Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 7, 2012

On The Arts Critic Robert Hughes, RIP

It'd be laughable for me to attempt an obituary for the art critic and historian Robert Hughes. I've barely read him, and it's even been years upon years since I've seen the BBC/PBS series by which he garnered the bulk of his public reputation: The Shock Of The New. Hughes is also the kind of figure upon his passing that gets written about in great detail by our traditional guardians of culture. I don't know enough about the writer to know if these summary statements about his life and career will be woefully inadequate or just about right, but for now I'll trust what these sources have to tell me.

It's probably worth noting the two major intersections Hughes had with comics, if only because in some ways it's kind of remarkable he had any intersections with comics at all. The first was that one of his initial gigs as a kind of towering young figure of promise in Australia's Sydney Push movement was as a cartoonist for the Sydney publication The Observer, a launching point for the young artist-poet into an arts criticism gig -- I think his first. I don't know that I've seen his cartoons, but being a working artist would likely have had significant influence on how he looked at the making of art. Hughes was also well known as a person praising the work of Robert Crumb, crafting a famous -- perhaps infamous -- comparison to Bruegel but also naming Hogarth and Goya as influences. The fact that Hughes engaged with Crumb at all would have been a big deal for a lot of people, and that he'd make that particular comparison was a wonderful piece of provocative, pithy, and accessible-to-a-wide-audience writing, writing that's not even writing as much as cultural provocation, the kind of summary comparison that could be debated and pulled apart and for some folks even mocked for years and years to come. My memory is that his reaction to finding out Crumb claimed to have masturbated to his own works of art one of the better moments in the Zwigoff documentary, but again, it's been a while.
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