Roberta Smith recently visited Rail Consulting Editor, Irving Sandler, at his home to talk about her life and work. Here's my favorite part of their chat, which was published in the April issue of The Brooklyn Rail.
Rail: Does art theory inform your work? And what do you think of the academic criticism that’s being written by young critics in growing numbers trained by art theoreticians and academia?
Smith: I went to school before theory became fashionable. I tried to catch up a little, but I really didn’t have much use for it. It’s too narrow and it’s written in a specialized language that seldom explains what art does visually. The way artworks communicate to the eye and the brain. Theory might explain the context and the context is interesting, but only up to a point. On the other hand I know there’s a trickle-down effect; I can’t reject it totally because it’s in the air, and it’s also in a lot of art. To make a different point: I don’t think criticism is an academic discipline; it comes out of yourself. Some people can absorb all kinds of stuff and make it their own. Others are hobbled by it. Either way you have to find your own voice and you have to work mainly from your own reactions. I guess there’s academic criticism with footnotes and all, but that seems written in a private language for a specialized audience. It’s not useful to most people.