|Lucian Freud, "Naked Portrait" (1972-3)|
Most great critics have two sides – positive and negative. They can celebrate and they can eviscerate. Until now, I’d seen only Julian Bell’s affirmative side. But in his riveting “The Flash of the Blade” (The New York Review of Books, June 22, 2017), he’s on the attack. His target is Julian Barnes’s Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art. I admire Bell’s writing immensely. It’s fascinating to see him in cutting mode. His weapon of choice is irony. For example, he opens his piece by saying, “I enjoyed an essay about Lucian Freud that Julian Barnes published in 2013—a piece brought together with sixteen others on art and artists in his collection Keeping an Eye Open.”
once we know these two stories, we can’t unknow them, and they seem to change—or, for some, confirm—the way the female nudes are to be read…. It is hard not to ask oneself: Is this the face and body of a woman who has first been buggered into submission and then painted into submission?
“The Flash of the Blade” is a spirited attack on art criticism as moral judgment. I found it thrilling and laudable.