Like Elizabeth Bishop’s unbeliever, art critics sleep on top of a mast. Too many opinions or too few, too accepting or too sceptical, too specialized, too general, too simplistic, too complex … the list of ways to fall goes on. This is why Tom Lubbock remains my hero: the only critic I can think of who seemed to dream up there unperturbed, balanced as a gull.
I had no sense of this when I first read him. As a teenager, I took his reviews in the Independent to be the baseline: what all art criticism looked like. Only coming back to them years later, writing my own, did I realise how good – aberrantly good – they were. Open, discerning, bracingly intelligent, funny but, perhaps above all, significant. Lubbock unfailingly did the precise thing that deadlines, word limits and the other impedimenta of the professional writer’s life seem designed to prevent: he thought, hard. As a result, the pieces collected in Great Works (2011) and English Graphic (2012) reach way beyond themselves. They open up not just ways of looking at art, but new ways of looking at the world itself – because Lubbock knew how to take advantage of the view from the mast.
First published in Issue 200