All You Need To Know.

Sometimes people say to me, “I like art but I don’t understand it.” I understand what they mean. I also don’t understand what they mean.

Art criticism isn’t as hard as a lot of art critics seem to want to make it out to be. The only thing anyone really has to ask themselves when considering a work of art is, Do I like it? And if you can give a lengthy, detailed answer explaining why then congratulations—you’ve got all it takes to be an art critic, because a critic is just somebody whose opinion is longer than anybody else’s.

I think I first realized this many years ago in college when a famous and highly respected art critic came to judge student works. He was so famous I can’t remember his name now, but it doesn’t matter because you probably wouldn’t recognize it anyway. How many art critics can you name? I read a lot of art criticism and history and I can only name about half a dozen and at least two of those are dead but that’s another story.

When the famous and highly respected art critic came to judge the students’ works he explained his method for deciding what was good and what wasn’t.

“Some mornings I want orange juice and some mornings I want tomato juice,” he said. “If I feel like orange juice and you give me tomato juice, even if it’s the world’s best tomato juice, I’m not going to like it.” This was a pretty brave admission from a critic, and probably more than he meant to say—that his judgments were subjective and fallible and likely to change, even from one day to the next. And he’d probably not be too pleased with me interpreting his words that way but, hey, he’s the one who said it. And I don’t feel bad about interpreting him that way because he looked at my friend’s painting and said, “This is pineapple juice. I hate pineapple juice.”

And then he moved on without saying anything else, which I think was unfair of him. He could have offered more and I’d even say that as a critic he should have offered more. The only critic who should be allowed such a terse opinion would be a dead critic and maybe not even then.

There’s a needle somewhere in this verbal haystack and it’s that I like the above picture but I don’t know what to say about it except that to me it’s pineapple juice and I always like pineapple juice.

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  1. Ann Koplow

    I don’t like critics and I don’t drink juice, Chris, but I like this post and I like you.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I sometimes think of myself as a critic, but not a professional one. Even if I were a professional I’d take the approach that if I couldn’t think of anything nice to say I wouldn’t say anything–and I have a lot to say about your comments.

  2. Red

    Same thing with food critics, wine critics, all critics. The number of my friends who ask I’ve been to “that place Anthony Bourdain ate” drives me bonkers. I couldn’t care less where he ate or what he thought of the food.

    “Adam Ruins Everything” did one about art tasting once. I loved it. (Have you watched him? I think it’s on Youtube.)

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yes–all critics are very subjective, although, in fairness, I find some critics will point out things I might have missed or give me a different way to think about something. Even if they hate it and I like it or vice versa, well, I don’t mind thinking about why I feel the way I do.
      And I love “Adam Ruins Everything” too and I love the show he did about art. I keep wanting to find an excuse to quote it.


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