Monday, November 16, 2009

Peter Schjeldahl Notes

A few years ago, I attended a weeklong professional writers workshop given by New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl at the Santa Fe Art Institute. I was the only artist and non-writer in the group. Here are selected notes I took of Peter's words:

[Talking about not seeing the art in person:] Reproduction is like paper money. Slides are lies that you believe.

Finding the right "wrong" words.

Art is organized in service of our attention, the world is not.

"Beauty is the coincidence of the eternal and the fleeting." – Baudelair [I believe Peter was paraphrasing, as I can't find this quote anywhere.]

Smile, say thank you, keep moving.

Subject and predicate in the first sentence. "We" is dicey and important – the reader should be completely with you – it should pass without notice. [Peter is an] "I" critic. Presume that an experience can be of use to other people. "You" is a great switcher. Pauline Kael was a "you" critic. "We" is where you seal the deal – cash in. [I remember he said if you must use "we," don't use it until the very end of a review.] "Who, what, where, when, why" are very important to work in at the beginning – the lead.

Nothing happens in the middle; the middle is the residue of the extremes. [He may have still been talking about writing structure at this point – I don't remember; but I take away a broader meaning, and one that pertains, in particular, to art-making. It reminds me of something William Burroughs said: "Beware the middle way."]

In a way, the artist's intention is secondary to what we perceive.

To be continued.

Peter Schjeldahl portrait via The New Yorker.

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