Art critic’s prose like a “tasting menu” nabs Pulitzer

Art Life , Op-ed Apr 19, 2011 1 Comment

The interwebs were agog this morning with news that Sebastian Smee has won the Pulitzer Prize for art criticism. Former art critic with the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, Smee decamped to the UK and then the US and the Boston Globe where he has been art critic since 2008. According to Globe editor Martin Baron:

“His criticism is so inviting, so approachable, and so funny, often,’’ Baron said. “It’s a delight to read. The thing about him is that he has this broad expertise, this deep expertise, but he never really smothers readers in all that he knows. To read him is to dine off a tasting menu, with his knowledge and his insights delivered in digestible portions, and by the end you’ve had quite a feast.”

The official citation of the Pulitzer Prize noted its reasons thus:

For distinguished criticism, using any available journalistic tool including text reporting, videos, databases, multimedia or interactive presentations or any combination of those formats, in print or online or both, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000). Awarded to Sebastian Smee of The Boston Globe for his vivid and exuberant writing about art, often bringing great works to life with love and appreciation.


Smee had many fans in Australia who are no doubt wondering what the young scribe has been up to. The Boston Globe story outlines some of his recent work, some of which helped him win the prestigious scroll:

Smee’s writing is characterized by a disarming blend of erudition, insight, and wit. In addition to reviewing new exhibitions and writing longer features for the Globe, Smee launched a popular series titled “Frame by Frame,’’ in which he turns his focus each time to a single piece in the permanent collections of the area’s museums, seeking to spark appreciation of great art that is, in his words, “hiding in plain sight.’’

One of the prize-winning pieces was a June 8, 2010, column on Cornelia Parker’s “Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson)’’ at the Institute of Contemporary Art, a work in which shards from a burned building are gathered together in midair. “From chaos, she creates order,’’ Smee wrote. “From collapse, she creates effortless ascension. And from confusion (who did it, and how?), she creates transparency (I did it, and you can easily see how).’’

Ten days later, in a review of “Picasso Looks at Degas,’’ an exhibition at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Smee observed:

“Good exhibitions reveal to us things we didn’t already know. This show’s thesis — that Picasso was looking closely at Degas at regular intervals throughout his long career — has never seriously been proposed before. The difficulty, of course, is that Picasso absorbed influences in the same way that Bill Clinton absorbed doughnuts: There was no stopping him. He inhaled them. Who’s counting?’’

Globe publisher Christopher M. Mayer went on to say that Smee’s Pulitzer illustrates that the Globe “continues to be a beacon of great journalism.’’

Andrew Frost

One Comments

  1. Fuck Me


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