Peter Schjeldahl

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Peter Schjeldahl
Schjeldahl at MoMA in 2009
Schjeldahl at MoMA in 2009
Born(1942-03-20)March 20, 1942
Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.
DiedOctober 21, 2022(2022-10-21) (aged 80)
Bovina, New York, U.S.
OccupationPoet, art critic
Alma materThe New School

Peter Charles Schjeldahl (/ˈʃɛldɑːl/; March 20, 1942 – October 21, 2022) was an American art critic, poet, and educator. He was noted for being the head art critic at The New Yorker, having earlier written for The Village Voice, ARTnews, and The New York Times.

Early life and education[edit]

Schjeldahl was born in Fargo, North Dakota, on March 20, 1942.[1] His father, Gilmore, was the inventor of the airsickness bag,[2] and whose company produced NASA’s first communications satellite;[1] his mother, Charlene (Hanson), was Gilmore's office manager.[1] Schjeldahl was raised in small towns throughout his home state and Minnesota. He studied at Carleton College from 1962 to 1964, and at The New School.[1] He began his professional writing career as a reporter in 1962 at The Jersey Journal, in Jersey City, and in Minnesota and Iowa.[2]

Art critic[edit]

Schjeldahl traveled to Paris in 1964 and remained there for a year before settling in New York City in 1965. Upon moving to New York he worked as an art critic for ARTnews, The New York Times, The Village Voice (1990 to 1998),[3] and 7 Days (The Cooper Union). In 1998 he joined The New Yorker where he was the head art critic.[3] His writings also appeared in Artforum, Art in America, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Vanity Fair.[3] During his career, Schjeldahl wrote several books of poetry as well as art criticism.[1] He published his final book, Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings, 1988–2018, in June 2019.[1][4] He also taught at Harvard University in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies for four years during the late 1990s and early 2000s.[5][6]


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."[7]

Schjeldahl's poetry often addresses common experiences or familiar events. His poem “My Generation” opens: "Vietnam/ Drugs/ Civil Rights/ Rock/ Watergate/ (in that order?)/ Are the blows of history/ That have left my generation/ Its peculiar battered silhouette."[8] In an interview with Blackbird, Schjeldahl stated that "writing things that people want to read is my bread and butter."[7]


Schjeldahl was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1995.[9] In 1980 he received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism by the College Art Association.[10] 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.[11]

Carleton College bestowed an honorary degree, a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, to Schjeldahl as part of their commencement exercises on June 13, 2015.[12] Seven years later, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, "for accessible and dedicated art criticism that introduces or revisits painters, institutions and movements, offering tender appreciations and unflinching dissents".[4][13]

Personal life[edit]

Schjeldahl married and later divorced a woman whom he publicly referred to as "L."[2] He lived in New York City.[2] He was married to Donnie Brooke Alderson, a former actress, until his death. Together, they had one child, Ada Calhoun Schjeldahl, who writes under the name Ada Calhoun.[1]

In 2019, Schjeldahl was diagnosed with lung cancer.[2] He died on October 21, 2022, at his home in Bovina, New York. He was 80 years old.[1][14]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Grimes, William (October 23, 2022). "Peter Schjeldahl, New York Art Critic With a Poet's Voice, Dies at 80". The New York Times. Vol. 172, no. 59585. p. A26. Retrieved October 21, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e Schjeldahl, Peter (December 16, 2019). "The Art of Dying". The New Yorker.
  3. ^ a b c "Contributors: Peter Schjeldahl". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 16, 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Finalist: Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved October 21, 2022.
  5. ^ Schjeldahl, Peter (November 27, 1998). "A Gang Theory of Art Education, or Why Artists Make the Worst Students". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved October 21, 2022.
  6. ^ "Leading art critics featured in new discussion series". Yale Bulletin & Calendar. Vol. 32, no. 16. January 30, 2004. Archived from the original on October 21, 2022. Retrieved October 21, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Schjeldahl, Peter (Spring 2004). "Interview with Peter Schjeldahl". Blackbird (Interview). 3 (1). Interviewed by Howard Risatti; Susan Glasser; Mary Flinn. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  8. ^ "2008: Peter Schjeldahl". Clark Art Institute. Retrieved October 21, 2022.
  9. ^ "Peter Schjeldahl". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  10. ^ "Awards - Frank Jewett Mather Award". The College Art Association. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  11. ^ Peter Schjeldahl Wins Clark Prize for Arts Writing. ARTINFO. April 25, 2008. Retrieved May 14, 2008.
  12. ^ "Carleton to hold 141st Commencement ceremony; bestow honorary degree to The New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahl" (Press release). Carleton College. June 3, 2015. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  13. ^ Helgerud, Erica (June 2, 2022). "Two Carleton alumni earn Pulitzer Prize nominations". Carleton College. Retrieved October 21, 2022.
  14. ^ Greenberger, Alex (October 21, 2022). "Peter Schjeldahl, Art Critic Who Wrote with Unparalleled Elegance, Dies at 80". ARTnews. New York City. Retrieved October 21, 2022.

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