Hughes, Robert 1938(?)- (Robert Studley Forrest Hughes)
Hughes, Robert 1938(?)- (Robert Studley Forrest Hughes)
Born July 28, 1938 (some sources say 1936), in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; son of Geoffrey Eyre and Margaret (Vidal) Hughes; married Danne Emerson, c. 1967; married Victoria Whistler, May 30, 1981; married artist Doris Downes; children: (first marriage) Danton (died, 2001). Education: Attended St. Ignatius College, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and Sydney University, 1956-61.
Home—New York, NY. Office—Time Magazine, Time-Life Bldg., Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020-2002.
Writer and art critic. Freelance writer, 1961-70; Time, New York, NY, art critic and senior writer, 1970—. Author and narrator of more than twenty visual arts programs for television, beginning in 1965. Lecturer on art.
Frank Jewett Mather award, College Art Association of America, 1982, 1985, for distinction in art criticism; W.H. Smith Literary award, 1988, for most significant contribution to literature in 1987; Duff Cooper prize, Great Britain, 1988, for most literary historical work in 1987; American Academy of Achievement Gold Plate award, 1988; Order of Australia, 1991.
Recent Australian Painting (catalog), Whitechapel Art Gallery (London, England), 1961.
Donald Friend, foreword by John Olsen, Edwards & Shaw (Sydney, New South Wales, Austalia), 1965.
The Art of Australia: A Critical Survey, Penguin (Australia), 1966, revised edition, 1970.
The New Generation: 1966 (catalog), Whitechapel Art Gallery (London, England), 1966.
Heaven and Hell in Western Art, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1968.
The Shock of the New (adapted from the television series of the same title; see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1980 (published in England as The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change, BBC Publications (London, England), 1980.
The Fatal Shore, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Amish: The Art of the Quilt, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
Nothing if Not Critical: Essays on Art and Artists, Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.
Barcelona, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.
American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
A Jerk on One End: Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1998.
Les essentiels de l'art Magritte: avec un essai, Ludion (Gand, Amsterdam), 2001, published as The Portable Magritte: With an Essay, Universe (New York, NY), 2002.
The Portable Van Gogh: With an Essay by Robert Hughes, Universe (New York, NY), 2002.
Portable Picasso, Universe (New York, NY), 2003.
Portable Matisse, Universe (New York, NY), 2003.
Portable Dali, Universe (New York, NY), 2003.
Goya, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Barcelona the Great Enchantress, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2004.
Things I Didn't Know (memoir), Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of foreword to Art of the Real, edited by Mark Strand, C.N. Potter (New York, NY), 1983.
The Art of Australia (ten-part series), Australian Broadcasting Commission, 1975.
Bernini: Master of the Baroque, British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC-TV), 1978.
(And narrator) The Shock of the New: A Personal View (see above; eight-part series; contains "Culture as Nature," "The End of Modernity," "The Landscape of Pleasure," "The Mechanical Paradise," "The Shapes of Dissent," "The Sublime and Anxious Eye," "The Threshold of Liberty," and "Trouble in Utopia"), BBC-TV and Time-Life Television, 1980.
Other documentaries include American Visions, c. 1996.
Art critic for Time since 1970, Australian-born Robert Hughes gained widespread recognition in 1980 for his television series and book on modern art, both titled The Shock of the New. The success of The Shock of the New—which has been compared to Kenneth Clark's Civilisation and to Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man—is attributable in part, assessed Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, to the fact that Hughes "simply knows everything there is to know about modern art and has it all available for immediate recall." Discussing the television version in Time, critic Gerald Clarke called Hughes "as brash and electric as his subject" and credited the work's success to Hughes's ability to explain modern art to a public that still finds it perplexing. "It does not tell us where we are going," related Clarke, "but it does tell us where we have been."
The series preceded the book and adopted its subtitle, "A Personal View," from the subtitle to Clark's "Civilisation" series of ten years earlier. In the introduction to the book Hughes explained that he, the producers, and the directors thought the title The Shock of the New: A Personal View appropriate to a series that would air for only eight hours—not long enough for a formal history, yet time enough to present eight essays about a variety of subjects that "seemed important to an understanding of modernism." In fact, in a review for the New York Times, critic John O'Connor observed that Hughes "makes no pretense to offering a complete compendium of art." Acknowledging that some major artists are completely ignored while sculpture is barely mentioned, Hughes stated: "I can only plead, in modest self-defense, that their omission was not the result of ignorance but of the insuperable difficulty of fitting them into a narrative frame."
