Why Do Critics Still Hate Andrew Wyeth? His detractors say he works in a poop-like palette, but his work has many admirers outside of the establishment
As every scorned artist is always reminding us, the critics hated the Impressionists, too.
But within about 10 years of their first group exhibitions, the French Impressionist painters were both beloved by the public and esteemed by critics. Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) has one of those—the love and admiration of the general public—but critical acclaim is still largely absent for the painter who is best known for his highly detailed depictions of rural life. At best, one might say that the most virulent haters are dead or are moving on, but the void is still not exactly filling up with love. Maybe there is some grudging respect, which might count as a victory for this most singular of artists.
“I think he’s O.K.—he is sophisticated although kind of boring. Dead and dry,”The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl told the Observer, which is actually an upgrade for Wyeth in the eyes of the 74-year-old art critic. In the past, Schjeldahl has called the artist “immune to fevers of imagination apart from the most idly literal-minded kind” and called his artwork “formulaic stuff not very effective even as illustrational ‘realism.’ ” A Wyeth nude “generates approximately no sensual charge except maybe of a repressed sex-in-the-head, Republican variety that I’d rather not think about.”
Certainly, critics have held the artist’s conservative political leanings against him, as evidenced in Wyeth’s New York Times obituary in which critic Michael Kimmelman found it relevant to point out that “he voted for Nixon and Reagan.” Time magazine’s Robert Hughes disparagingly described Wyeth’s art as suggesting “a frugal, bare-bones rectitude, glazed by nostalgia but incarnated in real objects, which millions of people look back upon as the lost marrow of American history.”