Critical Responses

DEFINITION

Critical opinions about a specific work by artists, art historians, art critics, art dealers, sellers and buyers, public officials, and the general public.

SUBCATEGORIES

COMMENT
DOCUMENT TYPE
AUTHOR
DATE
CIRCUMSTANCE
REMARKS
CITATIONS

DISCUSSION

Critical evaluations of works of art over time may form a separate history of opinion. Responses to a work of art may change quite radically in the course of its history, depending on the preconceptions and biases of the particular period. In addition, an individual artist, author, or critic may change his or her position with regard to the same work of art. The same is true of public opinion; while a work may have been highly regarded during one period, during another it may fall from favor, even to the point of being removed from public view or altered to conform to the tastes or mores of the particular time. Such responses provide a unique perspective on the history of taste and social attitudes.

The fact that a work is not mentioned in a particular source may also be of significance.

Recording opinions about a work of art provides insight into sensibilities and artistic values of different periods.

Opinions of works of art may be in the form of direct quotations from artists, authors, or critics, or may consist of paraphrases or summaries of opinions. All critical responses should be accompanied by specific references to the sources in which they were found.

Source

Critical responses to a work of art may be found in essays, books (including works of poetry or fiction, and guidebooks), reviews, catalogs, newspapers, and magazines.

USES

The range of opinions expressed about a work of art makes it possible to assess its importance, influence, and reputation at different periods of time. A record of critical commentary "informs the iconography and iconology [of a work of art] and is particularly relevant, as it is often written by artists." [1]

A record of the critical opinions voiced about a work of art also aids in the study of the history of art criticism. For example, "twentieth-century views of nineteenth-century academic art ...generally have nothing to do with the art, but have a lot to do with twentieth-century opinion and how/why it is so shaped. This interplay is very important in my scholarly studies, because it allows critical studies of art criticism." [2]

ACCESS

This category makes it possible to identify comments made by a particular artist, author, or critic, or to find opinions of a particular work of art, or judgments that have appeared in a particular place or during a particular period of time. The nationality of the author of the comment, or the place where it was made, may be relevant for some studies.

RELATIONSHIPS

The opinions of the artist at the time of the creation of a work should be noted in the subcategory CREATION - CREATOR - STATEMENT.

Political, social, economic, or religious events associated with the work of art should be noted in the category CONTEXT.

Texts that mention the work of art, or that were consulted in writing the description of it, should be noted in the category RELATED TEXTUAL REFERENCES.

Works of art that were influenced by or had an influence on the work being described, or that were commented upon in relation to the work in question, or that constitute a reaction or response to the work, should be noted in the category RELATED WORKS.


Critical Responses - Comment

DEFINITION

A quotation or paraphrase of an opinion expressed about a particular work.

EXAMPLES

"No defense can, however, be offered for the choice of features in the left-hand figure of Mr. Millais' Dove Returning to the Ark. I cannot understand how a painter so sensible of the utmost refinement of beauty in other objects should deliberately choose for his model a type so far inferior to that of average humanity, and unredeemed by any expression save that of dull self-complacency." [3]

"Michelangelo was, of course, a homosexual. If Leonardo was the painter of the blissful maternal smile, then Michelangelo was the sculptor of the male body in struggle, or paternal power, and the father-son relationship. Many of his best-known images -- David, God creating Adam on the Sistine ceiling, the representations of the prophets, the slaves, the Moses and the Son of Man returning in the Last Judgement -- spring from this nexus. At differing moments of his life, the focus shifted from son to father and back again. The male nude became for him the instrument of expression; he was notoriously uneasy with the unclothed female body. Thus the haunting statue of Night is transparently that of a youth with female elements less than lovingly added on... The sub-theme of Michelangelo's iconography -- as manifested in the pietàs and sculptures of the Virgin and Child -- is that of his longing for the lost or absent mother." [4]

