In your Dunhuang piece, you make it clear that you are not, in fact, a Buddhist yourself.
Well, that was important for me to say. I don’t want people to read what I’m writing as advocacy for a particular faith. I’m coming at this from another place, a human place. I’m hungry for these experiences. Delighted by them. Puzzled by them. The same place that you, the reader, are in. I’ve been lucky to have had this experience, and now I am giving that luck to others.
So the art critic is a kind of caretaker for certain objects or experiences?
I do feel that. Objects represent us. They aren’t just manufactured things. They really are extensions of us, particularly art objects, which have been made with a certain amount of love. It’s also important to remember that a lot of art has been made for terrible reasons. These are objects of power. And they’re persuasive ones. They are beautiful, even though they were meant to advertise power in negative ways.
Perhaps this sense of criticism as a form of caretaking explains why your style often seems so insistently personal.
Again, I would like others to have the same experience I have had. That is basically what it comes down to—sharing this joy. I don’t feel authoritative about it. I feel like I’m on the same level with my readers.
So conveying your experience is almost as important as giving an opinion?
I think that’s true. My favorite critics are not art critics, but dance critics. Especially Edwin Denby. I like to read them best—not for stylistic reasons, but because the subject they are writing about is a very ephemeral thing. It basically doesn’t exist beyond the performance. The only record is what you write about it, with the kind of language that captures it on the fly. I think of art the same way. There is no objective perspective on it that makes sense to me, really. We’re here for a very short time. We’re here together. We won’t be here very long. The experience is so personal, so fleeting, that I just want to capture it.