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Richard Avedon, “W.H. Auden,” 1960, bromide print

This fall I’m teaching a six-week class about art-writing at PNCA, and in preparing last night, I found this wonderful passage from Auden.

What is the function of a critic? So far as I am concerned, he can do me one or more of the following services:

1. Introduce me to authors or works of which I was hitherto unaware.
2. Convince me that I have undervalued an author or a work because I had not read them carefully enough.
3. Show me relations between works of different ages and cultures which I could never have seen for myself because I do not know enough and never shall.
4. Give a “reading” of a work which increases my understanding of it.
5. Throw light upon the process of artistic “Making.”
6. Throw light upon the relation of art to life, to science, economics, ethics, religion, etc.

—W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand, 1963

Reproduced in A Short Guide to Writing About Art (5th ed.), Sylvan Barnett

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One Comment

  1. Take a look at Bill Jay’s books, if you’re not tuned into him already. He’s got a great article on Auden’s list. And, he’s a great resource for photo students and critics alike – very down-to-earth and witty.


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