The Walter Darby Bannard Archive

Letter to the Editor (1976)

Artforum, May, 1976, pp. 8 - 9.


I've never taken to replying to reviews because I think reviewers have a right to say what they want about paintings.

However, in his review of my last show (Artforum, March 1976) Carter Ratcliff discussed my writing. Thereby he obliged himself to stick to the facts, and he didn't.

He said that my article "Notes on American Painting of the '60s" (Artforum, January, 1970) provides a set of rules that requires good painting to do or have certain things, which he specifies with quotes from the article.

But I didn't do that: never have and never will. I didn't say what a good painting must be, or have, or do. I described some of the features of paintings which in my judgment are good paintings, and how these features work to the advantage of these paintings. It's as simple as that. I make mistakes but not rules. Anyone who makes rules for painting is a fool, and anyone who reads description as prescription is also a fool.

It is painful and tiresome to endlessly point out simple facts like this to the illiterates of the art world. I'm not sure it's worth it, but I felt this one needed answering.

Darby Bannard
Princeton, N.J.

Ratcliff replied:

Descriptions, in Mr. Bannard's criticism, are prescriptive statements which guide them without exception in praising and censuring other painters' work. Hence, his descriptions are poorly disguised rules. The fact that Mr. Bannard refuses to take responsibility for his prescriptiveness does not alter the fact that he is prescriptive. Perhaps, for his sake, I should state an obvious corollary to these remarks: it is not enough to insist that one never has done, nor ever will do something as undesirable as promulgating rules for artists; it is also necessary to refrain from doing that undesirable thing.

Mr. Bannard calls me an illiterate and a fool. Name-calling is all very well, if one is reduced to it. Mr. Bannard is reduced to it quite often - see the slurs he has directed at Willem deKooning, Roy Lichtenstein and others. I suppose we would all be judged fools by a perfect intelligence. Since Mr. Bannard's intelligence is not of that nature, I shall say nothing of his judgement that I am a fool. Illiteracy is another matter, for it is indeed an issue in today's art world. It is an issue throughout contemporary American culture. However, in this present disagreement, the only question of illiteracy is raised by the off chance that Mr. Bannard is sincere in his claim that he does not set rules for other painters. If his claim is made sincerely, I shall have to conclude that Mr. Bannard is unaware of the substance or the implications of his own critical writing.