Not long ago, I enjoyed a spirited conversation with a highly perceptive and well-informed observer of our contemporary cultural landscape—a conversation mostly concerned with the quality of art criticism as practiced today in the principal forums of informed opinion: university lecture halls and scholarly journals. My friend and I readily agreed that the cultural terrain we surveyed was disappointing, to say the least: a barren and monochrome landscape. We thus echoed a familiar lament, repeated often over the years, he, in far more articulate terms than I.

As I later reconsidered some of the points we discussed, it occurred to me that a contributing factor to the ills that we were so strenuously deploring was the absence, in contemporary criticism, of one important ingredient. Simply put, it seemed that the role of taste—yes, taste—had so dramatically diminished in the dialogue on art that it had virtually...


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