According to O'Connor, Hughes "has a disarming way of being provocative" and explained the purpose of the hundred-year survey to his television audience in refreshingly direct terms: "Unfortunately, epochs of art don't start or end neatly on cue," narrated Hughes. "Ours is finishing its run now, leaving behind it some of the most challenging, intelligent works of art ever made by man, along with a mass of superfluity and rubbish. We're at the end of the Modern era. Art no longer acts on us in the same way that it did on our grandparents. I want to see why." Hughes began in the first program by surveying the sense of modernity prevalent in European culture from approximately 1880 to the onset of World War I; it was the beginning of an optimistic age which, opined Hughes, was symbolized by that "static totem of the cult of dynamism," the Eiffel Tower (1889). In the next six programs he discussed such broad cultural themes as "The Landscape of Pleasure" (art in the lyric mode, the Impressionists), "Trouble in Utopia" (the failure of modern architecture), and "The Threshold of Liberty" (surrealism, native art, primitives, abstract expressionism). Hughes concluded with a segment on how modern art lost its sense of newness and possibility, suggesting that the Beaubourg Center (1977) in Paris symbolizes the decline of the era.
Reviewing the series for the New York Times, Janet Maslin praised Hughes as "a wonderful teacher—sharp, individualistic and clear." Although Hughes remarked in the book's introduction that he liked television because of "its power to communicate enthusiasm," he found that the printed page afforded him the space to "flesh out the discussion." The result is that the book, whose eight chapters approximately parallel the eight television programs in theme and structure, is about five times as long as the series.
The book also fared well with critics. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt was impressed by the "elegance of its organization," commenting in the New York Times that the text "is often exciting to watch developing and rarely leaves one with the torpid feeling that the author is simply covering ground that is obligatory." Writing for the New Republic Mark Stevens commented that "the great strength of the book lies in its concise portraits … of individual artists." He maintained that Hughes has the ability to capture the spirit of an artist's work in a few words and ventured to say that "The Shock of the New may be the first substantial work to treat modernism as a period style." Stevens added: "Hughes … has absorbed the best thinking about modernism, and he has added fresh perceptions of his own. In his tone of voice there is no church hush and no academic dullness. There is delight instead."
Reviewers agreed that architecture elicited Hughes's strongest opinions. In his review of The Shock of the New, for example, Lehmann-Haupt argued that all of Hughes's provocative ideas on the subject could be traced to his conclusions about fascist architecture—namely, "the idea that fascism always preferred retrograde art is simply a myth," and "the idea that the avantgarde and the bourgeoisie were natural, cut-throat enemies is one of the least useful myths of modernism." According to Lehmann-Haupt, from these two concepts follows Hughes's disgust with modern architecture, especially its indifference to the way people actually behave. Similarly, O'Connor commented that Hughes "takes modern architecture to task for being more concerned with space than place, with abstract and often uncomfortable designs rather than with people."
Although The Shock of the New, reflected Stevens, "will not reorient art history or art criticism," it does provide "a provocative lesson in modernism." Hughes was praised by a Listener critic for writing "crisply and vivaciously from a real intelligence that always supports and amplifies imaginative responses to works of art."
Hughes's book Barcelona came out just prior to the 1992 Olympics being held in the noted Spanish city. Hughes describes both the city of the past and the modern Barcelona, with an emphasis on revealing insights about the "modernista" art movement of one hundred years ago. "Barcelona … is not so much a travel book as a prodigiously researched biography of the city, taking in every nook and cranny of its involved history, from the 9th century confrontation of ‘Wilfred the Hairy’ and ‘Charles the Bald’ to the Postmodernist affectations of today's Catalan renaissance," wrote Pico Iyer in Time. Referring to Barcelona as "a sweeping history of a city," a contributor to the Economist wrote that it is "a book that should become every traveller's companion to Barcelona." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Hughes "is at his best … discussing architecture."
