With Robert Hughes’ passing in New York this morning, it has made me reminisce on the role this great Australian historian and critic played in defining my understanding of modern art.

His publication the Shock of the New was somewhat a bible to me in my early years at art school. Multiple copies of the glossy publication sat on our library shelves which I read cover to cover on many occasions.

Hughes’ views on modern art have been defined as fairly traditional: he values an artist’s formal training more than his instinctual gifts, and he has been highly critical of art that he perceives as ostentatious or self-serving.

I think his views and opinions have definitely transpired into my own interpretations of modern art. I really appreciate the honesty and ambitions of the great modern artists. One of my all time favourites quotes from The Shock of the New is as follows:
“It is hard to think of any work of art of which one can say ‘this saved the life of one Jew, one Vietnamese, one Cambodian’. Specific books, perhaps; but as far as one can tell, no paintings or sculptures. The difference between us and the artists of the 1920’s is that they they thought such a work of art could be made. Perhaps it was a certain naivete that made them think so. But it is certainly our loss that we cannot.”

If you’re looking for me this afternoon I’ll be digging out my copy of the Shock of the New and flicking through it again for old times sake…

Photo: Tribute print by Marc Evans Design to the cover of The Shock of the New

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