The Critic

by Carl Schmitt
1943

The time will probably come, or we hope it will, when the critic and the artist are considered as one. Of all the wearisome clichés, the one that is most distressing is, “We are always glad to hear constructive criticism.” Or, “You are always criticizing; have you nothing constructive to offer? ” It is, of course, true that destruction for its own sake is insane. No one in his right mind engages in that. But it must be recalled to mind, especially today when Form is almost unknown (Form in its metaphysical—Form in its aesthetic sense) that true Form cannot be rediscovered except by mean of destruction. There is absolutely no Form (in the purest sense of the word) possible unless it is discovered by sacrifice and death. In sculpture this is so obvious that one would think that the symbolism of Redemption would escape no one—a lump of stone, a chisel, and a hammer (in the hands of a critic). Those are the materials necessary for creation.

And speaking of critics, I would wish that Michelangelo were thought of as such. It seems to me that all the works of this supreme master are beautiful simply because they are critical. It is also interesting to note how criticism is one with personality, and it seems to me that Michelangelo bears this out.

For example, take the famous “Pieta” in St. Peter’s Church at Rome. Many people will tell you that it is a bad array of statuary. Especially vociferous are the contemporary sculptors who say that the forms are not simple enough: that the feelings are dissipated in drapery. There is a great deal to be said for this objection: certainly it fails to meet the strict demand which make the “Deposition” at Florence so powerful. But in spite of its failures, what remains? Something intangible which lives in every atom of the marble: the personality of the master. For personality is the result of honest self-criticism. We feel that Michelangelo had already laid the chisel to his own soul before attacking the marble, but that being young, he had not cut so deeply as to reveal the soul, naked, as he was to do as an old man. However, except for some little concealment behind the voluminous folds of Mary’s robe, his personality does show forth, although at this stage in his development his experience in cutting stone was possibly still behind his self discipline. In any event, the personality shines in spite of any lack of organization of form, because personality is the potential of form.

On the other hand, when considering the other arts, one wonders whether the critic and the artist do not tend to be separated by the nature of the art. In a work of literature, where form is the object as in Dante’s great poem, there can be no question that here the critic and the artist are happily cooperating. But as in all literature, words must be made to succeed each other in lyrical beauty before they can be pruned, and usually they will stand little pruning once they flow from the inspired spring (sacred well). So true is this, that it is difficult for me at least to think that that greatest of lyric Romanticists, Shakespeare, had a severely formal critical sense, and I would doubt if the three arts of Painting, Music, and Literature, in their pure sense could be achieved at all, if the critical faculty were stronger than the lyrical instinct. From this it will be seen, that I do not consider Dante as the maker of “pure” Literature. To me, his work is great because of his personality and because of its almost sculptured form; John Keats, however, was more of a pure poet. No, the critic can only be the full artist when he works on material already at hand “in the lump.” With this raw material already provided he either disciplines it (the human body: the Dance, the Drama) or destroys material superfluities (the marble: Sculpture).

In these three arts we would seem to recognize the ascendancy of the critical faculty as the necessary act of creation, and it will be seen that I would limit the critical faculty to pure destruction, albeit inspired destruction: dynamic.

© Copyright 2010 Carl Schmitt Foundation