By Jess Bidgood
Apr. 21, 2011
BOSTON — Sebastian Smee didn’t really mean to become an art critic.
“I was really attracted to writers who wrote not just about art, but were critics about something, I guess,” the 38-year-old said. “I think my first few pieces were about film. It just kind of worked out that way.”
But the native Australian went on to become one of the Boston Globe’s art critics – and, as of Monday, a freshly minted recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.
Smee’s three years at the Globe have yielded vivid, insightful commentary about the region’s art, elevating and analyzing the dozens of exhibitions New Englanders can access every year. He was first a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2009.
In one of his nominated pieces, Smee describes Cornelia Parker’s “Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson),” the collection of suspended fragments of a burned-out church.
“In the natural order of things we’d be seeing them collapsed in an abject pile on the ground, surrounded by rubble, awaiting the final chapter of their fate: dust, decay, dissolution.
But Parker proposes a different fate. From chaos, she creates order. From collapse, she creates effortless ascension. And from confusion (who did it, and how?), she creates transparency (I did it, and you can easily see how).”
Smee told WGBH’s Emily Rooney that he’s proud and grateful to be part of the Globe’s tradition of award-winning criticism – his college Martin Feeney won a Pulitzer for criticism three years ago, and Gail Caldwell picked up the ward for her literary criticism in 2001.
“I feel really lucky to work under Marty, he’s a great editor, a great leader,” Smee said of Martin Baron, the Globe’s editor.
Despite the high achievement the Pulitzer recognizes, Smee says he doesn’t consider it time to move outside of the Globe.
“I want to stay at the Globe, I really do. We moved here just three years ago,” Smee said of he and his wife, who lived in London together for four years before moving to Boston. “It was an enormous upheaval for us, we’re certainly not in a hurry to make another move.”
And he wants to stick with arts criticism, although he joked that his writing might – just might – fit in in what he calls the “Sport” section.
“Arts writers often get criticized for getting away with sort of purple prose, and so on, but I think it’s very much there in sport too. It’s not really purple prose, it’s great, engaging, wonderful prose,” Smee said.
You can read his full collection of nominated work here.
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