Creative Commons

On Feb. 10, New York Times Art Critic Jason Farago ’05 delivered this year’s annual Norma Lytton Lecture hosted by the Yale Center for British Art. At the lecture, Farago discussed global art criticism in the modern day.

The Norma Lytton lectures are supported by the Norma Lytton Fund for Docent Education, established in memory of Norma Lytton by her family. According to Beth Miller, YCBA’s deputy director for advancement and external affairs, Lytton was an active docent at the center for more than 20 years. Lytton also engaged in research for the center’s “Paintings and Sculpture” department for a decade.

In this year’s hour-long lecture, Farago discussed how white art historians and critics should approach art from other cultures. Farago also stressed the importance of interpreting art with an open mind.

“You’ve probably had this experience: you go into a museum, you look at the painting for two seconds, then you read the wall label because you want clarity,” Farago told the News. “But what if you let yourself be confused, and tried to work out what something meant on your own? Art is something more than information, and you might find your own way in.”

Farago emphasized that the world of art advances with criticism. Yet he also said western critics, who are “almost entirely white,” should approach art created by non-Western societies with a mindset that allows them to make “substantive judgments.”

YCBA’s Head of Education Linda Friedlaender, who hosted Farago’s lecture, shared similar thoughts on approaching art.

“Appreciating, understanding and liking things are all very different things,” Friedlaender said. “I often explain to audiences that our mission is not to help or even get people to like what they see, but rather to try and understand what the artist may be trying to communicate. The visitor can decide if the artist was successful or not.”

Farago said he often sees younger people making quick judgments or comparisons, and added that he finds this “exclusionary” and “condescending.” Instead, Farago believes aesthetic judgments reflect a civic character. He said that criticism should be constructive in the form of a social endeavor rather than personal judgment. “[Criticism] comes with more than just saying what you like or you don’t,” Farago said.

Farago told the News that he was “really glad” to be asked to deliver the lecture. When he attended Yale as an undergraduate, his courses and trips to the University’s museums helped him decide to be a history of art major.

“This felt not only like a homecoming, but also an opportunity to [trace] how I ended up where I am today,” Farago said. “I could have hardly foreseen it when I first walked onto Old Campus.”

Now, Farago writes a regular series called “Close Read” for the New York Times. He is excited to begin reporting about the post-pandemic state of museums in Europe and Asia once commercial flights resume.

A recording of Farago’s lecture will soon be made available online on the YCBA website

Bryan Ventura | bryan.ventura@yale.edu