Today being an art critic is a full time occupation for some individuals. When/where does the concept of "art criticism" first come into being?


I am NOT looking for a random person sharing a personal opinion. I am looking for a professional person or skill set, recognized by the public in general or an employer (such as the government) for their skill in rating/criticizing/censoring art. They raised payment in financial support or public recognition. We recognize Socrates as a philosopher because he was recognized by his peers (though I don't believe he was paid for the act).

  • This question comes from a new site proposal there seems to be some question on if art history is adequately addressed & in scope here on History.SE Apr 13, 2015 at 15:16
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    Victorian opposition to the middle class included the assertion that they lacked the "aesthetic sense" common to the upper class. The ancient Greeks had theatrical competitions. In truth the first time anyone performed anything and one of the audience said, "Meh..." art criticism began. I'm not sure this is a question that can be answered. Are you really looking for the first professional art critic (i.e. person who supported them-self by practicing art criticism)?
    – MCW
    Apr 13, 2015 at 15:31
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    Ugh looked at Ergh's wall drawing of the antelope and said "meh" - true story ! :)
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 13, 2015 at 15:39
  • Socrates was paid for the act; he taught in the forum and students and their parents paid fees for his lectures. The Greek judges of the theatrical festivals are probably the first examples - they were paid by the government to judge the quality of the plays.
    – MCW
    Apr 13, 2015 at 17:25
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    @CGCampbell yes, but everyone knows that Ugh was merely a mindless dilettante mouthing the puerile drivel of the ante-pre-nascent-modernists, and everyone knows how worthwhile their opinions are....
    – MCW
    Apr 13, 2015 at 17:26

2 Answers 2


The term "art criticism", as well as the first attempt to formulate what it entails, seems to have been created by English painter Jonathan Richardson in 1719, in his essay on the Whole Art of Criticism as it Relates to Painting and an Argument in Behalf of the Science of a Connoisseur. This seems to coincide with the first large-scale public exhibitions of art in the mid 18th century.

Before that there presumably were folks who criticized art, perhaps even serially. But Mr. Richardson seems to have been the first to give this activity a name (or at least the one that stuck).

  • That is earlier than I would have anticipated; did he really suggest that such an individual would make his/her living from criticizing art?
    – MCW
    Apr 13, 2015 at 18:21
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    @MarkC.Wallace - Haven't had a chance to read it myself. But based on all the talk about it I've seen, it looks like he's arguing for art criticism itself as an art, and laying out what that looks like. So an avocation rather than a vocation, if you will.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 13, 2015 at 19:17

Winckelmann, I believe, was the first celebrated major contributor to what we now know as art criticism.

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