Art Critics Concur: Terry Richardson Is Not an Artist

Terry Richardson at a MoCA Gala in 2013. Photo: Patrick McMullan

When New York Magazine ran an article last month that posed the question, “Is Terry Richardson an artist or a predator?,” the backlash was enormous. As many pointed out, being an artist and being a sexual predator are not mutually exclusive things, and one does not excuse the other. It’s a troubling question that has continued to come up in conversations about popular artists with disturbing allegations against them (Tom Otterness, Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski are just a few of those who come to mind) as a way to dismiss those accusations on the grounds of “art.” But what got drowned out in the Richardson debate is the first segment of that question: Is Terry Richardson even an artist, much less a good one?

To answer that question, BuzzFeed polled art critics from several well-respected publications, including ArtFCity, Hyperallergic, and the New Criterion, asking their opinions on whether or not the fashion photographer’s work could be considered art. The answer was a resounding “no.” While Richardson defenders have tried to liken him to visionary, sexually provocative photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin, it’s evident that any art critic worth their salt isn’t buying it. “The question ‘Is Terry Richardson a good artist?’ assumes that he is an artist at all, which he is not,” said James Panero of the New Criterion. “He is merely a perpetuator of celebrity sleaze with a penetrating flash.”

Corinna Kirsch of ArtFCity maintains that even if he could be classified as an artist, he would still be a bad one. “His style’s remained incredibly similar over the years; it’s made him an easy sell because he’s got a brand. But is he deep? No. Does he keep on innovating? No. Does he add any statements of value to the world? No. Aesthetically and ethically, he’s a poor artist,” she said.

Paddy Johnson, founding editor of ArtFCity and artnet News columnist,added that, “Most of his images wouldn’t make sense in a gallery—they aren’t using that visual language.”

So there you have it. Terry Richardson: not an artist, almost definitely a predator.

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