Letter: In defence of the acerbic art criticism of Brian Sewell

Share
Related Topics
Sir: I was delighted to read Sandra Barwick's thoughtful and thought- provoking article on Brian Sewell (8 January). Confrontations between artists, critics and art historians are nothing new. You refer in the same edition to Herbert Read and Clement Greenberg; one could cite Ruskin and Whistler. The list is endless and acknowledges that art history is nothing if not polemic.

That Brian Sewell is under vituperative attack is, I believe, for two reasons. First, he has upstaged the opportunist critics, while speaking a language the 'man in the street' can understand. Second, he has used his art historical training at the Courtauld to bring the discipline and scholarship of art history to daily newspaper reviewing. The influences of such notable art historians as Johannes Wilde and Anthony Blunt are evident, and whatever discredit the latter suffered, it was not as an art historian.

Art history has undergone radical change over the last 10 years, driven substantially by a caucus of feminist art historians particularly from the US. The discipline has become almost obsessed with the issue of gender and of its so-called deconstruction. It has gone beyond the legitimate demands for the reappraisal of women's (past and present) role in art and equality of treatment. This has coincided with an increasingly fervent debate on 'What is art?' and 'Where is it going?'. The resulting confusion is hardly surprising.

Happily, the tradition of scholarship still lives, as evidenced by such recent works as Francis Haskill's History and its Images, Art and the Interpretation of the Past and Sharon Fermor's monograph on Piero de Cosimo. The Tate's recent exhibition, Paris Post War, provides another excellent example - though almost universally slated by the critics] It would be fascinating to hear the views of such art historians as Professor Martin Kemp, Sir Ernst Gombrich and, for some balance, Anita Brookner on these issues.

For my part, if as I suspect, Brian Sewell is questioning the principles and practice of art history, while casting a critical eye on the avant-garde and doing it in an amusing, acerbic, provocative but authoritative way, then long may he prosper. If he is accused in the process of being a Luddite or recidivist etc, by those who will always swim with the tide, so be it.

Yours faithfully,

PIERS ASHCROFT

London, SW11

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song  

Ukip Calypso by Mike Read? The horror! The horror!

Patrick Strudwick
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past