cover image The Art of Dying: Writings 2019–2022

The Art of Dying: Writings 2019–2022

Peter Schjeldahl. Abrams, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4197-7324-2

New Yorker art critic Schjeldahl, who died in October 2022, puts his “almost freakish gift for the English language” (in the words of critic Jarrett Earnest) on full display in this brilliant essay collection. In 2019, the author announced his lung cancer diagnosis in the title essay, which is less a rumination on mortality (“I find myself thinking about death less than I used to”) than a clear-eyed consideration of the art of criticism. Covering such subjects as Edward Hopper, the Storm King Art Center in New York State, and painter Faith Ringgold, Schjeldahl’s essays showcase his pithy eloquence (“Nearly every house that he painted strikes me as a self-portrait, with brooding windows and almost never a visible... inviting door,” he writes of the sense of solitude in Edward Hopper’s paintings); plainspoken enthusiasm (“I loved it!” he exclaims about a 2020 exhibit of French figure drawings at the Clark Art Institute); and willingness to rethink previous judgments and see anew, as he did about the merits of Pop Art painter Peter Saul. Above all, the collection is a testament to Schjeldahl’s unique ability to make tangible art’s emotional effects on the viewer, as in his description of how Peter Saul’s “pictures mount furious assaults on the eye, leaving you with indescribable.... choreographies of one damned thing after another.” This posthumous collection will be a gift to Schjeldahl’s admirers and a revelation to those new to his work. (May)