The art critic Robert Hughes, who died on August 6, was among the greatest art critics of his generation, bringing an intelligent, irreverent and irresistibly readable voice to writing on art.
In the way that Picasso was able to break the rules of art because he knew them so well, Hughes’ knowledge of art ran so deep that he was able to joke about it and wear his learning lightly, to talk about what mattered without worrying about every last fact.
I had the good fortune to work with him when he gave his 2004 Royal Academy Annual Dinner speech, which we published an excerpt from in the RA Magazine. An Honorary Fellow of the RA (in recognition of his achievements in art criticism), Hughes turned his critical gaze to the Academy and asked, ‘Why do we need the Academy in the twenty-first century?’ In a matter of sentences, he moved from the dark days of Munnings, when ‘the very term Academy had been made into a term of abuse’ to a subtle and impassioned defence of the Academy as an antidote to market and mass media forces, and a place that upholds the values and skills of art.
He saw drawing as embodying these: ‘A good drawing says, ‘not so fast, buster’. We have had a gutful of fast art and fast food. What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water; art that grows out of modes of perception and making, whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our nature.’
His words remain as true as when he first spoke them.
Click below to listen to Robert Hughes' full Annual Dinner speech:
- Download the recording:
21:48 mins (12.5 MB)