Kay Larson


    ANY CRITIC WHO DOES more than jerk a knee to kick a tire operates, knowingly or otherwise, from a set of first principles. But immediately the critic finds it necessary to relate principles to practice. This is an alchemic transmutation effected by mind reimaging itself through words, and it is felt to be faintly but essentially mystical by those who live with it daily. You could say, then, that the first or primary problem of criticism is language.

    There is a two-way flow between language and “truth” that has not been done serious harm by the skepticism of the philosophically minded. I set the


    IN THE FALL OF 1939, a 30-year-old appraiser for the U.S. Customs Service spent his slack office hours writing an article on Bertolt Brecht for Partisan Review, followed shortly by another, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” By the next year Clement Greenberg was an editor of Partisan Review and well on his way to becoming a major force in American intellectual life and criticism.

    In the half century since then the curve of his influence has passed through some remarkable coordinates. During the ’40s and ’50s the line touches each of these points on the graph: the arrival and apotheosis of Jackson Pollock,


    ART CRITICISM HAS LONG BEEN programmatically under fire from its enemies and it has just now been dealt a setback by its supposed friends. I’ve often complained of criticism too, but it is the best instrument we have for reflecting upon the experience of art in modern culture. The critic is the individual who assesses the ideas, responds to the artistic processing, and monitors the feeling tones of the created work, in public, and for the record.

    Criticism is accomplished through great internal disputes, using sensitized language in which the allusive character and the value systems of works of


    AS CITIZENS OF ART, we’re conditioned to ask questions about time and space, questions that have defined the art of this century. What we’re not conditioned to do is to cease asking questions, to invite suspension within time and space, to enter a voiceless, wordless, and silent state. But it is this voiceless condition when nothing happens, and everything can be noticed, that allows a “oneness.” To achieve this, one has to be so bored or exhausted or calm that what the Buddhists call “Mind” falls away, and “Voidness,” or what Western philosophy might call the ground of “Being,” comes to the