Schjeldahl was born 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.
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 (1980 to 1998), and 7 Days (The Cooper Union). In 1998 he joined The New Yorker where he is currently the head art critic. His writings have also appeared in Artforum, Art in America, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. 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.
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 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).
His poetry succeeds without a great deal of complexity in language usage or style while maintaining seriousness and poignancy. Schjeldahl’s poetry often addresses common experiences or familiar events. In his poem “My Generation” he opens: “Vietnam/ Drugs/ Civil Rights/ Rock/ Watergate/ (in that order?)/ Are the blows of history/ That have left my generation/ Its peculiar battered silhouette.” Schjeldahl fuels his poetry with historical and biographical context, allowing audiences to relate more intimately to his subject.
In an interview with Blackbird, Schjeldahl stated, "writing things that people want to read is my bread and butter". (Wolgamott).
Schjeldahl was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1995. In 1980 he received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism by the College Art Association. 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.
Schjeldahl currently resides in New York. He is married to Donnie Brooke Alderson, a former actress. They have one child, Ada Calhoun Schjeldahl, who writes under the name Ada Calhoun.
- Let's See: Writings on Art from The New Yorker, Thames & Hudson, New York, NY, 2008
- De Kooning and Dubuffet: The Late Works, Pace Gallery Publications, New York, NY, 1993.
- The Hydrogen Jukebox: Selected Writings of Peter Schjeldahl, 1978-1990. Edited by Malin Wilson, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1991.
- The 7 Days Art Columns,1988-1990, Figures Press, New York, NY, 1990.
- Jean Dubuffet: Recent Paintings, October 31–29 November 1980 The Pace Gallery: Exhibition, The Gallery. New York, NY, 1980.
- Since 1964: New and Selected Poems, SUN, New York, NY, 1978.
- Dreams, Angel Hair Books, New York, NY, 1973.
- An Adventure of the Thought Police, Ferry Press, London, England, 1971.
- White Country, Corinth Books, New York, NY, 1968.
- 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.
- Schjeldahl, Peter (3 November 2008). "The Art World: Just for Fun". The New Yorker 38 (35): 114–115. Retrieved 17 April 2009. Retrospectives of Franz West and Mary Heilmann.
- Schjeldahl, Peter (24 November 2008). "The Art World: Come on Down". The New Yorker 84 (38): 128–129. Retrieved 16 April 2009. "The New Orleans Biennial beckons."
- Schjeldahl, Peter (15 March 2010). "The Art World: Big Time". The New Yorker 86 (4): 71–75. Retrieved 16 January 2011. "Skin Fruit" at the New Museum, New York.
- Schjeldahl, Peter (8 November 2010). "Critic's Notebook: Abstract Exemplar". The New Yorker 86 (35): 14. Thomas Nozkowski at the Pace Gallery.
- "Contributors: Peter Schjeldahl". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- "Peter Schjeldahl". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- "Awards". The College Art Association. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- Peter Schjeldahl Wins Clark Prize for Arts Writing. ARTINFO. April 25, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
- Watch Peter Schjeldahl lecture at Boston University's School of Visual Arts on BUniverse.
- Peter Schjeldahl
- Wolgamott, Kent. Interview with Peter Schjeldahl. Blackbird Archive