John Updike as art critic was new to me, and in prospect gave me pause. For art criticism, like art itself, attracts the amateur as much to active engagement as to passive response. Art lovers know what they like and, perhaps more to the point, what they don’t like, and, steeped in its disciplines or not, are only too likely to say so at length and (given the chance) in print. In my experience, few are more egregiously opinionated while at the same time ill-informed, than the educated columnist or leader-writer. So far, so bad: but Updike is also an American, not always the most succinct of peoples.
I need not have worried. The articles collected in this handsome volume are not the 1,000-word reviews of our everyday broadsheet journalism, but eighteen thorough, thoughtful and sometimes lengthy pieces worthy of such higher-minded journals as the New York Review of Books – in which, as it happens, most of