Peter Schjeldahl, Art Critic for The New Yorker, Dead at 80

Peter Schjeldahl. Photo: Will Ragozzino/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Peter Schjeldahl, an art critic for The New Yorker since 1998, is dead at age 80. Schjeldahl’s cause of death has not been confirmed. He was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 77, a fact that he wrote about in the 2019 essay “The Art of Dying.” The New Yorker shared the story on social media, confirming his death. Schjeldahl grew up in Minnesota, the son of a father who owned a series of businesses and a mother who was, in his words, a “prairie princess.” He began his writing career working for the Jersey Journal as a reporter. Schjeldahl was a poet earlier in life, though he stopped around 1990 “because I didn’t know what a poem was any longer.”

Schjeldahl began writing criticism in 1965. “I think academics who write about things write for people who have to read them, and who, if they show any style or elan in their writing, the readers will just resent it,” Schjeldahl said in 2004 about the style of his criticism. “If people don’t want to read me, I starve — there are no rewards in being obscure or obtuse or overbearing for me. I don’t think it’s because I have a naturally good character, but writing things that people want to read is my bread and butter.”

“Saddened beyond words by the passing of Peter Schjeldahl, whom I looked up to with astonishment, for the power of his observations, the vitality of his writing, and the ever-youthfulness of his enthusiasm; he was also the most invigorating of colleagues, stopping by my desk and in a couple of quick, incisive sentences, setting off a veritable pinball machine of surprising and far-reaching ideas,” said New Yorker film critic Richard Brody of his former colleague on Twitter. “Also, big Mets fan, as we long commiserated.” Below, more find tributes Schjeldahl from the art world and beyond.

Peter Schjeldahl, Art Critic for The New Yorker, Dead at 80