Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes - review by John Adamson

John Adamson

The Gracious Curmudgeon

Things I Didn't Know


Harvill Secker 395pp £25 order from our bookshop

For almost forty years, Robert Hughes has turned his shrewd and perspicacious gaze to the world of the visual arts. Through television, most famously his vigorous defence of modernism in 1980, The Shock of the New; through a series of impressive monographs, not least a masterly study of Goya; and through his prolific contributions to Time magazine, where he has been resident art critic since the 1970s, Hughes has not only illuminated the art of the past, but undertaken a brave, counter-cultural and – some would say – entirely foolhardy mission: to bring qualitative discernment to the cosy, faux-radical, anything-goes world of the contemporary visual arts. His belief in such intellectually elusive criteria as quality, skill, and creative genius could easily have led him to be dismissed by his critics as a nostalgic harking back to the days of connoisseurship, were it not for the fact that he is usually at least twice as clever, and far more nimble in his rhetoric, than the slickest of his assailants.

Though based in New York since 1970, Hughes is the product of that once flourishing but now almost vanished country, Anglostralia: a territory of the mind, quaint and incomprehensible to native-born Britons, in which a section of the Melbourne and Sydney elites (no others) thought of their worlds as being

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