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Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists

von Robert Hughes

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433345,013 (4.06)1
From Holbein to Hockney, from Norman Rockwell to Pablo Picasso, from sixteenth-century Rome to 1980s SoHo, Robert Hughes looks with love, loathing, warmth, wit and authority at a wide range of art and artists, good, bad, past and present.    As art critic for Time magazine, internationally acclaimed for his study of modern art, The Shock of the New, he is perhaps America's most widely read and admired writer on art.  In this book:  nearly a hundred of his finest essays on the subject.    For the realism of Thomas Eakins to the Soviet satirists Komar and Melamid, from Watteau to Willem de Kooning to Susan Rothenberg, here is Hughes--astute, vivid and uninhibited--on dozens of famous and not-so-famous artists.  He observes that Caravaggio was "one of the hinges of art history; there was art before him and art after him, and they were not the same"; he remarks that Julian Schnabel's "work is to painting what Stallone's is to acting"; he calls John Constable's Wivenhoe Park "almost the last word on Eden-as-Property"; he notes how "distorted traces of [Jackson] Pollock lie like genes in art-world careers that, one might have thought, had nothing to do with his."  He knows how Norman Rockwell made a chicken stand still long enough to be painted, and what Degas said about success (some kinds are indistinguishable from panic).    Phrasemaker par excellence, Hughes is at the same time an incisive and profound critic, not only of particular artists, but also of the social context in which art exists and is traded.  His fresh perceptions of such figures as Andy Warhol and the French writer Jean Baudrillard are matched in brilliance by his pungent discussions of the art market--its inflated prices and reputations, its damage to the public domain of culture.  There is a superb essay on Bernard Berenson, and another on the strange, tangled case of the Mark Rothko estate.  And as a finale, Hughes gives us "The SoHoiad," the mock-epic satire that so amused and annoyed the art world in the mid-1980s.    A meteor of a book that enlightens, startles, stimulates and entertains.… (mehr)
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Outstanding collection of nearly one hundred essays written in the 1980s, mostly for Time Magazine, on art and artists from Holbein, Goya, Degas, Whistler, van Gogh right up to the big names of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, by the leading art critic at the time in America, outspoken, rough-and-ready tough-guy Robert Hughes (1938-2012).

If you are familiar with his 1970s documentary The Shock of the New, you know he has a hyper-perceptive eye for art as well as a thorough command of art history and cultural currents. If not, then these essays will introduce you to one of the freshest and liveliest voices ever to enter the house of art.

To provide a good strong taste of Robert Hughes’ style, below are quotes from his spirited essay on Andy Warhol, one of the few artists included in this collection that he really didn’t like.

Robert Hughes on Andy Warhol’s using everyday objects like soup cans, Brillo boxes or photos of Marilyn Monroe: “The tension this set up depended on the assumption, still in force in the sixties, that there was a qualitative difference between the perceptions of high art and the million daily diversions and instructions issued by popular culture. Since then, Warhol has probably done more than any other living artist to wear that distinction down, but while doing so, he has worn away the edge of his work.”

On Andy’s quest for celebrity: “Inspired by the example of Truman Capote, he went after publicity with the voracious singlemindedness of a feeding bluefish. And he got it in abundance, because the sixties in New York reshuffled and stacked the social deck: press and television, in their pervasiveness, constructed a kind of parallel universe in which the hierarchical orders of American society – vestiges, it was thought, but strong ones, and based on inherited wealth –were replaced by the new tyranny of the “interesting.” Its rule had to do with the rapid shift of style and image, with the assumption that all civilized life was discontinuous and worth only a short attention span: better to be Baby Jane Holzer than the Duchesse de Guermantes.”

On Andy and television: “Above all, the working-class kid who had spent so many thousands of hours gazing into the blue, anesthetizing glare of the TV screen, like Narcissus into his pool, realized that the cultural moment of the mid-sixties favored a walking void. Television was producing an affectless culture.”

