Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Roberta Smith “On Becoming and Remaining an Art Critic” spoke at the St. Louis Art Museum

A shortened introduction for Roberta Smith from the St. Louis Art Museum events calendar: "Smith is an acclaimed art critic and popular lecturer on contemporary art. She was the art critic for the Village Voice and a senior editor at Art in America before moving to the New York Times in 1986."


Roberta wowed the full auditorium with her straight forward views, plain spoken language, and brilliant mind at the St. Louis Art Museum lecture. Here are some snipets of what she said. I haven't put quotation marks around these ideas because they are my notes, not exact quotes. But I think I caught what she said close enough that you can get a good idea of how she cuts through to give you a fresh view. What's harder to convey is how funny she is.---JGR


--We are all critics in our daily life. We are constantly forming aesthetic judgments in daily life. That's our critical faculty.

--There is so much going on inside us when standing in front of a work of art.
1) look; 2) think; 3) listen inside.

--Rather than shutting down, feel with your eyes. Then articulate what comes up in you.

--There are different forms of possession. The artist feels she must capture something welling up; the collector feels she must have the artwork; the critic feels she must write about the artwork.

--You can never run out of art.

--We have a responsibility to give back to keep the gift of art in motion.

--The NYC art world is filled with nonartists. You have to be willing to let your love of art take you away from making art if that's what needs to happen.

--When she was growing up, her mother asked for her opinion as she re-decorated. Having an opinion was a good thing as a child.

--She backed into being an art critic and she walked us through that path that included going to Grennell College, becoming a Juddite in NYC, and resolving to make art criticism a primary activity in her life--one that she'd do fulltime and lifelong--one that she'd make a living from.

--"Shut up and listen." You have to be willing to be betrayed by your own taste. You have to be willing to surprise yourself.

--She sees her job as getting herself out of the house.

--NY Times: Prisoners in the house of language.

--Everything around art is always in flux and nothing is more in flux than opinion. What is stable is doing your own work as well as you can.

--A true piece of art has an active presence in the object. The consensus of opinion about the object can bouy it up and set it in motion to be displayed. What does the original maker of the object put in it to cause it survive?

--Art accumulates language around it in each generation. There is an autonomy and essence in an object. It's there, but the view of it changes. You can see living art in any period.

--Blogs and chat rooms are telephone conversations that are going to be around forever.

Okay, then. Bye-bye for now. I'm hanging up the phone.

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  1. What a wonderful site. I am an artist in multiple mediums and so appreciate the words you have delivered in this post. So true, so true.

    You are welcome to visit to see some of my carvings. They prove to me that yes, you do have to be willing to surprise yourself. If someone had suggested five years ago that I would be doing this work, I would have laughed.

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