Reading the Surface
Abstract for a paper presented at the 1st International Conference of Fine & Performing Arts, Athens Institute of Education and Research, Athens.
Reading the Surface: The Subjective Voice in the Criticism of Stuart Morgan
In his lecture ‘Homage to the Half Truth’, the critic Stuart Morgan argued the case for an art criticism that, although adhering to certain historical precedents with regard to objectivity, also allows for the creativity of the critic as writer (as subject and expert) to supplement and add perspective to the critical task of interpretation. Although this position would seem to go against a century of critical theory and debate, it could be argued that Morgan’s position is compatible with Clement Greenberg, in that criticism should be, above all, interesting. Morgan’s less objective position generates writing which retains a relevance to the culture within which the work’s meanings are exchanged, responding to – and celebrating – the surface as the site of manifest meaning(s), and the catalyst for the critic’s own ‘capacity for intuition, sympathy and imagination’.
This paper addresses Morgan’s criticism as an approach which offers a greater latitude to criticism in the face of the unavoidable problem of subjectivity within the present context of radical relativism.
Writers have now struggled for decades to find a way to provide a model for criticism that possesses an authority that leaves the reader in no doubt as to the (singular) meaning and value of the object. Perhaps it is now the writer who (at least, partially) disregards the battle for objectivity in preference of the celebration of the aesthetic or performative nature of the written word in relation to (the surface of) the contemporary art object, who brings a relevant and valuable perspective to criticism.
(c) 2010 James A. Brown