Art Talk: Why Art Critics Matter

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The last full-time art critic in the city of Chicago was laid off by Time Out magazine last month. Now, there are fewer than ten full-time art critics employed by newspapers and magazines in the country.

Culture commentator Deborah Solomon acknowledges that art critics are not easy to love. "They are, by definition, bossy and overly opinionated," she said.

But Solomon argues that culture is more than an Old Master painting hanging at the Frick or a black-and-white video flashing in a Chelsea gallery. "Culture is also the time we spend looking at art and talking about it. That’s where art critics come in. They care passionately," she said. "Without them, New Yorkers would probably talk about nothing but real estate." 

Click on the audio link above to listen to Solomon's whole piece. And do you agree with her, or do you think critics are obsolete? Post your comment below.


Deborah Solomon is a critic and journalist who lives in New York City. She asked many bold questions of political figures during her tenure as the "Questions For" columnist at The New York Times Magazine. Her new book, "American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell," will be published in November.


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Comments [25]

Marla Dekker from Booklyn

I listened with interest this morning to your commentary on MOMA licensing images from their collection to Uniqlo for t-shirts.

What I find inherently unfair about this whole process is that MOMA and Uniqlo benefit from a commercial enterprise, but yet the artist, whose creativity is being used, has no economic benefit at all. The same unfairness occurs when an artwork is resold in the secondary market - the seller benefits wholly, while the artist gets nothing.

May. 09 2014 01:30 PM
deborah solomon

Thank you Gershon. It's must nicer to receive a reply in verse than in venom.

Be well, D.

Jun. 03 2013 10:20 AM
gershon hepner from los angeles

Loved Deborah Solomon's review of the Navasky book in the NYTBR. It inspired this poem:


Visual images may have the power of a totem,
but unlike any writer’s words, you cannot quote ’em,
and it’s more fun to get with them into a scrimmage
than with descriptions that are made by any image.

I often like to be, as in past broadcasts, goonish,
and though my verses are, I think, far less cartoonish
than Peters Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milli-
gan, they often are deliberately as silly.

Cartoonish without images that might offend
the goonish Muslims who drive us around the bend,
they ought to please them, since at least they do obey
the Second of the Ten Cmmandments, canards enchaînés.


Jun. 02 2013 08:49 PM
Pedro Velez

Why is it so hard to clarify the facts here? Gisele Regatao, the Executive Producer for WNYC, stated that "the last full-time art critic in the city of Chicago was laid off by Time Out magazine last month," and Solomon used that statement to make her case. I do understand why WNYC or Solomon wanted to sound alarmist and controversial-it's the only way to get people to listen. But even based on the traditional definitions exposed there, it's fair to say that Time Out is not even a newspaper! Perhaps the fair thing to do is to interview Jason Foumberg.

May. 26 2013 07:53 PM
Bill Rabinovitch from nyc

Videoed dozens of what seemed full time art critics in the past when once far more -- most of mine including mini interviews while covering NYC art world openings & after. A few off the top of my head - not knowing if full time -- Robert Pincus Witten, Deborah Solomon, Betsy Baker, Holland Cotter, Michael Kimmelman, Irving Sandler, Walter Robinson, Helen Harrison, Jerry Saltz, Robert Morgan, Donald Kuspit, Lindsey Pollack, John Perreault, Robert Hughes, Charlie Finch, Peter Schjeldahl, Hilton Kramer, LA's Mat Gleason in NYC, Patterson Sims, Robert Storr, Kim Levin. Peter Plagens, Arthur Danto, Alexandra Spivy, Charlie Rose, etc, who would sometimes materialize as if by magic -- I hyper-tuned to their auras. A few classic, witty "You Are There" exchanges to be included in many hundreds of art openings I videoed & will include clips of over 20 years at Castelli, Gagosian, Boone, Pace, & all around town plus alternative spaces, museum press openings I'm editing for IPad using Apple's evolutionary & cutting edge iBook Author. My need for a grant is now mandatory in pulling together the bigger picture with searchable interactivity. MoMA once gave me a solo evening. Any ideas/ thoughts in solving please FB message or E-mail me.

