4Columns is a website of arts criticism aimed at a general audience. Its title refers, quite literally, to what you’ll find there each week: four new columns, each with a distinctive voice and perspective. Together, they offer a complex and compelling view of contemporary culture, from film to literature to performance to the visual arts.
“To justify its existence,” Charles Baudelaire said of criticism, it “should be partial, impassioned, and political, that is to say, written from an exclusive point of view that opens up the widest horizons.” Following Baudelaire’s lead, 4Columns treats criticism as a literary genre in its own right—one in which singular passions ignite public discourse. The criticism it publishes functions as a conversational gambit, a piece of fan mail from the most exacting of admirers, maybe even a breakup note.
4Columns’s mainstay is the thousand-word review—a length that both enables critical reflection and demands writerly rigor. Centered, but not moored, in the New York scene, 4Columns reflects the cosmopolitanism of today’s culture through the sensibilities of a similarly diverse group of contributors. The site’s flexible, modular framework supports a multiplicity of styles, approaches, and ideas. It, further, maintains meaningful distinctions between artistic disciplines while accommodating the hybrid nature of much contemporary practice.
Launched at a moment when the Internet is increasingly the dominant outlet for critics and criticism, 4Columns exploits the resources of online technology but avoids one of the blogosphere’s most prevalent shortcomings: the poor payment of writers. 4Columns nurtures excellence by compensating its contributors fairly. It also counters the web’s information overload and tendency to foster hyperspecialization by focusing on four well-chosen works a week, bringing together writing on varied cultural forms within a single venue. Combining sophisticated analysis with broad accessibility, 4Columns insists on art’s capacity to serve as something shared, even—perhaps especially—when it is the object of criticism.