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Being an Art Critic

Dave Hickey on being an art critic.

By March 2008Comments

Dave Hickey
Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden

NAME: Dave Hickey | AGE: 69 | HOMETOWN: Fort Worth | QUALIFICATIONS: Author of two volumes of art criticism, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty and Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy / Fiction and culture writer for magazines such as Rolling Stone, ARTnews, Art in America, Harper’s Magazine, and Vanity Fair / Curator of “Beau Monde,” in Santa Fe (2001); “Las Vegas Diaspora” (2007); and other exhibits

• I like the art world. There are a lot of gay people and attractive women with low-cut dresses, and the hors d’oeuvres are better than what you get anywhere else.

• Willie Morris took me to a party of New York literati. Jimmy Breslin, Norman Podhoretz, William Styron—all these New York literary types were there, and they all had on suits and had ugly wives and got drunk and fell over the rubber plant. I hated it. I left and went to a downtown bar called St. Adrian’s, where I spent the rest of the evening among junkies and drag queens and was much happier.

• People say the art world is fake, but it’s all too real. It’s full of art sissies and fashion trash—but do you want to go to a party with no art sissies and no fashion trash? That’s like going to dinner at the dean’s house. I prefer the frazzle and dazzle of the art world. I’m vulnerable to ennui.

• I probably owe my career as a writer to John Graves. No writer in the world could be more different. But John has an attitude about being responsible to the world he writes about. If he’s writing about nature, he wants nature itself to prove his writing. I write about art, he writes about nature, but we’re both serious about getting it right.

• I won’t argue for accessibility, but I’ll argue for lucidity.

• Many critics have to fall in love to write about anything. I don’t. I can write about a casual flirtation.

• I regard myself as a serious intellectual person, but I don’t care if intellectuals like what I’ve written. I’m that arrogant. What do I care about the praise of idiots? Fame only means you’ve been misinterpreted by millions.

• When I started off writing for slick magazines, I realized that if you can write clear and funny and on time, you can go anywhere you want to—any rock tour, any museum exhibition. So I set out to have adventures and not to be a famous writer.

• I’ve hung out with a lot of famous people just to do stories. I went along on Aerosmith’s first major headline tour. All the things they had always wanted to do they did, and I helped. I’m still ashamed.

• I’ll write about art when I perceive a gap between price and value. I’m interested in art I consider too cheap or too expensive: Ellsworth Kelly and Ed Ruscha—artists whom I’ve been writing about for years. I wrote about them when their work cost $20, and now I’m writing about them when their work costs $2 million. I consider that to be a reflection of my exquisite and prescient taste.

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