Introduction to Art Criticism, An

Kerr Houston  
Total pages
October 2012
Related Titles


Understand the Complexities of Art Criticism in a Straightforward and Readable Manner


An Introduction to Art Criticism offers a thorough overview of art criticism as it has been practiced since the 1700s.  The text is built around excerpts from the work of hundreds of historical and contemporary critics, including a substantial history of art criticism and chapters on the fundamental aspects of criticism and the formation of an individual voice.



Learning Goals

Upon completing this book, readers should be able to:

  • Understand and appreciate the rich history of art criticism as a field
  • Analyze the “voice” of critics


  • Readers will be able to understand and recall the history of art criticism.  The text helps readers by:
    • Presenting a number of historical controversies in an open manner, so that readers can formulate their own position.
    • Stressing, repeatedly, the contingency of any history of criticism, and introduces the reader to the idea that there are other possible histories.
    • Includes a discussion of the current state of art criticism, and articulates a number of the central issues facing contemporary critics.
  • Readers will learn how to think critically about contemporary criticism, learning to develop their own critical voice. The texts helps readers to develop these skills through:
    • Describing the open situation of contemporary criticism.
    • Offering an anthology of challenging, but historically significant, readings that can be (and have been) interpreted in various ways. (ex. pgs. 223-309)
    • Discussing and citing the work of a large number of critics still active in the art community.
    • Side-bars offer concise treatments of a range of concepts that support the subject of art criticism. (ex. pg. 37)
    • The Anthology includes more than a dozen notable works from throughout the history of art criticism, including two of the most influential pieces written in the past 20 years. (ex. pg. 279-289)
    • Structured around hundreds of direct quotes from a vast array of noteworthy critics.
  • The text is constructed to keep the reader engaged and interested in course material while providing significant, factual material.
    • Offers more than a dozen images.
    • Anthology of primary readings offers an important supplement to the main text. (ex. pgs. 223-309)
    • User-friendly glossary offers brief overviews of close to 100 significant figures and institutions in art criticism. (ex. pgs. 310-325)
    • Written in an intelligent, but accessible, mode, the text will challenge students while maintaining their interest in the material.
    • Includes a discussion of globalization as it relates to art criticism.

Table of Contents

In this Section:
1) Brief Table of Contents

2) Full Table of Contents





Chapter 1: A History of Art Criticism

Chapter 2: Description and Contextualization

Chapter 3: Interpretation and Analysis

Chapter 4: Judgment and Evaluation

Chapter 5: Individual Critical Styles: Tone and Voice




Chapter 1: A History of Art Criticism

The Birth of a Genre

Chapter 2: Description and Contextualization

General issues involving description

Internal and External Evidence

Complexities Involving Description

Chapter 3: Interpretation and Analysis

General Issues Involving Interpretation

Interpretations Involving Internal and External Evidence

Critical Theory and Systematic Interpretations

Chapter 4: Judgment and Evaluation

The Place of Judgment in Criticism

Forms of Judgment and Related Issues

Chapter 5: Individual Critical Styles: Tone and Voice

External Factors Affecting Criticism

Tone, Voice, and the Relevance of External Factors

Debates about Tone


Kerr Houston is a professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he has taught since 2002. At MICA regularly leads seminars on art criticism, and also teaches courses in the history of art history, in ancient art, and in Islamic art and architecture. He has written for a number of journals, including Camera Obscura, Gesta, Source: Notes in the History of Art, and Early Modern Visual Culture; he has also authored criticism for several magazines and newspapers. This is his first book.

Reader Review(s)

“Beautifully written, very thorough analysis, interesting illustrations, excellent use of examples. The history of art criticism should be required reading in any class that purports to be a serious survey of modern art.”

 - Shepherd Steiner, Emily Carr University of Art and Design


“This textbook offers a thorough, comprehensive look at the major developments and approaches to art criticism in France, England and the Us over the past 3 decades. It is well-written and clearly articulates the main factors in conducting criticism. It includes hundreds of sort quotes by a wide variety of critics.”

 — Paul Ryan, Mary Baldwin College


“A helpful text that fills a gap in my course -- via providing a concise historical overview of art criticism and summaries of the various primary critical lenses. It also addresses the (healthy and valuable) difficulty of "defining" art criticism. The author's approach is democratic yet nicely held together by an informed tone.”

 - Barbara Jaffee, Northern Illinois University


This textbook offers a thorough, comprehensive look at the major developments and approaches to art criticism. It is well-written and clearly articulates the main factors in conducting criticism.”

 - Margaret Doell,Adams State College



“I am very impressed with the clarity, directness, and breadth of knowledge that are on display.”

  - Richard Eldridge, Swarthmore College