Dave Hickey is little known outside the art world, and within it is known as an iconoclast and provocateur. If you were looking to challenge your intellectual perspective, critic Dave Hickey crafts sharp arguments. His latest, Pirates and Farmers: Essays on the Frontiers of Art, contains brilliantly written essays about art and culture that captivate with style as well as insight. In fact, should Hickey ever be true to his word in quitting his art critic’s title, we can find relief in the intellectual nourishment his prose will always provide, regardless of topic.
In Pirates and Farmers, the provocative Hickey shows the art world’s soft underbelly: triggered by commoditization, intellectual pretention, and a focus on institutions and money rather than art.
His art world is dominated by “farmers”—the cultivators, fence builders, and care takers—who trump transgressive “pirates” with whom he identifies. His observations and arguments explain his decision to abandon the art world, but he also provides alternatives to giving up. Either enjoy the art in the margins, he suggests, or refocus your attention on the artwork itself, disregarding peripheral noise.
In getting us to understand our relationship to works of art—vital for a life of the mind—he does so with a quality he attributes to his mentors: “high eloquence.” And for this reason, Pirates and Farmers reaches readers beyond the art world.
“I had one ambition,” Hickey writes in Vogue, “I wanted to write well enough that my writing would be there for the reckoning.”
And so there is it, for our benefit.