Home Magazine Who is considered the father of Modern Art criticism? | Part 2

As Art Criticism is a fundamental asset of the art world, with so much to be said, we have prepared a second guide about Modern Art Criticism.

Related articles: 30 seminal oil paintings of Modern Art - Who is considered the father of modern art criticism? - 20 modern artists you should know

As previously mentioned in our article "Who is the father of Modern Art Criticism?", art criticism is the analysis and evaluation of artwork in terms of its context, aesthetics, value etc. Art criticism goes hand in hand with the artmaking, and it is needed to contextualise artworks within Art History. In today's article, you will find another five insightful list of crucial modern art critics and how their essays became sacred to the art world. Modern Art Criticism was vital to contextualise the variety of art movements going on during the 20th century, and these same pieces of writings are widely influential today. 

For context, make sure you read the first part of this article here.

“The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes

We are starting this exciting list quite strongly with a crucial art critic name: Roland Barthes. The French writer, critic and essayist born in 1915 wrote a couple of important books such as "Le Degré zéro de l'écriture" (1953), "Mythologies" (1957), "Essais critiques" (1964). His eccentric writing style often focused on the study of semiotics, helping establish structuralism and the New Criticism as leading intellectual movements. Barthes might have influenced the writings of other influential writers such as psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, socio-historian Michel Foucault, and philosopher Jacques Derrida. His theories became extremely significant not only in France but around the globe, and he is still one of the most influential art writers ever.


Roland Barthes portrait (1915-1980), undated. Via artofericwayne.com


Roland Barthes famous essay "The Death of the Author" (1967) is a crucial essay in any art studies, and this is the essay we will be focusing on now. The essay is undeniably influenced by the rise of the capitalist culture in the art to which Barthes affirms that "the author" is inevitably part of, but with not as an authority. The art critic brings in the relevancy of the reader's interpretation as more important than the writer's intentions. The text is referred to as the product of the writer, disconnecting the identity of its author from its words or meaning. "The Death of the Author" is about the "birth of the reader" and its interpretative power. This essay is more of a theory that questions the importance of the author in any creative piece for the progressive Contemporary World, being extremely important for Post-Structuralism because he understands the power of the use of language- its structure and meaning. Roland Barthes does not believe that the author is inexistent. Still, he puts forward a theory where he understands that for the work to be genuinely interpreted, it needs to be separated temporarily from its creator.


Roland Barthes “The Death of the Author” 1967. Via Amazon.


Barthes' script is significant to understand specific Contemporary Art Movements such as Appropriation. Assuming this theory as correct, appropriation artists found the perfect excuse to use/copy others works- as the author is "death" after "giving" a particular artwork to the world, that may be assumed as a free pass to be used by others. A perfect example of this can be Jeff Koons and his often-controversial practice.


Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball (Manet Luncheon on the Grass)”, 2014-15. Via Jeffkoons.com


“The Originality of the Avant-Garde” by Rosalind Krauss

Rosalind Kraus (b. 1941) is one of the most acclaimed female art critics and art theorist in the art world. Krauss currently is an Art History professor at Columbia University in New York City. She is famous for founding the "October" journal in 1976 and also known for being a contributing editor and critic for the Artforum. Influenced by Clement Greenberg, Krauss is a highly influential critic on the post-Abstract Expressionist era. 


Portrait of Rosalind Krauss. Photo by Judy Olausen, 1978. Via ArtSpace


In her collection of essays, "The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths" (1985) explores the world of semiotics, dissecting the meaning behind originality. Addressing the Avant-garde, Krauss notes a temporality between originality and authenticity.  She is often pointed out in relation to Walter Benjamin due to their colliding arguments. Krauss in  "The Originality of the Avant-Garde" argues that Modern Art lacks originality because it repeats whatever was brought to the artists from the past. Modern Art relies on precedent movements to its creativity; therefore, the originality is questioned.  


Rosalind Krauss, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths” (1985). Via Amazon.


“Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” by Linda Nochlin

Linda Nochlin (b. 1931 – d. 2017) was a praised American Art Historian for her efforts in raising awareness of gender equality within art institutions. Throughout her career she wrote about the 19th- and 20th-century painting and sculpture, contemporary art and theory, and women and art.


Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (1971). Via Artspace


In 1971, ARTnews published an issue titled "Women's Liberation, Woman Artists, and Art History", where Linda Nochlin essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" was firstly published. This essay functions as a critique of art institutions for holding a woman back from reaching success in the art world. Nochlin states that women are intrinsically capable of reaching the same merit as men but lack the opportunity. This essay is considered to be the beginning of modern feminism in art history and indeed, a stepping stone to the evolution of gender equality in the contemporary world.


Art History Class With Professor Linda Nochlin,  1951. Via vassar.edu.


After this enormous success, Linda Nochelin continued to write, having published other great books such as Realism (1971), Women, Art and Power, and Other Essays (1988), The Politics of Vision (1991), The Body in Pieces: The Fragment as a Metaphor of Modernity (2001) and Bathers, Bodies, Beauty (2006). The book "Women Artists" is a comprehensive anthology of twenty-nine Nochelin essays, where we can find "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" included. 

“Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

John Peter Berger (b. 1926 – d. 2017) was widely recognized British art critic, novelist, painter and poet. He studied at the now known as Central Saint Martin’s just before World War II and then studied drawing and painting at the Chelsea School of Art. In 1950 he started writing art criticism publications such as the New Statesman and New Society. Berger wrote many influential and controversial book such as “A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor” (1967), “A Seventh Man” (1975) and “The Success and Failure of Picasso” (1965).


John Berger portrait, undated. Photograph by EAMONN McCABE/GETTY. Via New Yorker.



"Ways of Seeing" is his most well-known piece of writing. It was first a television series of 30-minute films broadcasted on BBC2. Then it was adapted to a book- both were intended to criticise traditional Western cultural aesthetics. This was considered to be a book revolutionary for its time, approaching issues related to which ways men and women were represented. "Ways of Seeing" is a book that questions the place in which images occupy in our culture and how they are perceived. He also explains how images have layers of deeper meaning beyond what they show on the surface. Berger is heavily influenced by Walter Benjamin and his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", reflecting in which way the reproductions of images can change the perception of the same. This is a concept incredibly relevant to our current times as we are now producing more images than ever before in history.


John Berger, “Ways of Seeing” (1972). Via Penguin.co.uk


Each chapter is different, and each analyses different perspectives on the same subject: the perception of images. On the third chapter, Berger explains further why he believes nudism in art is purely sexist because women are treated as sex objects for men to look at and use. This is somewhat controversial writing for its time. He adds that as this art nude is not only to be seen by men but also by women, it creates a cycle of rules of how women should be perceived, as a commodity. Berger is intrinsically interested in evoking the visual experience as a broader reflection of society.


John Berger, “Ways of Seeing”, BBC 1972 Screenshot. Via nearbycafe.com


"The Origin of the Work of Art" by Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger (b. 1889 – d. 1976) was an acclaimed German philosopher of the twentieth century, who was often associated with phenomenology and existentialism. His writings were highly influential in diverse areas such as architectural theory, literary criticism, theology, psychotherapy and cognitive science. Heidegger was mainly interested in ontological studies of the Being, having influenced theories written by following philosophers such as Derrida and Foucault. 


Martin Heidegger portrait, undated. Via High Brow.


Heidegger also was interested in the Being of art itself to which he wrote an essay titled "The Origin of the Work of Art" in 1963. As the title says, the philosopher was intrigued with what makes a work of art, art. His way of writing is hard to understand and indeed obscure. But certainly, an insightful and profound way of acknowledging art. Before analysing this piece of writing is vital to know that his concepts are constantly changing, which may be confusing. Through concepts of the word's "world" and "earth", Heidegger tries to explain how he perceives art through a tension of objects and meaning. Focused on the subject rather than its beauty, Heidegger explores how a show in a painting is not the same thing as the show you see in real life, and not as any other show. He explains how that specific shoe, in that particular time, is the essence of art. Heidegger believed that if the quality of objects is found by their utility, then the function of art is to reveal the essence of things. 


“The Origin of the Work of Art” Cover of the 1960 German edition. Via Wikipedia.


This essay is an essential precedent for understanding some of his insights into "Being and Time". Throughout "The Origin of the Work of Art", Heidegger focus totally on writing about Van Gogh's obsession with shoes and his numerous paintings on those same objects. He connects the art with the subject, and the object in time and space, which is crucial for his later concepts around the human being.


Cover image: John Berger, “Ways of Seeing”, BBC 1972 Screenshot. Via nearbycafe.com

Written by Tania Teixeira

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