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Michael Kimmelman Mot du Jour: Standards

Unrelated exhibition view of Yazmany Arboleda’s controversial art exhibit across the street from the NYT building earlier this June. Image courtesy of

This weeks Mot du Jour is again courtesy of Michael Kimmelman, Chief Art Critic of The New York Times, who generously sanctioned the use of his erudite verbalisms for the purposes of our deified feature. Thanks also to Amir Bar-Lev, award winning Director/Producer who worked with Michael to generate this text.


I think it’s actually good that there aren’t what you would call strict standards for art or a specific thing that art must be. It wasn’t always this way, in fact the French created an academy to implement standards for the way that people were supposed to draw and it was the break down of that academy, the very ideas that artists had in the 19th century – the impressionists and so on – that meant that those standards were not enough; there were other ways of being expressive and creative that opened a world of modern art in the west. So I like the idea in a certain sense that standards are not one thing. That doesn’t mean that there are no standards. It means that there aren’t standards that are fixed, never changing that everybody has to agree to them and I think that’s a key point too, that art, like all true culture isn’t about utter agreement. Math may be. 2 + 2 has just got to equal 4 and we’ve got to start with that but culture is interesting; you can like Proust or you can hate Proust. I can’t imagine how you could but you have that right and it’s possible that it’s not your taste. Art is about not so much having a single standard but coming to understand for yourself why you have the standards you do and what their implications are and where that takes you and then, you know, keeping your eyes open enough to be able to maybe evolve to have different standards and think different things. The more I’ve done my job, which is to look at art, the more I have found that the penny will drop. In other words there will be an artist whose work I just never got who I suddenly think: “Oh, now I see; OK!” But I think the inclination from a lot of people when approaching art is to be very skeptical to feel that the wool is being pulled over their eyes and unless they’re really just going to get it instantly then it’s probably not OK[.]”


Michael Kimmelman is Chief Art Critic of The New York Times. He is now based in Berlin, writing the ‘Abroad’ column for the Times on culture and society across Europe.

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  • I was there

    Regarding “strict standards for art or a specific thing that art must be”
    Question: Should an art work change your life to be considered Good?
    I often say I like a specific art work but it did “change my life”.
    Has any art work ever changed YOUR life?
    If so, which and how?

  • Richard_haden

    Has any work of ART changed my life?

    From the hills of Kentucky with little exposure to the outside world–I was about 8 years old when my parents took the family to visit my Aunt and uncle in Chicago. My Aunt and Uncle wisely took us to the Chicago art Museum, where I remember seeing these huge paintings. They were made up of thousands of dots. I had no idea what I was looking at nor did I know that there were persons called “Artist”; or that there was something called “painting”…I can still remember seeing those huge wonderful pictures on those giant walls…all that I knew at that moment, from naive eyes of c(u)ntry youth, was that there was something before me that I wanted to emulate / be like / figure out…something smacked my mind.

    I guess you would say that those paintings changed my life. And perhaps, I can lay the blame on my aunt and uncle for exposing me to such temptation. For what that catalyzed in me was the an unwittingly absurd vow of poverty that I have since grown accustomed to affording…I chose a career that most sane institutionalized students normally chalk up as extra credit.

    Of course, years later I found out that they were probably painted by Georges Seurat. Pointless pointillism still posits it’s paint Mnemonically on my Grey Matter.

    Richard Haden

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Michael Kimmelman Mot du Jour: Standards