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Roberta Smith: Criticism, a life sentence

From The Contemporary State of Art Criticism

Smith confesses at the beginning of the event that she does not lecture; she gives the same talk at every event and uses it as a prompt to reach the Q&A session. It’s true. There are many versions of this piece (with different titles) on different video platforms online. This is the shortest, most succinct of these. Even without being prompted by questions, Smith describes a strand of professional criticism that is disappearing. Apart from her astute understanding of what the profession is—“everything around you can be analyzed in terms of its visual presence”—she also explains the difference between the forms of criticism we most often address: magazine writing in comparison to newspaper writing. “Until I went outside of the art world, I thought I was a complete fraud,” because with magazines, Smith explains, by the time the review is published the exhibition has already closed, which leaves little room for a critic to know his or her audience. And connecting with that audience is most important to her. There’s something very romantic about Smith’s process of discovering the right position as a critic, but unlike many such talks from a single critic, Smith does not take a “how-to,” advisory approach, but rather recounts doubts, her work process, and, at the risk of sounding overly optimistic, faith: “The great thing about art is that there’s more than you can ever know about, you can’t learn it all. And you’re lucky if you get to spend your lifetime trying to.” Smith is one of the lucky ones whose roles allow her to spend that life trying. And it’s great to watch.

Roberta Smith is an art critic for the New York Times and a lecturer on contemporary art.

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February 13, 2015

The New School

Curated by

Orit Gat