What Do Critics Do?

Episode 58 · October 23rd, 2019 · 59 mins 55 secs

About this Episode

What is the role of the critic in the world of art? For some, including lots of critics, the figure exudes an aura of authority: her task is to tell us what this or that work of art means, why it matters, and what we are supposed to think and feel in its presence. Cast in in this mold, the critic is an arbiter, not just of taste, but also of sense and meaning. The American art critic Dave Hickey categorically rejects this interpretation, which he says gives off a mild stench of fascism. For Hickey, the critic plays a weak role, and it's this weakness that makes it essential. In his essay "Air Guitar," published in 1997, Hickey argues that criticism can never really penetrate the mystery of any artwork. Criticism is rather a way to capture the "enigmatic whoosh" of art as one instance of the more pervasive "whoosh" of ordinary experience. So, no act of criticism can ever exhaust an artwork. The critic interprets a singular experience of art into words so that others might be encouraged to have their own, equally singular experiences. In this episode, Phil and JF discuss what criticism has to do with art, life, politics, and ordinary experience.

Header image: Caravaggio, The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599-1600)


Dave Hickey, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy
Plato, Republic
Oscar Wilde, "The Decay of Lying"
Phil Ford, Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature
Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?
Dave Hickey, "Buying the World"
Clinton e-mails exhibition at the Venice Biennale
Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Dorian Gray