Thursday, August 04, 2005

Peter Schjeldahl on Winslow Homer

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Winslow Homer
"Right and left"
Oil on canvas
1909

Peter Schjeldahl is one of the most respected American art critics. He served for years as the Village Voice's chief critic, but when The New Yorker hired him in the nineties, his readership expanded and he won much acclaim.

Schjeldahl's criticism is curious, often barely qualifying as such; he tends to write free-form essays about artists and exhibitions that he appreciates, saving invective for misguided art world fads. When a writer is as intelligent and creative as Schjeldahl is, this approach often results in a generous, beautiful essay.

Schjeldahl's latest New Yorker offering, "Telling Stories," is a review of the Winslow Homer exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Whereas most critics would discuss a few paintings, focusing on formal elements and the art historical significance of the work, Schjeldahl instead analyzes the difference between "reportage and art" and confronts his bias against Homer.

At one point in "Telling Stories," Schjeldahl suggests that the recent surge of collector and curatorial interest in Winslow Homer is revealing.
"Homer's storytelling put him on the losing side of modern art. Alfred Stieglitz denigrated his work, though with an odd note of respect, as 'nothing more than the highest type of Illustration.'...Homer is improving at present because the banishment of illustration from canonical modern painting, after Manet, has worn out. We like stories, and important painting of the past forty years, from Gerhard Richter to John Currin, has become ever more illustrative, and enamored of the one-off image."
Well, to that, this proud one-offer can only say, "Amen."

Photo credit: "Left and Right," oil painting by Winslow Homer

2 comments:

paddalumpakins said...

I second your "Amen" I'm very happy about the return of the narrative...a little less interested in the one-off image, but that's my own bias.

Hungry Hyaena said...

True, true...I'm a big "one-off" man myself, though I think Schjeldahl just made up the term...which is pretty great.

I hope your projects are coming along well; I plan to check in soon.