The Whine of the Amateur, the Cry of the Critic

In 1877 the art critic John Ruskin damned James McNeil Whistler’s magnificent Nocturne in Black and Gold by saying he “had never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Whistler sued, and wrote afterward:

Over and over again did the Attorney General cry out aloud, in the agony of his cause, “What is to become of painting if the critics withhold their lash?”

As well might he ask what is to become of mathematics under similar circumstances, were they possible. I maintain that two and two the mathematician would continue to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five… It suffices not, Messieurs! a life passed among pictures makes not a painter – else the policeman in the National Gallery might assert himself. As well allege that he who lives in a library must needs die a poet. Let not Mr. Ruskin flatter himself that more education makes the difference between himself and the policeman when both stand gazing in the gallery.

– Whistler, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

And thus another title that would have served so well for my autobiography turns out to be already taken.


  1. mclaren says

    One of Whistler’s best bitch-slaps came when a critic slammed his Nocturne in Blue and Gold because it contained very little blue and gold, mainly black.
    Whistler retorted: “Idiot! Is a symphony in C nothing but C, C, C?”