Guy Dammann: "What is Criticism?"

  • Date: –16:00
  • Location: Zoom (contact Irene Martinez Marin for link)
  • Organiser: Department of Philosophy
  • Contact person: Irene Martinez Marin
  • Seminarium

The Higher Seminar in Aesthetics

Guy Dammann, Uppsala University: "What is Criticism?"

The purpose of this paper is to sketch a non-functional account of art criticism. Most existing theories construe criticism as functional, where this function is performed in relation to works of art (or bodies of work). This function is usually understood as being one of description, evaluation or interpretation. Views differ as to which of these functions is primary. The views are similar, however, in the sense that one function, or a combination of functions, is construed as a necessary and sufficient condition for something to be considered a work of criticism. That is to say, the concept of criticism is taken to be a functional one.

The theory of criticism I offer instead is primarily aesthetic. By this I mean quite simply that art criticism exists to yield an aesthetic experience of some kind. To the extent that works of art can be said to exist for the purposes of generating aesthetic experiences, works of criticism can be understood as being like works of art (albeit usually rather minor ones).

In sketching this theory I will make use of two main ideas. The first is the idea that the basic activity of criticism is best understood as an act of seeing a phenomenon as “critical”, which is to say to see as something that demands we engage with it or come to terms with it in some way. The second idea relates to Walter Benjamin’s conception of the “aura” of art, a kind of sheen emitted by works of art which in some sense demands those who behold them to appreciate them aesthetically. With the help of these ideas I will argue that the primary way in which criticism relates to its object – art – is in virtue of its own aesthetic qualities.