Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fluctuations of intensity

The late art critic Robert Hughes is being memorialized here and there, in great part through quotations because he knew how to arrange words in good order. Here are some I especially like. They speak to all the arts and so have something to say to me as a writer:
In art there is no progress, only fluctuations of intensity.

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

There is virtue in virtuosity, especially today, when it protects us from the tedious spectacle of ineptitude.

Truly bad art is always sincere, and there is a kind of forcible vulgarity, as American as a meatball hero, that takes itself for genius; Jacqueline Susann died believing she was the peer of Charles Dickens...

When an audience that has lost all touch with the classical background once considered indispensable in education sees Virgil written in a picture, it accepts it as a logo, like the alligator on a Lacoste shirt. The mere dropping of the name, or the citation of a tag, suggests that a classical past still lives, solid and whole, below the surface. But a toenail paring isn’t a body.
In addition to what one can find in his books, his essays on late Goya, on artists he saw as hollow men, and much more sprinkle the internet. They shed a sometimes fierce light. As many people who don't know him as art critic know him as the author of The Fatal Shore, I should mention this tribute by writer Peter Carey, saying what Hughes meant (or should have meant) to Australia.

7 comments:

  1. I only know The Fatal Shore: but that was an amazing book, I thought.

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  2. Just was looking at your facebook note, and here you are...

    Mike read a lot of that one aloud to me, and I liked it. We were just talking about one of the astonishing anecdotes in the book. It's in the house somewhere; I'm wondering if I could possibly find it.

    Anyway, I just ordered two of his other books. I've liked his essays and don't know why I haven't read more of the art criticism. Though I don't know, I can't help thinking that he must have been in some degree of despair over how impossible it was for his criticism to effect change in the art market and the unattractive business of the commodification of art.

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  3. And the commodification of everything and everyone else.

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  4. Dear Product,

    Thank you for your note about my Product.

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  5. A good shout for him, Marly. I saw someone on TV putting a revisionist spin on Hughs' reputation the day of his death, claiming that R H's judgements were not as sound toward the end because he didn't rate Damian Hirst! I think the fact that Hughs thought so little of the too-highly-praised ageing 'Young Brit', was a clear indication his critical faculties were as sharp as ever.

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  6. Sharp, yes! And I hope that he was not too saddened by the sense that some cultural monoliths are hard to move...

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.