Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Robert Hughes and What You Might Call Your Art There

Explain your bad art to this face.

Robert Hughes serious, hilarious and readable Time art critic for many years, has a new autobiography. (NYT) The Washington Post review is more to the point.

Comparing the careers of J. Seward Johnson Jr. and Jeff Koons, he once said, was like debating the merits of dog excrement versus cat excrement — although Mr. Hughes would never use a word as flat and unevocative as excrement.

Hughes wrote the definitive, argumentative, popularizing work on the rise of modernism, Shock of the New, with it's famous attacks on Brasila,( a critique I share) and Picasso's Guernica (as a triumph of style over substance, even of a Nazi air raid, an understandable critique I don't share) He has long been a welcome antidote to ever-higher piles of ideological garbage in art, a rejection of the primacy of the word.

But he is far more than a contrarian:

"Art, I now realized, was the symbolic discourse that truly reached into me -- though the art I had seen and come to know in Australia had only done this intermittently and weakly. It wasn't a question of confusing art with religion, or trying to make a religion out of art. As some people are tone-deaf, I was religion-deaf, and in fact I would have thought it a misuse, even a debasement, of a work of art to turn it into a mere ancillary, a signpost to some imagined, hoped-for, but illusory experience of God. But I was beginning, at last, to derive from art, from architecture, and even from the beauty of organized landscape a sense of transcendence that organized religion had offered me -- but that I had never received."

Fine Hughes quotes:

The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.