Peter Schjeldahl Reviews Art, While His Reviews Earn Reviews

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It's true. As an art critic, Peter Schjeldahl has reached a stature where other art critics not only refer to what he says, but also spend time over the merits of his comments. So, his reviews themselves become elements of discussion at coffee tables, and art critics dissect and analyze his comments, as thoroughly as they would analyze the original works of art on which Peter Schjeldahl happened to make his comments.

Without controversy, Peter Schjeldahl practices reviewing art as an art by itself, and his skillful use of language with carefully placed barbs as well as praises, and wide knowledge of the world of art, makes him an opinion leader. The personal opinion of Peter Schjeldahl on any work of art usually forms the base of public opinion, generating camps of art critics both for and against what he has said.

Peter Schjeldahl thoroughly enjoys being part of the society of art critics, and as he says, “there’s something crazy in a culture in which the value of beauty becomes controversial.” It’s something he refuses to agree with, but practices every day. Peter Schjeldahl holds that beauty is to be appreciated and experienced, and that passing value judgments on beauty robs people from the full delight of experiencing beauty in all its glory.



It’s difficult to accept such an opinion coming from a professional art critic whose profession is to critically analyze works of art. But that’s what Peter Schjeldahl essentially does – if you read any of his reviews appreciating a good work of art, you’d be led on a journey quite different from your own appreciation of the same piece. It’s the difference between eating a readymade meal to satiate your hunger, and the experience of tasting a delicacy by observing the entire behind-the-scenes process, appreciating the skills of the chef and the process by which the meal was made, and with that background knowledge, savoring each flavor of the constituents and aroma of accompanying herbs and spices. That’s the difference in appreciation of art that is created by an art critic like Peter Schjeldahl. This is why people who love art, love Peter Schjeldahl.

Perhaps the values of Peter Schjeldahl is rarely better expressed than in his following quote made in the year 1999 on the topic of “Regarding beauty”:

''Regarding Beauty'' thinks too much. It tries to put intellectual handles on a phenomenon that suppresses intellect altogether - to the understandable horror of theorists and scholars. Beauty isn't articulate. Beauty isn't nice. Beauty isn't fair... To say that beauty is mysterious isn't enough. Beauty represents a stone wall to the thinking mind - deferential to the buzzing and gurgling body - beauty is as fluid, bright, and clear as an Indian summer afternoon.

This is the attitude the differentiates Peter Schjeldahl from ordinary art critics. While critics who create landfill material approach works of art with the mindset of doing post mortem in a morgue, critics like Peter Schjeldahl look for the vibrant signs of life in the same work and try to learn and solve the mysteries of beauty. They do not visualize the mind of an artist as clockwork filled with gears and pistons, but as a river filled with power and flow that varies according to available space in the course of its journey. While ordinary reviewers criticize art, Peter Schjeldahl appreciates it, and this is what sets him apart from the crowd.

By the way, if you did not know, Peter Schjeldahl regularly contributes to the New Yorker as its chief art critic, and has been known in the world of art from the year 1964. He has worked as art critic in many publications like the New York Times, and also taught in the Harvard University for four years in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. As an art critic for over 45 years, Peter Schjeldahl has also been a postmodern poet, and has received many awards including the Guggenheim fellowship in 1995.
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