On Andy’s mass produced art: “Thus his paintings, tremendously stylish in their rough silk-screening, full of slips, mimicked the dissociation of gaze and empathy induced by the mass media: the banal punch of tabloid newsprint, the visual jabber and bright sleazy color of TV, the sense of glut and anesthesia caused by both. Three dozen Elvises are better than one.”

On Andy as THE artist of the Ronald Reagan years: “How can one doubt that Warhol was delivered by Fate to be the Rubens of this administration, to play Bernini to Reagan’s Urban VIII? On the one hand, the shrewd old movie actor, void of ideas but expert at manipulation, projected into high office by the insuperable power of mass imagery and secondhand perception. On the other, the shallow painter who understood more about the mechanisms of celebrity than any of his colleagues, whose entire sense of reality was shaped, like Reagan’s sense of power, by the television tube. Each, in his way, coming on like Huck Finn; both obsessed with serving the interests of privilege. Together, they signify a new moment: the age of supply-side aesthetics.”

I read this Robert Hughes essay on Andy Warhol back when it was first published in 1982. Loved every word and really was on Hughes’ vibe since I recoil from anything smacking of mass culture, things like television, celebrity, glamour or glitz.

But then one spring afternoon in 1990 I had a shocking experience - I walked into a downtown New York City gallery and saw for the very first time original Andy Warhol silkscreens, one of Hermann Hesse and the other of Mickey Mouse.

I could almost not believe my eyes: the art was so stunningly beautiful and brimming over with vitality, it almost put me on my knees. Incredible. I couldn’t take my eyes off these silkscreens; I was riveted to the spot for a good long while.

For me, this experience underscored how the visual arts are ultimately a personal experience of standing before the original and using and trusting our eyes. Sure, art critics, even the great art critics, can speak about cultural and historical context, about the artist’s biography and the artist’s influences and intent, even offering comments and insights on specific works, but we are best putting theories and criticism aside when we engage with the work one-on-one. Who knows what magic may take place?

( )
1 abstimmen Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |

Such an outstanding collection of nearly 100 essays written in the 1980s, mostly for Time Magazine, on art and artists from Holbein, Goya, Degas, Whistler, van Gogh right up to the big names of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, by the leading art critic at the time in America, outspoken, rough-and-ready tough-guy Robert Hughes (1938-2012). If you are familiar with his 1970s documentary “The Shock of the New” you know he has a hyper-perceptive eye for art as well as a thorough command of art history and cultural currents. If not, then these essays will introduce you to one of the freshest and liveliest voices ever to enter the house of art.

To provide a good strong taste of Robert Hughes’ style, below are quotes from his spirited essay on Andy Warhol, one of the few artists included in this collection that he really didn’t like.

Robert Hughes on Andy Warhol’s using everyday objects like soup cans, Brillo boxes or photos of Marilyn Monroe: “The tension this set up depended on the assumption, still in force in the sixties, that there was a qualitative difference between the perceptions of high art and the million daily diversions and instructions issued by popular culture. Since then, Warhol has probably done more than any other living artist to wear that distinction down, but while doing so, he has worn away the edge of his work.”

On Andy’s quest for celebrity: “Inspired by the example of Truman Capote, he went after publicity with the voracious singlemindedness of a feeding bluefish. And he got it in abundance, because the sixties in New York reshuffled and stacked the social deck: press and television, in their pervasiveness, constructed a kind of parallel universe in which the hierarchical orders of American society – vestiges, it was thought, but strong ones, and based on inherited wealth –were replaced by the new tyranny of the “interesting.” Its rule had to do with the rapid shift of style and image, with the assumption that all civilized life was discontinuous and worth only a short attention span: better to be Baby Jane Holzer than the Duchesse de Guermantes.”

On Andy and television: “Above all, the working-class kid who had spent so many thousands of hours gazing into the blue, anesthetizing glare of the TV screen, like Narcissus into his pool, realized that the cultural moment of the mid-sixties favored a walking void. Television was producing an affectless culture.”

