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John Russell


Synopsis

John Russell was an art historian and critic who wrote for the London Sunday Times from 1950-1974, then for the New York Times from 1974-1990, coming on board immediately after the departure of John Canaday. Although seldom cited in the annals of Abstract Expressionist history, Russell's work as a critic was crucial to the continued enthusiasm for modern art well into the 1970s and 80s. Known paradoxically as a tough-minded critic who was nevertheless, perhaps a little too lenient when it came to newer movements in art, Russell wore two masks as an art critic: He was a champion of newer, younger artists like David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin, and was also an accomplished scholar of the Impressionists and subsequent modern movements.

Key Ideas

Russell did not believe that genius was an innate quality; rather it was a quality that was nurtured and educated. All great works of art may only come about once the artist has studied and evolved over time.
When new art forms arrive, many consider them replacements for the old, but for Russell, this simply was not the case. Any new worthwhile artwork is directly influenced by its predecessors, and it was new art, more than anything else, that kept the Old Masters alive and relevant.
When it came to art criticism, Russell believed that every artist, no matter what their medium or technique, is worthy of receiving the same degree of attention and diligence in a review. While some work is naturally better than others, Russell was never mean-spirited in any of his writings, even if a work of art wasn't in his favor.

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