Day-to-day art criticism and art theory are qualitatively distinct. Whereas the best art criticism entails a closeness to its objects which is attuned to particularity, art theory inherently makes generalized claims, whether these claims are extrapolated from the process of art criticism or not. However, this article argues that these dynamics are effectively reversed if we consider the disparity between the criticism of so-called political art and attempts over the last century to elaborate theory which accounts for the political in art qua art. Art theory has located the political force of art precisely in the way that its particularity opposes or resists the status quo. Art criticism, on the other hand, tends to treat artwork as a text to be interpreted whose particularity may as well dissolve when translated into discourse. Drawing from the work of Theodor W. Adorno, this article argues that political art theory calls for art criticism more attuned to experience if it is to elucidate art’s critical valence.
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