NEW YORK—Art critic Lance Esplund, in the context of a review published by The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, drops this turn of phrase at the end of a section in which he trashes Gerhard Richter (in the context of a review of a Richter exhibition currently running at the Marian Goodman Gallery): "As far as painting goes, Mr. Richter's formless decorations leave his viewers with virtually nothing (I guess this is the point), which allows them to make of his work whatever they want it to be."
Now, I might as well admit right now that I'm not too deeply familiar with Richter's art, apart from some of his smudged, and haunting, photorealist portraits of Red Army Faction members. (I'm not deeply familiar with Esplund's criticism either, so maybe Richter is just a critical blind spot of his.) However...my first reaction to this was, "Yeah, so?" Maybe I've just become more of an "art-for-art's-sake" kind of guy over the years, but Esplund's line of reasoning suggests to me an awfully shortsighted view of what can be beautiful and challenging about art. It's automatically a negative thing for a work of art to perhaps be so elusive in its meanings that whatever one "gets" from that work is entirely determined by subjective impressions and morés? Me, I thought that was one of the great things about art: no one necessarily reacting the same way to a work, perhaps coming away from it with something different, no matter what a particular artist may or may not have had in mind while creating it (if anything). Better a work of art that inspires many different interpretations than one that spoon-feeds you its intentions, I say.
It's fine that Richter's abstract paintings leave Esplund cold; I'm sure he's not the only one. But when I read that sentence, it felt to me as if he was implying that there's something wrong with work that leaves things entirely up to the viewer as to how it ought to be perceived and interpreted. It's a line of reasoning I've heard many times before, and personally, it strikes me as almost antithetical to the potential of art.
Of course, if anyone feels I am overreacting here, by all means, feel free to let me know!