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What it Means to Write About Art

Interviews with art critics

The most comprehensive portrait of art criticism ever assembled, as told by the leading writers of our time. 

In the last fifty years, art criticism has flourished as never before. Moving from niche to mainstream, it is now widely taught at universities, practiced in newspapers, magazines, and online, and has become the subject of debate by readers, writers, and artists worldwide.

Equal parts oral history and analysis of craft, What It Means to Write About Art offers an unprecedented overview of American art writing. These thirty in-depth conversations chart the role of the critic as it has evolved from the 1960s to today, providing an invaluable resource for aspiring artists and writers alike. John Ashbery recalls finding Rimbaud’s poetry through his first gay crush at sixteen; Rosalind Krauss remembers stealing the design of October from Massimo Vignelli; Paul Chaat Smith details his early days with Jimmy Durham in the American Indian Movement; Dave Hickey talks about writing country songs with Waylon Jennings; Michele Wallace relives her late-night and early-morning interviews with James Baldwin; Lucy Lippard describes confronting Clement Greenberg at a lecture; Eileen Myles asserts her belief that her negative review incited the Women’s Action Coalition; and Fred Moten recounts falling in love with Renoir while at Harvard.

Jarrett Earnest’s wide-ranging conversations with critics, historians, journalists, novelists, poets, and theorists—each of whom approach the subject from unique positions—illustrate different ways of writing, thinking, and looking at art.

Interviews with Hilton Als, John Ashbery, Bill Berkson, Yve-Alain Bois, Huey Copeland, Holland Cotter, Douglas Crimp, Darby English, Hal Foster, Michael Fried, Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, Dave Hickey, Siri Hustvedt, Kellie Jones, Chris Kraus, Rosalind Krauss, Lucy Lippard, Fred Moten, Eileen Myles, Molly Nesbit, Jed Perl, Barbara Rose, Jerry Saltz, Peter Schjeldahl, Barry Schwabsky, Paul Chaat Smith, Roberta Smith, Lynne Tillman, Michele Wallace, and John Yau. 

“An artist and art writer himself, Mr. Earnest delves into our complicated relationships with art. He sets out to discover what formed and drives art critics. Mr. Earnest brings just the right amounts of chutzpah, curiosity and catholic taste to his conversations, igniting his interviewees’ passions.”

– Lance Esplund, Wall Street Journal

“Some of the most polemical, divisive, and canonical forces of 20th-century American art criticism are found side-by-side in Jarrett Earnest’s new collection of interviews. The book is neither a casual roundtable nor an academic forum: the interlocutors were interviewed discretely and in great depth between 2015 and 2018. The result is an unusual and compelling set of linkages. There is little consensus to be found among the art writers, who range in tone and style from Rosalind Krauss to Eileen Myles, but Earnest allows an uncanny continuum to come to fruition.”

– Felix Bernstein, Los Angeles Review of Books

“The marvelous compendium What It Means to Write About Art: Interviews with Art Critics by Jarrett Earnest (David Zwirner Books, 2018) presents 30 very lively personalities. We learn how much the art world has changed in the past 50 years, why people become art critics, and how these critics understand contemporary art. What unites all of these critics is a fascination with the challenging, pleasurable activity of writing about visual art.”

– David Carrier, Hyperallergic

More books from this author: Jarrett Earnest