In his book Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, Hughes turns his critical eye on America itself. Based on a series of lectures he presented at the New York Public Library, the book's three main themes are political correctness, multiculturalism, and the politicization of the arts. "Culture of Complaint exposes the new American dreamers: axe-grinding megalomaniacs and political eccentrics in search of paradise as-yet unfound," wrote Ellis Cashmore in New Statesman & Society. Cashmore also wrote: "There is plain sense and reasonableness in much of the critique." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that, according to Hughes, "euphemism, evasion and propaganda are woven into the fabric of American public discourse."
Hughes focuses on an often neglected form of American art in his book Amish: The Art of the Quilt, which includes eighty-two color plates of Amish quilt artwork. The quilts discussed by Hughes were all made in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania between 1950 and 1970. Iva Freeman, writing in Booklist, noted the author's "enjoyable introductory text." Publishers Weekly contributor Genevieve Stuttaford wrote: "Most eloquent … are the quilts themselves."
Also made into a BBC documentary, American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America not only tells the story of the progress of American art but also looks at the American personality and character as revealed by American art over the years. The author explores American art beginning in Florida and the Southwest and also focuses on the Spanish influence in New York. He discusses the influence of both city and country life on American art and provides profiles of numerous American artists, such as Georgia O'Keeffe, Winslow Homer, and Edward Hopper. The author also writes about others who contributed to American art, such as Thomas Jefferson and his efforts in architecture. Placing his observations within the social and political context of various artists' times, Hughes includes numerous illustrations. "One of the great virtues of this book is its inclusiveness, ranging over architecture, furniture, photography and other print forms, as well as painting and sculpture," wrote Insight on the News contributor Frank Getlein. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commented that it is the author's "vision of American art as a great chain of inspiration and discovery—forged artist by artist, image by image—that infuses his history with drama and excitement." Alfred Mayor pointed out in Magazine Antiques: "The ‘general intelligent reader’ may already know much of Hughes's factual narrative, but his opinions, for which he makes no apologies, are unfailingly stimulating."
In the biography titled Goya, Hughes writes about the artist's work and life. Hughes provides interpretations of Goya's paintings, pointing out that the artist was not only a great realist but also a commentator on society in that his paintings reveal great tragedies and even incorporate satire. The author also writes of his own nearly fatal car crash and the visions of Goya in Hughes's dreams as he lay in pain in an Australian hospital for several months. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, called Goya "a remarkably vital, delectably discursive, and deeply affecting study of an artist." John Updike wrote in the New Yorker that the author "is lively on the wan comedy of Spanish history during Goya's life span." Updike also called the biography a "thorough, profusely argued and illustrated homage." Writing in the Nation, Arthur Coleman Danto noted: "I do not know that it is possible to ‘fully know’ Goya, however much one has suffered. But Hughes's book probably brings us as close to this inscrutable artist as we are likely to get." In a review in Esquire, Adrienne Miller noted that the "prose [is] mercifully free of jargon" and pointed out that the author is "a deeply passionate enthusiast."
Hughes is also the author of two memoirs. In his first, A Jerk on One End: Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman, Hughes writes of how he is drawn to fishing as an escape from the pressures of his high-profile career. Referring to the book as an "eloquent fishing essay," Library Journal contributor Nathan Ward added that the author "never reduces fishing to mere metaphor." Things I Didn't Know is Hughes's other memoir and begins with his 1999 near-fatal car crash in Australia. As noted by several critics, the author turns on himself the same critical eye he uses for art criticism, revealing his weaknesses, faults, and misdeeds. He writes of his boyhood in Sydney, growing up Catholic, and his big break in art criticism as an undergraduate at college. Hughes also details his difficult times living in London during the 1960s, as he was involved with drugs, and ends his memoir around 1970 with his hiring by Time magazine as its art critic. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commented that Hughes "brings each time and place vividly to life, profiles an enticing array of … individuals, tells uproarious stories, and offers bracing commentary." A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to Things I Didn't Know as "a long, unblinking look in time's mirror, by a writer who has spent his life mastering his subject and his craft."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hughes, Robert, The Shock of the New, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.
Hughes, Robert, A Jerk on One End: Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1998.
Hughes, Robert, Things I Didn't Know, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
Apollo, December, 2006, Patricia Anderson, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 90.
Artforum International, summer, 1993, Gary Kamiya, review of Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, p. 100.
Art in America, October, 1997, Suzaan Boettger, review of American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, p. 39; April, 2004, Janis Tomlinson, review of Goya, p. 33.
Atlantic, November, 2006, brief review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 124.
