Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Robert Hughes and Me...

There have been so many people recently who I grew up and who had an influence on me in some way, shape, or form, who have passed on recently: intellectual and critic Christopher Hitchens, actor Elizabeth Sladen, probably my favourite companion from the Doctor Who of my twenties, film critic Andrew Sarris, intellectual and critic Alexander Cockburn, actor Mary Tamm, the first Romana in Doctor Who, filmmaker Chris Marker, intellectual, critic, and author Gore Vidal, film critic Judith Crist, and now Robert Hughes "raconteur", historian, art critic, most famously at Time magazine for over three decades beginning in 1969, critic, and intellectual.

I first became aware of Robert Hughes when I saw his 1980 BBC television programme on modern art on PBS in 1981, The Shock of the New. I had become a PBS junkie by that time. The Shock of the New explored the history of modern art in eight episodes, in a language that even an art semi illiterate like myself could understand, an impressive achievement in its own right. The Shock of the New really was my education in the history of modern art.

I loved that documentary series, and I loved his later documentary on American art, American Visions (1997), and his documentary on Australia, Beyond the Fatal Shore (2000), both on PBS, and I loved Robert Hughes. I admired his knowledge of art. I admired his wit. I admired his no nonsense approach to a subject that was incredibly esoteric to me at the time. I admired his iconoclasm. I admired his anti-authoritarian approach to criticism. I came to admire his atheism and Australian pro-republicanism. But perhaps most of all I admired his forthrightness, his very opinionated no bullshit zone approach to art, his art criticism, his criticism in general, a criticism that recognised that it was necessary to do exegesis before you could do hermeneutics and apologetics, and his devotion to the intellectual life in general.

As someone who grew up in the 1960s I think I had become an iconoclast before I watched The Shock of the New but I think Hughes helped make me more of an intellectual iconoclast if that is possible. And I think Hughes, for good and bad, made me the forthright take no prisoners, he has a savage or mean streak person I am today. Like Hughes I have no patience with pomp, no patience with circumstance, no patience for the plastic masks of life, no patience for jargony academois, and no patience with art as market spectacle. And while such forthrightness has its drawbacks I would rather be who I am than someone who has sold his or her soul so to sit comfortably.

So thank you Robert Hughes for educating me in the history of art in a way the academy never did and never could. And thank you Robert Hughes for helping to make me the crusty curmudgeon I am today warts and all. There really are some similarities between Aussies and Yanks aren't there? Vale.

Hughes came out of "The Push" movement of artists, designers, musicians, journalists, filmmakers, actors, and students, many of them initially from the University of Sydney, beginning in the 1950s in Sydney along with Germaine Greer, Lillian Roxon, and Clive James. For more on the anti-authoritarian, anti-elitist, anti-careerist, anti-censorship, and libertarian "The Push" see the excellent essay, "The Push", About Australia, australia.gov.au, http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/push

Bibliography and Videography
Charlie Rose Interviews Robert Hughes, 22 May 1997, Charlie Rose, PBS, http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/5542
Richard Lacayo, "The Art of Being Critical: Robert Hughes 1938-2012", 7 August 2012, Time, http://entertainment.time.com/2012/08/07/the-art-of-being-critical-robert-hughes-1938-2012/
"Australian Critic Robert Hughes Dead", 7 August 2012, the ABC, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-07/australian-critic-robert-hughes-dead/4181906
AAP, "Robert Hughes Made High Art Accessible", 7 August 2012, the Australian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/aug/07/robert-hughes-art-critic
Jonathan Jones, "Robert Hughes: the Greatest Art Critic of Our Time", 7 August 2012, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/aug/07/robert-hughes-greatest-art-critic?newsfeed=true
Hannah Freeman, "Remembering Robert Hughes: What Did He Do for Art?", 7 August 2012, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/aug/07/robert-hughes-art-critic
Justin Wolf, "Robert Hughes", the Art Story.org, http://www.theartstory.org/critic-hughes-robert.htm
Ken Tucker, "Robert Hughes the Art Critic Who Brought us The Shock of the New Has Died", 7 August 2012, EW Online, http://watching-tv.ew.com/2012/08/06/robert-hughes-dead-art-critic-the-shock-of-the-new/
Peter Carey, "'Robert Hughes Was Australia's Dante', Says Friend Peter Carey", 7 August 2012, the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/07/robert-hughes-by-peter-carey

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