Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy may be the book I’ve reread most frequently. That’s both because of its quality and because it’s one of only three books Dave Hickey has published (the other is The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty, and Pirates and Farmers: Essays on Taste). Hickey is an art critic and everything else that comes with that position (a teacher, speaker, public figure), but he’s also—why I love him—anti-professional.
The man started writing criticism late in life, after living it. He’s a formidable writer (through him, I learned the words unction, ineluctable, plangent), but, unlike many “writers,” “writer” is not an identity for Hickey. The world comes before. Hickey’s interest is in (his words), “the living atmosphere of all that is shown, seen, touched, felt, smelled, heard, spoken, or sung,” in the sensational immediacy of embodied experience. His writing is formidable because it beats with this—with the pulse of a body in real time.
Hickey’s prioritizing of lived experience makes for writing that brims with personality. It’s him I read for: him on Chet Baker, him on Ed Ruscha, him on Liberace, him on basketball, him on Foucault on acid, him on himself. Unfortunately, Hickey’s busy-embodied self means his publishing is far from prolific. There are less than 500 printed pages I can turn to when I need a visit with this one and only, so I’m forced to return to the same ones again and again; that’s okay, they’re great.