Robert Hughes died recently. I liked reading his work.
This is what he said about democracy and art – from an editorial in the Guardian newspaper:
The late Robert Hughes wrote his own epitaph in his 1993 polemic Culture of Complaint, where he inveighed against the banal politicisation of art and championed instead the importance of quality.
“Some things do strike us as better than others – more articulate, more radiant with consciousness,” Hughes insisted. “We may have difficulty saying why, but the experience remains.”
Democracy’s task, in the field of art, he believed, was to make the world safe for elitism, not to outlaw it. He believed passionately – in Hughes’s case the adverb is redundant – in an elitism that was not based on class, wealth or race, but on skill, imagination, high ability and intense vision.
But he could have been describing his own writing. On modern art, Australia, Barcelona, Rome, Goya, Hughes’s writing mattered because it always embodied those qualities. It, too, was better, more articulate and radiant than the rest. And the experience remains, gloriously so.
His fame was as an art critic – especially on television since his 1980 series The Shock of the New, but I commend to you his book The Fatal Shore about the transportation of convicts to and the colonisation of Australia. It’s a great and exciting historical read.
He was a vivid, precarious, gnarly character who did well to last as long as he did.