May. 25 2013 06:24 PM
fredericPierre from France

I guess the job of an art critic if advertising so where is the truth on any of an art critics comments, no need to be bitter. I guess the Saatchi were the best critics in the eighties and that is fun for the art business(money money) and the restaurants. Best wishes, fP.

May. 23 2013 02:04 AM
deborah Solomon

To Jason Foumberg,

Thanks for writing. I'm on my way to as we speak!


May. 22 2013 06:03 PM

Thumbs up to what Mary Louise Schumacher had to say. But I do think that these types of stories overlook the lively criticism that happens in non-print formats like internet and radio. Yes, there are fewer full-time art critics at newspapers and mags, but there are also less full-time everything at newspapers and mags. (Which kills me, because newspapers are where I got my start.) None of this means that there isn't interesting, thoughtful writing happening in places like Idiom, Hyperallergic, Art F City, Triple Canopy and countless others. Yes, the full-time critic may be a dying breed (just like the full-time job), but I think criticism -- lively, conversational, interesting criticism -- is very much alive. Just not always on paper...

May. 22 2013 05:25 PM
Jason Foumberg from Chicago

Deborah, I didn't say I was "the last" art critic in the city, so I don't know why you put that in quotes. I am in fact employed by newspapers and magazines and I have a weekly art column in a newspaper circulated citywide. Check it out! and Chicago magazine.

May. 22 2013 12:39 PM
deborah Solomon

Hi there Jason, Thanks for writing. You call yourself "the last full-time art critic in Chi" but my piece specifically referred to critics employed by newspapers or magazines. I made the distinction between employed critics and a new generation of Twitter critics and FB critics because I think newspaper critics have the broad influence that old media confers. And their numbers are declining! There is, for instance, no longer a staff art critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Miami Herald or the Chicago Tribune -- all those positions have been abolished. And even that critic at the Washington Post who just won a Pulitzer in criticism does art + music + architecture -- impressive on his part, although I worry some about the job of art critic being merged with other jobs.

Soon we will have an art critic/business reporters. Oh wait, we already do! One of my Twitter followers, @CydKing, describes herself on her Twitter home page as "Staff writer covering Wal-Mart and Crystal Bridges Museum" for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

All best to you!


May. 21 2013 02:15 PM
Krafty Wurker from Mason Dixon Line

As the world's greatest, and, only flea market art critic that I know of, let me say this, there is a lot of art out there in the big empty space between the coasts.

For the non-faint hearted, who can handle criticism from a White American Protestant perspective you can follow my tweets @KraftyWurker


May. 20 2013 02:23 PM
Claudia Waters from Greater New York City area

Thank you Deborah for your insights. I love going to the Met. If one wants to avoid crowds there, simply go very early in the morning. Another way to avoid the crowds and see art? Please head out to Long Island on June 1 from 4 - 6 pm and join me at my opening: "Claudia Waters: The Figure in Motion." I will welcome art lovers and art critics alike!

Claudia Waters: The Figure in Motion
June 1 ­– July 19, 2013
Please join me at the Opening Reception on June 1, 2013 from 4 – 6 p.m.

Steinberg Museum of Art at Hillwood (formerly Hillwood Art Museum)
LIU Post, 720 Northern Boulevard, Brookville, N.Y. 11548

For further information call 516-299-4073, or visit
Contact the artist: or

May. 20 2013 02:20 PM
Jason Foumberg from Chicago

Hi, I'm a full-time art critic in the city of Chicago. So, your lead ("The last full-time art critic in the city of Chicago was laid off..") is untrue. Perhaps you'd care to revise your article in light of this info? Feel free to contact me if you'd like more info.

May. 20 2013 02:00 PM
Mary Louise Schumacher from Milwaukee

Thanks so much for articulating the value of criticism so well. We talk about the "crisis of criticism" endlessly, of course, but fail again and again at describing its value beyond platitudes.

