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Robert hughes: Going out in style
This afternoon1 my wife invited me down from my study saying “you’ll like this.” And so it was that I had the pleasure of watching a doco released in 2008, a doco that subjects the commercialization of art to a withering criticism, a damning indictment of its degeneration into: (a) flashy triviality, and (b) the worst and the best of our post-modern world. I won’t give you chapter and verse of this hour-long critique by Robert Hughes(1938-2012) who died this week. You can read about this TV doco in cyberspace; perhaps the best analysis came out back in late 2008 at the internet site In Defence of Marxism,2 although there was, for me at least, a splendid discussion containing both encomium and opprobrium with several non-professional art critics and participants at this link: The Mona Lisa Curse | Watch Free Documentary Online
With his trademark style, Hughes explores how museums, the production of art and the way we experience it have radically changed in the last 50 years, telling the story of the rise of contemporary art and looking back over a life spent talking and writing about the art he loves and loathes. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Robert Hughes: The Mona Lisa Curse, ABC1 TV, 3:00-4:00 p.m., 12 August 2012, and 2Alan Woods, Art and the Crisis of Capitalism, 22/12/’08.
This doco started out in December ’62
with the French government loaning
the Mona Visa to the United States of
America to be displayed at New York’s
Metropolitan Museum of Art…I had no
idea at the time….immersed as I was in
grade 13 studies with 9 subjects as well
as four hours of homework every night
just before my father died and just after
I started the travelling-pioneering life for
a Canadian Baha’i community in Dundas,
the centre of Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe.
You are right there, Robert, things certainly
have changed in the last 50 years….not just
in the world of art. As Henry Miller wrote in
1…….that: “when the destruction brought about by the Second World War is complete another set of destructions will set in. They will be far more drastic, far more terrible than the destruction which we are now witnessing in the midst of this first global war. The whole planet will be in the throes of revolution. And the fires will rage until the very foundations of the present world crumble.” --Henry Miller, American writer and painter(1891-1980), in The Phoenix and the Ashes, Geoffrey Nash, George Ronald, Oxford, 1984, p.55.
Some of the observations of Carl Von Clausewitz(1780-1831), in his famous book On War, may apply in what Miller calls ‘a new, far more drastic, far more terrible’ destruction. Some military strategists argue that Clausewitz’s work was the first written effort to systematize the principles of conflict. His essays appeared from 1817 to 1828 and were published in On War(Princeton UP, 1976).
Clausewitz said “everything in strategy is simple but not easy”(p.656) and “there is no higher or simpler law than keeping one’s forces concentrated.”(p.664). Both principles apply, it could be argued, in this new style of war, a style of war which could be said to have begun in the world of art, at least according to Robert Hughes, in 1962. I would add, though, the caveat that ‘forces’ are those that operate in the private theatre of one’s inner life, and in a host of new collectivities that have emerged in the last century.--Ron Price, comment on Clausewitz’s On War in Pioneering Over Five Epochs, updated on 12 August 2012.
After that superficial propriety of mine
was given a good hard kick in the teeth
by raucous rock-&-roll which woke us
up from our day-dream world: Mr Clean,
General Ike, Doris Day, no negroes and
no genitalia: that war started & I had no
idea that it had begun! I had just moved
to the town of Dundas at the time; it was
a little place in the Golden Horseshoe...I
call it pioneering now; that was in 1962,
and the battle has been on ever since with
so many fronts: running across two wide
continents, caught in cross-fires which left
me bleeding raw & wounded, and I slowly
recovered, found the right prophylactic, am
taking it slowly now, walking, hands in my
pockets, and just watching the fires burning,
harrowing up the souls of billions in an orgy
of violence—such complexity and confusion,
bewildering and so often a silent agony which
insinuates itself into the very soul, mind & the
spirit of men's children, & all the generations.
13 January 1996
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