On Andy’s mass produced art: “Thus his paintings, tremendously stylish in their rough silk-screening, full of slips, mimicked the dissociation of gaze and empathy induced by the mass media: the banal punch of tabloid newsprint, the visual jabber and bright sleazy color of TV, the sense of glut and anesthesia caused by both. Three dozen Elvises are better than one.”

On Andy as THE artist of the Ronald Reagan years: “How can one doubt that Warhol was delivered by Fate to be the Rubens of this administration, to play Bernini to Reagan’s Urban VIII? On the one hand, the shrewd old movie actor, void of ideas but expert at manipulation, projected into high office by the insuperable power of mass imagery and secondhand perception. On the other, the shallow painter who understood more about the mechanisms of celebrity than any of his colleagues, whose entire sense of reality was shaped, like Reagan’s sense of power, by the television tube. Each, in his way, coming on like Huck Finn; both obsessed with serving the interests of privilege. Together, they signify a new moment: the age of supply-side aesthetics.”

Coda: I read this Robert Hughes essay on Andy Warhol back when it was first published in 1982. Loved every word and really was on Hughes’ vibe since I recoil from anything smacking of mass culture, things like television, celebrity, glamour or glitz. But then one spring afternoon in 1990 I had a shocking experience -- I walked into a downtown New York City gallery and saw for the very first time original Andy Warhol silkscreens, one of Hermann Hesse and the other of Mickey Mouse. I could almost not believe my eyes: the art was so stunningly beautiful and brimming over with vitality, it almost put me on my knees. Incredible. I couldn’t take my eyes off these silkscreens; I was riveted to the spot for a good long while. For me, this experience underscored how the visual arts are ultimately a personal experience of standing before the original and using and trusting our eyes. Sure, art critics, even the great art critics, can speak about cultural and historical context, about the artist’s biography and the artist’s influences and intent, even offering comments and insights on specific works, but we are best putting theories and criticism aside when we engage with the work one-on-one. Who knows what magic may take place?


( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Robert Hughes must be one of the finest users of language at work in the field of art criticism. His comments, whether you agree with them or not, are always a joy to read. ( )
1 abstimmen philipjohn | Aug 14, 2006 |
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From Holbein to Hockney, from Norman Rockwell to Pablo Picasso, from sixteenth-century Rome to 1980s SoHo, Robert Hughes looks with love, loathing, warmth, wit and authority at a wide range of art and artists, good, bad, past and present.    As art critic for Time magazine, internationally acclaimed for his study of modern art, The Shock of the New, he is perhaps America's most widely read and admired writer on art.  In this book:  nearly a hundred of his finest essays on the subject.    For the realism of Thomas Eakins to the Soviet satirists Komar and Melamid, from Watteau to Willem de Kooning to Susan Rothenberg, here is Hughes--astute, vivid and uninhibited--on dozens of famous and not-so-famous artists.  He observes that Caravaggio was "one of the hinges of art history; there was art before him and art after him, and they were not the same"; he remarks that Julian Schnabel's "work is to painting what Stallone's is to acting"; he calls John Constable's Wivenhoe Park "almost the last word on Eden-as-Property"; he notes how "distorted traces of [Jackson] Pollock lie like genes in art-world careers that, one might have thought, had nothing to do with his."  He knows how Norman Rockwell made a chicken stand still long enough to be painted, and what Degas said about success (some kinds are indistinguishable from panic).    Phrasemaker par excellence, Hughes is at the same time an incisive and profound critic, not only of particular artists, but also of the social context in which art exists and is traded.  His fresh perceptions of such figures as Andy Warhol and the French writer Jean Baudrillard are matched in brilliance by his pungent discussions of the art market--its inflated prices and reputations, its damage to the public domain of culture.  There is a superb essay on Bernard Berenson, and another on the strange, tangled case of the Mark Rothko estate.  And as a finale, Hughes gives us "The SoHoiad," the mock-epic satire that so amused and annoyed the art world in the mid-1980s.    A meteor of a book that enlightens, startles, stimulates and entertains.

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