"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was also the set piece of the recent MOMA exhibition-cum-book 'Primitivism' in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, in which it was presented along with African masks often proposed as sources for the demoiselles, in such a way as to support the curatorial case for a modern/tribal affinity in art (the argument runs that Picasso could not have seen these masks, that the painting manifests an intuitive primitivism or 'savage mind'). This presentation was typical of the abstractive operation of the show, premised as it was on a belief that 'modernist primitivism depends on the autonomous force of objects' and that its complexities can be revealed in purely visual terms simply by the juxtaposition of knowingly selected works of art. Though the exhibition did qualify the debased art-historical notion of causal influence (e.g., of the tribal on the modern), as on another front it demolished the more debased racist model of an evolutionary primitivism, it did so only to replace the first with 'affinity' (in the form of the family of homoartifex) and the latter with the empty 'human creativity wherever found.' "[5]

"The Americans rarely could allow imagination to remove itself too far from reality. Thus Cole found Turner's later works, especially, 'gorgeous but altogether false.' "[6]

"Tangled Garden [by J.E.H. MacDonald, 1916, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa] was decried as a radical work because it broke from the academic type of flower paintings that were popular at the time. [Hector] Charlesworth complained that 'the size of the canvas is much too large for the relative importance of the subject, and the crudity of the colours, rather than the delicate tracery of all vegetation seems to have appealed to the painter.' ...MacDonald himself missed the central issue when he retorted that 'every one of these pictures is sound in composition. Their colour is good, in some instances superlatively good; not one of them is too large.' ...No one at that time recognized the significance of the break this painting made with the conventional formulas, or the threat it posed to established tradition." [7]

"Et les mèches de ses cheveux roux crespélés par la nature, mais collés par la brillantine, étaient largement traitées comme elles sont dans la sculpture grecque qu'étudiait sans cesse le peintre de Mantoue, et qui, si dans la création elle ne figure que l'homme, sait du moins tirer de ses simple formes des richesses si variées et comme empruntées à toute la nature vivante..." ("And the locks of his reddish hair, crinkled by nature but glued to his head by brilliantine, were treated broadly as they are in that Greek sculpture which the Mantuan painter never ceased to study, and which, if in its creator's purpose it represents but man, manages at least to extract from man's simple outlines such a variety of richness, borrowed, as it were, from the whole of animate nature...") [8]

Gertrude Stein said of Picasso's famous 1905-1906 portrait of her: "For me it is I and it is the only reproduction of me which is always I for me." [9]

DISCUSSION

This subcategory provides the opinion of the work of art in the words of its author, so that the reader can assess its significance.

Direct quotations should be transcribed whenever possible. When quotation is impractical or impossible, critical responses should be paraphrased. When the quotation is in a language other than that of the cataloging institution, it is preferable to give the quote in the original language, followed by a translation if possible.

Source

Critical responses should be transcribed verbatim, or paraphrased from the original text.


Critical Responses - Document Type

DEFINITION

The kind of document that contains the opinion of a work of art.

EXAMPLES

commentary
scholarly essay
monograph
travel book
exhibition review
remarks on mat
inscription on verso
autobiography
diary
newspaper article
poem
novel
television interview

DISCUSSION

Noting the type of document that contains a critical response to a work of art provides additional insight into the nature of the opinion and its possible impact or importance.

USES

This subcategory makes it possible, for example, to find all opinions in travel diaries.

ACCESS

Specialists in the history of criticism or taste may want to search on document type.

TERMINOLOGY/FORMAT

The use of a controlled vocabulary is recommended, such as the AAT (especially Information Forms hierarchy), ACRL/RBMS Genre Terms, ISO 5127-3: Iconic Documents, ISO 5127-11: Audio-visual Documents, LC Descriptive Terms for Graphic Materials, Moving Image Materials, or Revised Nomenclature.


Critical Responses - Author

DEFINITION

The name of the person who made the comment about a work of art.

EXAMPLES

Sir Anthony Blunt
Peter Fuller
Anna Jameson
Timothy Clark
Giovanni Morelli
Herbert Read
Sigmund Freud
Gertrude Stein
Pliny the Elder
John Ruskin
Clement Greenberg
Giorgio Vasari
Susan Sontag

DISCUSSION

Attributing a critical response to a specific individual helps to place it in context and aids in its interpretation and evaluation.

USES

Researchers may want to know who made a particular comment about a work of art.

