Not the first man you might imagine when it comes to peace, but rest now he does. The rough week continues, and while this one isn’t strictly personally, it certainly feels personal. Our favorite art critic Robert Hughes (1938-2012).
When he reached a mass audience for the first time in 1980 with his book and television series The Shock of the New, a history of modern art starting with the Eiffel Tower and graced with a title that still resounds in 100 later punning imitations, some of the BBC hierarchy greeted the proposal that Hughes should do the series with ill-favoured disdain. “Why a journalist?” they asked, remembering the urbanity of Lord Clark of Civilisation.
He gave them their answer with the best series of programmes about modern art yet made for television, low on theory, high on the the kind of epigrammatic judgment that condenses deep truths. Van Gogh, he said, “was the hinge on which 19th-century romanticism finally swung into 20th-century expressionism”. Jackson Pollock “evoked that peculiarly American landscape experience, Whitman’s ‘vast Something‘, which was part of his natural heritage as a boy in Cody, Wyoming”. And his description of the cubism of Picasso and Braque still stands as the most coherent 10-page summary in the literature.
And that’s some Hughes we can always use.