and original but they will not be able to be truly "transformative" until they are embodied in something real—in something sensuous and skillful, that exists in paint or stone, in a realm more concrete than theories ever dreamed of.
11. A critic ought not to be the spokesperson for the artist.
Some Beauties yet, no Precepts can declare,
For there's a Happiness as well as Care.
Musick resembles Poetry, in each
Are nameless Graces which no Methods teach,
And which a Master-Hand alone can reach.
If, where the Rules not far enough extend,
(Since Rules were made but to promote their End)
Some Lucky LICENCE answers to the full
Th' Intent propos'd, that Licence is a Rule.
Thus Pegasus, a nearer way to take,
May boldly deviate from the common Track.
Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to Faults true Criticks dare not mend;
From vulgar Bounds with brave Disorder part,
And snatch a Grace beyond the Reach of Art,
Which, without passing thro' the Judgment, gains
The Heart, and all its End at once attains.
In Prospects, thus, some Objects please our Eyes,
Which out of Nature's common Order rise,
The shapeless Rock, or hanging Precipice.
But tho' the Ancients thus their Rules invade,
(As Kings dispense with Laws Themselves have made)
Moderns, beware! Or if you must offend
Against the Precept, ne'er transgress its End,
Let it be seldom, and compell'd by Need,
And have, at least, Their Precedent to plead.
The Critick else proceeds without Remorse,
Seizes your Fame, and puts his Laws in force.
3. The Need for Evaluation or, What Happened to Art Criticism?
's essay "Why have there been no great women artists?" helped to ignite feminist art history during the 1970s and remains one of the most widely read essays about female artists. In it she applies a feminist critical framework to show systematic exclusion of women from art training. Nochlin argues that exclusion from practicing art as well as the canonical history of art was the consequence of cultural conditions which curtailed and restricted women from art producing fields. The few who did succeed were treated as anomalies and did not provide a model for subsequent success. is another prominent feminist art historian, whose use of psychoanalytic theory is described above. While feminist art history can focus on any time period and location, much attention has been given to the Modern era. Some of this scholarship centers on the , which referred specifically to the experience of women.
What Is Art Theory and Criticism?
During the mid-20th century, art historians embraced by using critical approaches. The goal was to show how art interacts with power structures in society. One critical approach that art historians used was Marxism. Marxist art history attempted to show how art was tied to specific classes, how images contain information about the economy, and how images can make the status quo seem natural ().