By Peter Mcneil and Sanda Miller
PART ONE WHAT IS CRITICISM? 1
1 Introduction 3
2 Aristotle and the origins of criticism 9
3 Talking in private: the academies and the salons 21
4 Understanding taste: the critic as qualifi ed observer 43
5 Charles Baudelaire: the beginning of fashion criticism; the
art critic of the salons 65
6 Oscar Wilde and the apostles of aestheticism 81
PART TWO REPORTING FASHION 95
Fashion and morality: Leo Tolstoy: what is art? 101
Paul Poiret: ‘Sultan of fashion’ – from tradition to innovation 103
Diana Vreeland: ‘Why don’t you?’ – the invention of the fashion editor 105
Christian Dior: the ‘New Look’ and reporting by Carmel Snow 107
Yves Saint Laurent – a 1970s analysis of ‘The couturier and his brand’ 109
What is fashion irony? Mild sarcasm or feigning ignorance? 111
Reporting on the Japanese Revolution in Paris 113
Richard Martin as essayist: Karl Lagerfeld reworks Chanel 116
Being critical about ‘deconstruction’: theoretical approach or ‘le
What is a reviewer? 121
What gives Suzy Menkes the status of professional critic? 125
Acne Paper: the beauty of print, the splendour of the page 128
How to be a ‘critical’ blogger: moving beyond the PR release 131
Conclusion – where to from here? 137
We are surrounded by criticism, including the critique of fashion, but why is the quality of writing about fashion so uneven? ‘Criticism’ emerged through literature and the fi ne arts. It has since expanded to such an extent that we are expected today to be critical of our restaurant meals, our bathroom fi ttings and our sartorial fashions, although in the strict sense of the word, the remit of criticism is generally accepted to be the art world.
What does the critic do? How do we acquire the skill set to be active critics? In other words, who are the critics, how do we ‘become’ critics, and what qualities are required to act as a critic? Above all, how do we recognize quality fashion criticism and why is it so narrowly focused and subjective at the moment? The answer is staring us in the face: we are accustomed to reading fashion journalism that amounts to no more than excited description and personal opinion, much of it being media- led accolades or ‘badmouthing’. This would not be tolerated within the fi ne arts, literature, the theatre or fi lm. How might we develop a proper critical vocabulary for fashion writing, which transcends this level and will enable us to understand, assess and above all make value judgements about something as changeable as fashion?
These are the key questions that are asked here. This is the fi rst book to connect shifts in critical writing and approaches to fashion over a long span of time, from the seventeenth century to the present day. Beginning with the power of Aristotle’s Poetics , it explains that the plot – which is the most important of the six constituent parts of the ‘tragedy’ – is, after all, story telling, but story telling to be compelling must have drama and embody insights. Why did evaluative thinking emerge at all? What does criticism mean? How did criticism expand beyond the fi ne arts to the camera and other new media? How did the great critics refl ect on the social, artistic and aesthetic changes that revolutionized fashion since the fi rst texts about sartorial dress were published in the fi rst fashion magazines of the late- seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? The role of taste in eighteenth- century philosophical aesthetics will be directly related to assessments of fashion in that period. How did a judicial (evaluative) vocabulary for fashion journalism emerge in the nineteenth century and where did it lead?
This introduction considers the emergence during the eighteenth century of the ‘modern system of the arts’: the twin disciplines of aesthetics and art history, and art criticism as a convenient starting point for this inquiry. These terms are explained through the lens derived from the Renaissance scholar P.O. Kristeller regarding the hierarchy of the arts. In it he undertakes to demonstrate that the ‘system of the fi ve major arts, which underlies all modern aesthetics and is so familiar to us all, is of comparatively recent origin and did not assume defi nite shape before the eighteenth century’ (Kristeller, 1961, p. 165). Kristeller starts with the ancients, who regarded poetry as the most highly respected form of art, followed by music and then the three visual arts: painting, sculpture and architecture (Kristeller, 1961). After an elegant journey throughout history, Kristeller located the genesis of the grouping together of the visual arts with poetry and music during the eighteenth century.
Although he accepts that ‘it is not easy to indicate the causes for the genesis of the system in the eighteenth century’, he nevertheless identifi es a few key factors: the rise of painting and of music since the Renaissance, not so much in their actual achievements as in their prestige and appeal, the rise of literary and art criticism, and above all the rise of an amateur public to which art collections and exhibitions, concerts as well as opera and theatre performances were addressed, must be considered as important factors (Kristeller, 1961, p. 225).
The proper domain of the critic is tripartite: it involves description, interpretation and evaluation. These basic aspects of criticism do not simply concern judgement as many think; they include the historical (Roger Fry on the painter Paul Cézanne), the re- creative (Walter Pater on the Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci) and the judicial, supplying a set of standards or canons (F.R. Leavis, T.S. Eliot and Harold Bloom on literature). The latter includes topics such as ‘truth’, ‘morality’ or ‘artistic signifi cance’, but such standards must be appropriate for the object of study. The notion of re- creative criticism as a ‘work of art’ in its own right is central here. Examples will be provided in this book from the classic writers who approach criticism in these different ways. The purpose here is to explain that criticism is not simply ‘opinion’.
The book will explain criticism generally and in a straightforward manner from its beginning and development in antiquity to the present day. It will explore the role of value judgements in assessing the job of the fashion critic, and relate the philosophical issue of moving from the ‘subjective’ to the ‘objective’, and how this might be achieved in fashion writing today. It will challenge and more importantly explain the dominance of subjective approaches (‘opinion’) in contemporary fashion journalism. What can be done in a concrete fashion to move beyond the level of the public relations department and the press release, important agents as they are in the creation of the fashion system? What type of critical writing might enable real change in what many view as an unsustainable industry? Will the critic disappear under the weight of blogs and tweets or will it blossom within new media?