26 Aug

Robert Hughes on Fast Art, Slow Art

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 08/26/04

Art critic Robert Hughes reviews the last 25 years in art in a new BBC documentary

Twenty-five years ago, art critic Robert Hughes hosted an eight-part television series on modern art called "The Shock of the New." While the book based on that series is still available (being one of the most acccessible and provocative surveys of the meaning of modernity in art), the videos, sad to say, have not been commercially released. In July, viewers of the BBC had an opportunity to watch the series re-run just prior to an epilogue of sorts, "The New Shock of the New," in which Hughes discussed and displayed some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the last two-and-a-half decades in art.

One of the concerns Hughes has expressed repeatedly is that art has become a commodity like all other commodities, for which value is just economic value and the ebb and flow of the forces of fashion erase distinctions of quality. While there have always been celebrity artists, the restless demand for novelty and fame (lust of the eyes?) sustained by mass media and advertising has (in Hughes's words) "distorted nearly everyone's relationship with aesthetics."

In the June 30 issue of The Guardian, Hughes offered a peek into his new program in an article called "That's showbusiness." "It used to be," wrote Hughes, "that media-based, photo-derived art looked automatically 'interesting.' It cut to the chase instantly, it mimicked the media-glutted state of general consciousness, it was democratic--sort of. The high priest of this situation was of course the hugely influential Andy Warhol, paragon of fast art. I am sure that though his influence probably will last (if only because it renders artmaking easier for the kiddies) his paragonhood won't, and despite the millions now paid for his Lizzes and Elvises, he will shrink to relative insignificance, a historical figure whose resonance is used up. There will be a renewed interest--not for everyone, of course, but for those who actually know and care about the issues--in slow art: art that takes time to develop on the retina and in the mind, that sees instant communication as the empty fraud it is, that relates strongly to its own traditions."