As an aside, I think about what Regina Hackett, the former art critic at the Seattle P-I said during the year after she left the paper (and did some of her best thinking on the craft). She wrote, and I am paraphrasing, that any working critic left standing has had to confront how boring we've been and understands we have to connect with our audiences. What I notice these days is not only a passion for art but a deeper desire -- and at times a desperation -- to connect.

May. 13 2013 06:09 PM
deborah solomon

Aruna, Thanks for your wise comments. Often I would rather read a review by one of my favorite critics (Peter Schjeldahl, Roberta Smith, Jerry Saltz, Sandy Schwartz) than see the show they're reviewing. Criticism offers it own heady pleasures.

May. 10 2013 09:55 AM
Bruce Iacono from New York

Art critics became obsolete in productive discourse on the visual arts as soon as they and the rest of the mainstream visual arts community decided to throw out, as a cultural misdirect, roughly 40,000 years of expressive realism and elected instead to champion non-objective, de-humanizing and irrelevant (except as a negative influence on humanity) imagery as the height of human expression.

May. 09 2013 07:03 PM

To the commenter who said "why read about art if you can't see it": I never see movies when they come out, but I'm addicted to reading movie reviews in the New Yorker and other places. I also love reading reviews of unfamiliar books in the New York Review of Books. I like the form of the review -- it's not just about the art or book or film, it's about the ideas generated by its subject. It's part of a conversation that the artwork initiates. That's why I think criticism is important -- it takes up the threads of the conversation that the artwork proposes, and gives us a way into that conversation.

May. 09 2013 06:56 PM
JPTich from Harlem

Yes, yes they do. They act as historians--through their work.

May. 09 2013 05:54 PM
Carolita from NYC

I totally agree! I love going to museums alone, but there's nothing like hearing what someone else thinks, particularly if they are more informed or rooted in history than I am. I really appreciate it, even if I disagree.

May. 09 2013 05:53 PM

I had my first art show this weekend and I loved hearing all the different reactions to my pieces. I haven't listened yet to your interview (because I'm at work and am supposed to be working) but I love the concept. Art critics, like all literary and theatrical critics, help authors, artists, and directors see more in their own work. At the same time, they are critically important (ha! Sorry for the unintended pun) to historical research. They help us historians know what might be considered important in a certain culture. They help us do "reception history" of cultural ideas as much as they help us study the history of the object itself.

May. 09 2013 02:23 PM
Sally Patt from new york

After being a fan of Deborah Solomons NYT's column for years, I was so delighted to hear her on WNYC. I so enjoyed hearing her intelligent, witty thoughts on art culture & look forward to hearing more.

May. 09 2013 11:26 AM
deborah Solomon

Joan, I am sorry to hear that you feel so discouraged about the experience of museum-going. If you hate crowds -- and who doesn't dislike having to peer at a Manet through some museum-goer's ratty hairdo? -- try seeking out an EMPTY gallery in a museum's permanent collection. There are always more than a few. For instant uplift, I recommend the Courbets at the Met.

May. 09 2013 10:33 AM
Joan from Brooklyn

Why read about art if you can't see it. Going to the Met is as pleasurable as rush hour in the subway. The crowds are daunting, half the place is closed off, there are few signs around helping one to navigate the place. Then there are many like those I saw there yesterday that take up space in front of an exhibit while contemplating their cell phones. And, its not just the Met. If one can't stop, look and think about what the critics say or write what's the point. NY's museums have become places one can check off on their been there, done that lists.

May. 09 2013 09:02 AM
deborah solomon

Noel, Thanks for writing. I will try to see the show.

May. 09 2013 08:35 AM
noel from new york

I appreciated your commentary on "Why Art Critics Matter." I encourage you to visit the Clic Gallery 255 Centre Street this weekend along with an adventure to the MET and a trip out to Frieze. There is a wonderful art show opening called "by RE:QUEST" May 12th from 6-8p curated by Diego Cortez (Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring). The show features painters and photographers, new to the art industry, who are models. The works are all simply stunning. Come Critic.

May. 09 2013 07:58 AM

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