Critics write about music, books, theatre, and art, and they write using ideas and words particular to those fields and to ongoing developments in those fields. A review written using eigtheenth-century terms and concepts about a contemporary play would sound odd to us. But when writing about art can highlight one of two contemporary, but quite different, approaches, issues about art and writing can become confused with each other.
Eric Gibson, in his article in The Wall Street Journal - "The Lost Art of Writing About Art" (April 2008) discusses what he and others saw as the abysmal writing for the Whitney Museum's biennial exhibition of contemporary art (2008). He laments the change in critical writing about art since the 1950s and quotes other artists and critics who see it as "impenetrable" and insulting.
Gibson cites Richard Lacayo who writes in a blog for Time magazine and wants to ban five words from the critical lexicon because they are meaningless - "interrogate," "problematize," "references" (used as a verb), "transgreessive," and "inverts."
These five words exemplify the move away from earlier times when critics dealt with "art and aesthetics," to the present, when they "simply riff..." on philosophy. Art and aesthetics have been overtaken by discussions based on Marxism and feminism. (The Horror! The Horror!) Duchamp's Readymades inaugurated the shift.
The problem with impenetrable writing about art is not the real issue here. Bad writing is bad writing wherever we find it and is not acceptable. Good writing about art can and should include words that reflect how critics approach art. Gibson himself says that from Duchamp on, art required a different kind of writing.
Gibson's article should be titled "The Lost Art of Writing About Lost Values in Art." The issue here is nostalgia for a time when art was believed to be purely aesthetic and "real" critics knew how to write about it from the correct perspective. Gibson seems really to want a ban on a contemporary way of thinking about art, a way of thinking that needs its special words.
Feminism and Marxism both "problematize" the purely aesthetic approach to art, a change which, as Gibson points out, began with Duchamp and his contemporaries.
Whether one prefers the purely aesthetic approach to art or is an afficionado of conceptual art, appreciation increases with well-written criticicism. Well-written criticism requires the words and ideas appropriate to each approach.