Clement Greenberg was not a shy man. He was convinced that his taste was impeccable and that his gift of judgment was close to unerring. He would look at a painting and decide whether it was good or bad in an instant. With little pity, he dismissed the vast majority of the art he viewed. “Superior art continues to be something more or less exceptional,” he wrote. “And this, this rather stable quantitative relation between the superior and inferior, offers as fundamentally relevant a kind of artistic order as you could wish.”

But his chutzpah went even further. Greenberg believed that Kant had been the first critic to recognize that esthetic judgments, decisions about the quality of individual works of art, can’t be proved. Here’s how Greenberg put it in his essay, “Esthetic Judgment:”

I don’t think it’s… More…

 

Criticism isn’t powerful anymore. It doesn’t drive anything, it doesn’t define what is good and bad in culture. Surely this has mostly to do with all the changes in the media landscape over the last few decades. Basically, culture has been democratized. It has been flattened out and multiplied. There are no longer real distinctions between high and low. There’s just more.

The word criticism has its root in the Greek word krinein, which means — in its most original sense — to divide or separate. It’s about sorting things out and making distinctions. Criticism is thus about doing something that is, in this era, almost impossible to do. It is difficult simply to keep up with the vast global cultural output, let alone to make determinations and judgments.

So the critic lives in terror and humiliation, without… More…