Brian Sewell and art criticism


Sir, – In his interesting review “The authentic Sonia Shiel and Martin Mooney, 12 years later” (Arts, April 23rd), Aidan Dunne, while giving us an insight into two artists, referred to Brian Sewell, in passing, as a “reactionary” critic.

The word “reactionary” has a particularly harsh meaning.

I don’t believe, in this case, it is appropriate to apply it to Sewell with any justification.

He went beyond this political term in a particular sort of English way. Yes, he was highly opinionated and insulting to a wide variety of people. Although I don’t see how one could take his remarks too seriously, some of which were over the top and, to my mind, hilariously funny.

For instance, he rubbished Damien Hirst by saying that his “imagination is quite as dead as all the dead creatures suspended in formaldehyde”.

Many might agree that this observation is spot-on. It was one of his milder comments. Others could be either sexist or vulgar in the extreme, as in his comment on the graffiti artist Banksy.

On the other hand, he was constructive, well-read and asked questions that others found difficult to answer.

I hardly believe he went out of his way to be nasty. It was just the way he was.

All this is in the nature of free speech.

Like him or not, one has to ask also whether there should be a cosy safe-place for art, curators, art critics and the doyens of the art market.

I think once you get reverential about art, artistic movements and its followers, that’s the end of art and art criticism in general. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.