Tag Archives: Robert Hughes

Blasting & Blessing: a back to school edition

small maddit

Well, that all went quickly, didn’t it?

Yesterday was the first day of the Michaelmas quarter at my son’s school. Hence summer is, for all practical purposes, already receding into the realms of fast-fading memory, at least in this household — cue that much-loved season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, coupled with the novelty of being able to engage in all the more innocuous forms of daytime activity free from extensive cross-questioning, Lego everywhere underfoot and the need to keep up with a five-year old’s pace, persistence and volume. Once again I can make a cup of coffee whenever I like, or pursue a train of thought, or simply spend a few minutes staring into space, listening to soft unemphatic rhythms of cats padding up and down the stairs — or, indeed, should I feel that way inclined, turn my attention to whatever’s been happening in the slightly wider, non-domestic world during the weeks I’ve been away from it. It’s time, in other words, for a bit of autumnal Blasting & Blessing.

First, no matter how broad a swathe of unbecoming emotional frailty I’m exposing by admitting that I notice, let alone care about such things, well — bless this, and this too. Continue reading

9 Comments

Filed under blasting & blessing, books, music, politics, Tory things

Ten memorable books

ten memorable books and a cat

As someone who’s considerably less interested in producing a blog, in the conventional sense, than in imagining what, say, the LRB might be like if it only had a single, regrettably lazy, easily-distracted and discernably right-of-centre contributor — nothing wrong with a ‘normal’ blog, by the way, except that I’m simply not cut out for writing one — the very idea of ‘memes’ sends me lurching towards the ‘delete’ button.

On the other hand, reading Gareth Williams’ fascinating post here, with a special definitional supplement here, right before embarking on a half-hour, book- and iPod-free bus journey — and recalling a similar exercise by my old friend Barry Campbell, although I think that was on Facebook rather than Barry’s excellent blog, and hence, perhaps, as unrecoverable as it is now unlinkable — was a recipe for the sort of me-too response out of which the whole obligatory, mock-convivial and hence charmless ‘meme’ thing doubtless originated. And anyway, however much some of our American cousins may raise an eyebrow at this, it really is still too hot in London to think properly.

Hence, without much apology, here are, as per Gareth’s example, ten books which ‘have most influenced [my] thinking, that [I] have found [myself] referring to most often in reflection, speech, and writing’, complete with minimal justification. To the extent that they are ordered in any purposeful way, it’s (roughly) the sequence in which I encountered them.

1. The Book of Common Prayer (various editions). Christened into the American Episcopal Church soon after birth, educated at a refulgently eccentric Episcopal parochial school, an irregular attendee at services during my lengthy spell at Trinity College, Cambridge, confirmed (rather belatedly) into the Church of England in 1996 and now a conventionally devout if not excessively frequent communicant, the liturgy of the worldwide Anglian communion has always been there in the background, incanting its timeless commentary in the face of a lifetime of change.

The Psalms, in particular, are the most perfect poetry we have, encompassing every human mood. Gloomy or flirtatious, contrite or more than ready to smite someone — I’ve returned to the Psalms in all these states, and never failed to find the words I so badly needed to hear. No, more than any other, the Book of Common Prayer is, to crib Gareth’s formulation, a book I’ll never truly ‘finish’.

2. The Collected Poems of W.H. Auden (1945). Heaven knows, as a poet and as a man, Auden had defects. Continue reading

20 Comments

Filed under art, books, history, politics

Learning from Robert Hughes

Whatever else one might say about the durable, persistently combative art critic Robert Hughes, he certainly doesn’t need a blogger of unimpeachable, blue-chip obscurity to stand up for him. He really can fight his own fights by now. I do realise that. But, having just read a very silly article by Janet Street-Porter in today’s Independent in which she attacks Hughes for his recent dismissal of Damien Hirst, don’t think for a moment I’m going to let this realisation stop me from standing up, however unnecessarily, for Robert Hughes, a critic from whom I’ve learned perhaps more than any other.

Acccording to Ms Street-Porter, Hughes’ decision to comment on Hirst is purely a way of marketing his own forthcoming television programme, The Mona Lisa Curse. This, clearly, is a bad thing. (Did I mention that Ms Street-Porter’s seminal Life’s Too F***ing Short: A guide to getting what YOU want out of out of LIFE without wasting time, effort or money, is now out in paperback? And before you start, that typography is hers, not mine, starred-out swear-word included.)

Now, some might argue that, as a critic who can be trusted to produce a direct and pungent comment on pretty much anything, Hughes would, in the general scheme of things, both have been asked his view regarding an art-world event already gaining quite a lot of coverage even without his encouragement, and then to have denounced Hirst along the lines he eventually did. Hughes’ views on Hirst are well known, but perhaps marginally less familar than the journalistic convention whereby any truly edgy, transgressive piece of contemporary art must be ritually annointed with a smear of critical obloquy before taking its place in the canon or, for all I know, the auction room floor at Sotheby’s. For heaven’s sake, Hughes was just doing his job. The ‘crash! bang! pow!’ school of arts coverage doesn’t just write itself, you know.

As it turns out, however, being an art critic with the temerity to criticise art is the least of Hughes’ problems.

Continue reading

19 Comments

Filed under art, culture