TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reflections on the State of Criticism

I DON’T MIND THE POSITIVE work done by formalist critics, but I dislike their interdictory stance—the attitude that tells an artist what he ought not to do, and the spectator what he ought not to see. Preventive esthetics, I call it.

When was it that formalist art criticism first conceived of itself as a prohibitive function? At a certain point we begin to be told that there is only one thing, one alone, to be looked for in art. Thus Baudelaire in his 1863 essay on Delacroix:

A well-drawn figure fills you with a pleasure that is quite alien to the theme. Voluptuous or terrible, this figure owes its charm solely to the arabesque it describes in space. The limbs of a flayed martyr, the body of a swooning nymph, if they are skillfully drawn, connote a type of pleasure in which the theme plays no part, and if you believe otherwise, I shall be forced to think that you are an executioner or a

Sign-in to keep reading

Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.

Not registered for artforum.com? Register here.

SUBSCRIBE NOW at the special holiday rate of $45 a year—70% off the newsstand price. You’ll receive the print magazine plus full online access to this issue and our archive.*

Order the ONLINE EDITION for $5.99.

* This rate applies to U.S. domestic subscriptions.