Superscript Keynote: Ben Davis on "Post-Descriptive Criticism"
Skip to main content
Walker News

Superscript Keynote: Ben Davis on "Post-Descriptive Criticism"


Throughout its history, art criticism has developed in contexts of relative image scarcity—print publishing—and hence “description” has long been at its core. The Internet, on the other hand, offers a relative surplus of available images, but the way we think about what art writing does hasn’t yet caught up. For his Superscript keynote, Ben Davis aims to name, define, and dig into the topic of “Post-Descriptive Criticism,” looking at the history of writing about art and the new opportunities opening up now.

“For me,” he explained in a recent email, “this thought comes out of a very personal experience of working in an evolving online art media over the last 10 years, seeing its intensifying demands, and trying to solve a problem: Why is it that, pragmatically, reviews don’t work online? They simply do not get traffic relative to commentary or news. So, I want to propose that this is partly because we are working with a form that is embedded in a certain kind of expectations about communication, and that there is a need and an imperative to invent a new kind of writing.

“From a very simple pragmatic observation about media, you then expand out into the political dimension of the question. Since this thought is partly about trying to rethink how art criticism functions online, it is also partly about how you preserve critical thought online, with art criticism being just a particularly symptomatic case, because it deals with images. Can you think about forms of criticism that are more image-based, without collapsing into a pure uncritical fascination with the image?”

Ben Davis is the author of 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (Haymarket, 2013), as well as numerous essays on contemporary art that have appeared in venues include Art Papers, Frieze, New York,, and The Village Voice. He is currently critic-in-residence at Montclair State University, and National Art Critic for artnet News. He delivers his keynote for Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age on Friday, May 29 at 5 pm. To participate, register for the conference or tune in to the livestream.

Get Walker Reader in your inbox. Sign up to receive first word about our original videos, commissioned essays, curatorial perspectives, and artist interviews.