RIP Robert Hughes – Nothing if not accessible

There was a time before Robert Hughes when the why’s and wherefores of 20th century art where known only to a few. This time may henceforth be called BRH [Before Robert Hughes]. His flag ship BBC series the Shock of The New[1981] and subsequent book revealed the people, ideas and discourses going on in works that shaped and responded to the last century in a way that was exciting and accessible. Although Hughes brand of art history/criticism was populist I suspect this was a matter of pride for him as he cared about people knowing just how great and revolutionary in ideas this art was. He cared more about this than the derision that was sometimes levied on him by the art world establishment – including many of my own art history lecturers at the time. He was an outward facing, media friendly expert in a time when these were a rare breed [John Berger a notable exception whose seminal 1972 TV series of Ways of Seeing [+ book] which I still recommend to my undergraduates]. But perhaps it was the bigger issue of the changing face of the academic and their engagement with public life that engendered a peak of snobbery even in the early nineties – a decade after the programme aired – when I was still an undergraduate.  I certainly found his approach spoke to me in a way many of the other historians/critics didn’t. After absorbing much of Shock of The New I sought him out again later in life and his collection of writing Nothing if Not Critical [1990] nurtured a life long personal, deeply emotional connection with many artists and their work. Hughes informed and fuelled an enthusiasm for art – for thinking about it, living with it in a way to which I continue to refer and feed off to this day. RIP RH.

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2 thoughts on “RIP Robert Hughes – Nothing if not accessible

  1. Do you know it is only now that I’m finding out about Robert Hughes’ death? I am very saddened. He is an Australian and I also loved his history of Australia, starting with a vivid account of the convict ships. 😦

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