ART—The Pleasure Principle: Criticism That Performs

Peter Schjedahl by Nic Rad
Peter Schjeldahl by Nic Rad

“We need to recover the pleasure principle in our experience of art and in our public talk about it,” says Peter Schjeldahl. A poet long before he became the kingpin art critic for the New Yorker, he looks into art from ancient Greece to Renaissance Italy, and considers artists from Rembrandt to Basquiat to newcomers just on the radar. With a sense of urgency, Schjeldahl makes the case for developing one’s eye and powers of discrimination. He asserts, “A cultivated appreciation of the ‘pretty good’ sets us up to register the surprise of the great.” In an era where multimillion-dollar trophy acquisitions have redefined the rules of the game, Schjeldahl is tart on the subject of money. While he acknowledges the waning influence of the public intellectual, he himself has redefined the role. Tongue-in-cheek, he points to the new state of affairs, saying, “Effective criticism [today] usually has elements of performance art—a little song, a little dance, some standup comedy.” In considering selected essays, we will also tackle big themes such as beauty and the political and social possibilities of art. Soulful and captivating, Let’s See nudges us towards our own epiphanies, humming and dancing all the while.

Image courtesy Flickr/Nic*Rad

“I think that our renewed enthusiasm for Vermeer confirms a trend in current taste away from art as a field of educational improvement and toward aesthetic experience as an end in itself,”

– Peter Schjeldahl


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Betty Ann Jordan is a Toronto-based art writer and tour leader who provides an insider's perspective on the city's visual culture. She is excited about spending quality time with her favourite art writer, taking a closer look at how critical writing can yield vital insights into contemporary mores. Field trips will include visits to major exhibitions mounted in Toronto in conjunction with the July 2015 Pan Am Games.

Participants are required to obtain the specified editions in order to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion.

Let’s See: Writings on Art from the New Yorker by Peter Schjeldahl
(Thames & Hudson, hardcover, 2008)
ISBN: 978-0-500-23845-5

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