ACCESS

Scholars who study the history of criticism and taste, or those who wish to analyze the criticism of a particular individual will want to search by author's name.

TERMINOLOGY/FORMAT

The use of consistent forms of personal names is recommended; sources of vocabulary include Canadiana Authorities or LC Name Authorities.


Critical Responses - Date

DEFINITION

The date on which a particular author, artist, or critic made a comment about a work of art.

EXAMPLES

December 12, 1991
15th century

DISCUSSION

Noting the date that a particular critical response to a work of art was expressed places it in its historical context.

When an exact date is not available for a particular critical response, a less precise chronological designation, such as sixteenth century or after 1492, may be used.

Source

The date of a particular critical response can usually be found in the same source as the text of the response itself.

USES

Scholars may want to know when a particular comment was made in order to study, for example, sixteenth-century opinions of classical Roman sculpture.

ACCESS

Researchers may search on date to group, for example, early eighteenth-century opinions of Chinese works.

TERMINOLOGY/FORMAT

Dates can be recorded in two ways: as text (illustrated in the above examples), and as two integers indicating the beginning of a date span and the end of a date span (dates BCE can be stored as negative values). Rigidly controlled format is required to allow retrieval. The use of date guidelines is recommended, such the AAT Date Guidelines or ISO 8601: Dates & Times.


Critical Responses - Circumstance

DEFINITION

A description of the historical context and circumstances in which an opinion was offered or written.

EXAMPLES

Ruskin was lecturing at Oxford.

In the novel The Recognitions by William Gaddis, there is a long passage on Piero della Francesca's Adoration of the Christ Child (London), which is described as being in a remote monastery in Spain. The author uses the "unfinished" quality of the picture to set a scene of destruction, as one of the monks, who seems to be painstakingly painting the picture, turns out to be destroying it with maddening skill. This description brings out the painterly qualities of the work, while suggesting a new, threatening element. [10]

In Proust's epoch-making novel Swann in Love, Swann, a turn-of-the-century French aesthete fascinated by the art of the Italian Renaissance, sees a footman who reminds him of a soldier in Mantegna's Ovetari frescoes, and waxes poetic on the expressive power of Mantegna's art. [11]

DISCUSSION

Noting the context in which a particular opinion of a work of art was expressed makes it possible to understand and evaluate it more fully and accurately.

This subcategory should contain a prose description of the circumstances under which a particular opinion was expressed. It may also describe the importance or role of the author or of the work in which the opinion appears, and may include interpretations of scholars or art historians, or of the person writing the description of the work of art.

Source

This information may be supplied by the person writing the description of the work of art, or may be drawn from the same sources as the text of the opinion itself.

USES

This information makes it possible to evaluate the critical comment and its author in light of the context in which the comment was made.


Critical Responses - Remarks

DEFINITION

Additional notes or comments pertinent to the critical opinion of the work of art or the interpretation of evidence about the source of such opinions.


Critical Responses - Citations

DEFINITION

Reference to a published or unpublished source for the information in CRITICAL RESPONSES.

___________

ENDNOTES

1 Judith Kirshner, University of Illinois at Chicago, in AITF Review Committee questionnaire, 3 April 1993.

2 James Smalls, Rutgers University, in AITF Review Committee questionnaire, 3 April 1993.

3 John Ruskin, The Works of John Ruskin, edited by E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London, 1903-1912), vol. 12, p. 325.

4 Peter Fuller, Art and Psychoanalysis (London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, 1980), p. 41.

5 Hal Foster, Recodings, Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics (Port Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1985), pp. 182-183.

6 Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 84.

7 Peter Mellen, The Group of Seven (Toronto and Montreal: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1970), p. 66.

8 Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), vol. I, p. 324; the English translation is from Remembrance of Things Past, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), vol. I, p. 353.

9 Gertrude Stein on Picasso, ed. Edward Burns (New York: Liveright, 1970).

10 William Gaddis, The Recognitions (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955).

11 Marcel Proust, Àla recherche du temps perdu (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), vol. I, p. 324; the English translation is from Remembrance of Things Past, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), vol. I, p. 353.