Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes
Robert Hughes is a man without a country. Born in Sydney at a time when Australia was notorious for its cultural philistinism, he fled his native land for the more compatible aesthetic environment of England, where he found himself plunged into (and scarred by) the antinomian madness of the 60’s. In 1970 he moved yet again, this time to America, a country whose commitment to the capitalist economy disgusted him, and became the art critic of Time, a magazine with whose populist bent he never succeeded in coming to terms. He would later win fame by talking about highbrow art on TV in the bluff, breezy manner of a skeptical Australian who takes nothing for granted.
Hughes occupies an uneasy place in the ranks of the critical establishment. A specialist in the short magazine review, he is also the author of several books about art, but the longest and best-known of them, The Shock of the New (1980) and American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America (1997), were companion volumes to two of his popular TV series. He is powerful because he is widely read (and viewed), but the fact that he made his name writing for a general audience, eschewing the jargon-clotted theorizing of the academy, means that his work is not taken seriously by most of his colleagues.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.