Book 31, November-December, 2003, Elaine Szewczyk, review of Goya, p. 16.
Booklist, August 10, 1990, Iva Freeman, review of Amish: The Art of the Quilt, p. 428; March 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of American Visions, p. 1066; October 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Goya, p. 274; June 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Goya, p. 1694; June 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 4; November 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 20.
Commentary, October, 1993, Donald Lyons, review of Culture of Complaint, p. 64.
Economist, May 16, 1992, review of Barcelona, p. 117; April 17, 1993, review of Culture of Complaint, p. 89; October 18, 2003, review of Goya, p. 82.
Esquire, December, 2003, Adrienne Miller, review of Goya, p. 54.
Insight on the News, June 2, 1997, Ann Geracimos, "Aussie Critic Looks for America ‘Through the Lens of Its Art,’" interview with author, p. 36; June 2, 1997, Frank Getlein, review of American Visions, p. 36.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2003, review of Goya, p. 1164; January 1, 2004, review of Goya, p. 772; May 15, 2006, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 505.
Library Journal, May 1, 1997, Martin R. Kalfatovic, review of American Visions, p. 100; July, 1999, Nathan Ward, review of A Jerk on One End: Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman, p. 102; November 15, 2003, Nathan Ward, review of Goya, p. 60; September 15, 2006, Mark Alan Williams, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 67.
Listener, November 27, 1980, review of The Shock of the New, p. 727.
Magazine Antiques, June 16, 1997, Alfred Mayor, review of American Visions, p. 50.
Nation, December 8, 2003, Arthur Coleman Danto, review of Goya, p. 48.
National Interest, summer, 1993, Michael Lind, review of Culture of Complaint, p. 109.
National Review, December 17, 1990, review of Nothing if Not Critical: Essays on Arts and Artists, p. 46; June 21, 1993, Hilton Kramer, review of Culture of Complaint, p. 69; June 16, 1997, James Gardner, review of American Visions, p. 50.
New Leader, May 17, 1993, Christopher Clausen, review of Culture of Complaint, p. 32.
New Republic, March 14, 1981, Mark Stevens, review of The Shock of the New, p. 28.
New Statesman & Society, June 11, 1993, Ellis Cashmore, review of Culture of Complaint, p. 37.
New Statesman, November 8, 1996, Michael Bywater, review of American Visions, p. 43; September 5, 1997, Bryan Appleyard, review of American Visions, p. 42; October 9, 2006, Christopher Bray, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 54.
New York Times, January 9, 1981, Janet Maslin, review of The Shock of the New, p. 12; January 11, 1981, John O'Connor, review of The Shock of the New, p. D25; February 9, 1981, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Shock of the New, p. 16; November 5, 1983, John J. O'Connor, review of Bernini: Master of the Baroque, p. 17.
New York Times Book Review, November 23, 2003, Jenn Uglow, review of Goya, p. 10; September 24, 2006, Geoff Dyer, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 14.
New Yorker, November 3, 2003, John Updike, review of Goya, p. 88.
Newsweek, April 14, 1997, Peter Plagens, review of American Visions, p. 74.
Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Nothing if Not Critical, p. 90; August 10, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Amish, p. 428; January 6, 1992, review of Barcelona, p. 59; February 15, 1993, review of Culture of Complaint, p. 220; February 24, 1997, review of American Visions, p. 72; September 29, 2003, review of Goya, p. 54; May 29, 2006, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 45.
Quadrant, January-February, 2004, Patricia Anderson, review of Goya, p. 75; December, 2006, Patricia Anderson, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 66.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2006, review of Things I Didn't Know.
School Library Journal, December, 2003, Barbara A. Genco, review of Goya, p. 58.
Spectator, October 18, 2003, Sebastian Smee, review of Goya, p. 58; October 28, 2006, Peter Porter, review of Things I Didn't Know.
Time, January 5, 1981, Gerald Clarke, review of Shock of the New, p. 91; March 16, 1992, Pico Iyer, review of Barcelona, p. 70.
Time International, October 9, 2006, Donald Morrison, review of Things I Didn't Know, p. 68.
Wilson Quarterly, summer, 1993, review of Culture of Complaint, p. 91.
World and I, February, 2004, Linda Simon, review of Goya, p. 210.
Artcyclopedia,http://www.artcyclopedia.com/ (March 11, 2007), profile of author.