Peter Schjeldahl  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Peter Schjeldahl, ( born 1942), is an American art critic, poet, and educator.

He was born in 1942 in Fargo, North Dakota. He grew up in small towns throughout Minnesota, and attended Carleton College and The New School. He began his professional writing career as a reporter in Minnesota, Iowa and New Jersey. He is married to Brooke Alderson, an actress.


Art critic

In 1964 he traveled to Paris for a year before settling in New York City in 1965. Since coming to New York he has worked as an art critic for ARTnews, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and 7 Days (The Cooper Union). In 1998 he joined The New Yorker where he is currently the head art critic. During his career Schjeldahl has written several books of poetry as well as art criticism. He taught at Harvard University in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies for four years as well. He has been honored with a Guggenheim fellowship for his poetry and the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism by the College Art Association (The Cooper Union). Peter Schjeldahl currently resides in New York where he continues to write a weekly art column for The New Yorker.


Schjeldahl’s poetry falls in line with many of the characteristic themes and styles of the New York School. As a contemporary postmodern poet, Schjeldahl believed fervently in the idea that poetry should be enjoyed and understood by all readers. In an interview with the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Blackbird Schjeldahl commented on how “there are no rewards in being obscure or abstruse or overbearing” (Wolgamott). Schjeldahl’s work reflects this attitude and his beliefs against institutionalizing art and poetry.

His poetry succeeds without a great deal of complexity in language usage or style while maintaining a definite seriousness and poignancy in his themes. Schjeldahl’s poetry often addresses common experiences or familiar events in a way which grounds his work and accentuates his messages. This can be seen in poems like “My Generation” where he opens with: “Vietnam/ Drugs/ Civil Rights/ Rock/ Watergate/ (in that order?)/ Are the blows of history/ That have left my generation/ Its peculiar battered silhouette.” As this passage shows, Schjeldahl fuels much of his poetry with historical and biographical contexts which help audiences relate more intimately with his work.

As an art critic and as a poet Schjeldahl’s main ambition has been seeded in his desire to help people enjoy art. In the same interview with Blackbird Schjeldahl stated how “writing things that people want to read is my bread and butter” (Wolgamott). Schjeldahl’s poetry exists as poetry that demands to be read and enjoyed rather than studied in classrooms. The significance of his work comes from the lively nature his poetry manages to maintain while simultaneously delivering very impacting messages. Schjeldahl’s lasting influence comes from his ability to write poetry and criticize art in the late twentieth century where most audiences have tended to stray away from the arts in favor of more commercialized entertainment. Schjeldahl’s poetry stands out influentially among the works of the New York School of poets and the current American art communities.


Contributed to

  • Cindy Sherman. Whitney Museum of American Art. New York, NY, 1987.
  • De Kooning: Drawings, Sculptures: An Exhibition Organized by Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March 10-April 21, 1974. Dutton. New York, NY, 1974.
  • Dean Sobel, Jackie Winsor. Milwaukee Art Museum. Milwaukee, WI, 1991.
  • Edward Hopper: Light Years, October 1 to November 12, 1988. Hirschl & Adler Galleries. New York, NY, 1988.
  • Elizabeth Prelinger and Michael Parke-Taylor, The Symbolist Prints of Edvard Munch: The Vivian and David Campbell Collection. Yale University Press. New Haven, CT, 1996.
  • Eric Fischl. Edited by David Whitney, Art in America: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. New York, NY, 1988.
  • Jean Dubuffet. 1943-1963: Paintings, Sculptures, Assemblages: An Exhibition. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, DC, 1993.
  • Liza Lou: Essays by Peter Schjeldahl and Marcia Tucker. Smart Art Press. Santa Monica, CA, 1998.
  • Louis Carlos Bernal and others, Ten Photographers, Olympic Images. Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies. Los Angeles, CA, 1984.
  • Lucas Samaras, Samaras Pastels: Denver Art Museum, October 3-December 27, 1981. edited by Marlene Chambers, The Museum. Denver, CO, 1981.
  • Olav Christopher Jenssen: Bilder 1990-1994. Kestner-Gedellschaft. Hannover, Germany, 1995.
  • Picasso’s Dora Maar/ De Kooning's Women. C&M Arts. New York, NY, 1998.
  • Richard Bosman, Gifts of the Sea: Mandeville Gallery, University of California, San Diego, May 19 through June 25, 1989. The Gallery. San Diego, CA, 1989.
  • Richard Deacon. Phaidon. London, England, 1995.
  • Salle. Vintage Books. New York, NY, 1987.
  • Shards: Garth Clark on Ceramic Art. Art Publishers. New York, NY, 2003.
  • The Inward Eye: Transcendence in Contemporary Art. Contemporary Arts Museum. Houston, TX, 2001.
  • William Wegman. Museo de Monterrey. Monterrey, Mexico, 1993.

-Compilation of Schjeldahl’s work comes in large part from the list found on Galenet’s Contemporary Authors Online.


The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute named Peter Schjeldahl the winner of the 2008 Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing. The prize was established in 2006 to recognize writers who advance public appreciation of visual art in a way that "is grounded in scholarship yet appeals to a broad range of audiences." It comes with a $25,000 honorarium and an award designed by architect Tadao Ando.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Peter Schjeldahl" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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