Robert Hughes on Slow Art

by Shane Wilson

When an idea’s time has come, it seems to spring up fresh and new all over, like psychic water bursting simultaneously through multiple leaks in the dam of contemporary orthodoxy.

Slow Art is an idea whose time has come.

The Australian art critic, Robert Hughes, has arrived at the idea of Slow Art through the experience and rejection of much of Modern and Contemporary Art.

In the following video clip, from Hughes 1982 TV series, ‘The Shock of the New’, Hughes laments much of the art created during the 1960’s and 70’s: “I don’t think there has ever been such a rush towards insignificance in the name of the historical future as we have seen in the last fifteen years.”

In 2009, he interviews Alberto Mugrabi (below), a wealthy collector of Contemporary Art. The interview provides a rare glimpse behind the curtain at one of Contemporary Art’s largest patrons, which is at once instructive and revealing. (For a reaction to the interview, see the Art Market Monitor blog here.)

Clearly, there is little to be gained by pillorying Contemporary Art. Elsewhere, I have written, “Art reflects and interprets the world in which it is created and serves as a kind of record, going forward, of who we are.” Contemporary Art needs to be understood in context, as a reflection of our contemporary world, it’s excess and superficiality.

So it is apt that Hughes maintains Contemporary Art “aspires to the condition of musak – it provides the background hum for power.” On a parallel note, during an encounter with Contemporary Artist Damien Hirst’s sculpture ‘The Virgin Mother’, Hughes quips, “Isn’t it a miracle, what so much money and so little ability can produce!”

In The Guardian, in September 2008, Hughes vilifies Hirst as a “a pirate, whose skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his ‘ideas’.” This prescient observation (accusation?) identifies with precision how closely Hirst and his contemporaries truly reflect this age.

Those who brought about the global financial meltdown, one month later, in October 2008, are among the primary collectors of Contemporary Art. Is it surprising these fiscal pirates, whose derivative deception has wrought such financial hardship on the world, used the fruits of their deception (bail outs and bonuses) to acquire even more? This is the context of Contemporary Art.

No wonder there are protests on Wall Street! High time for a change in the world and also, according to Hughes, in the world of art.

In a speech delivered at the Royal Academy Dinner in 2004, entitled, “We Need Slow Art” and in the above video clip advocating the return to hard skills in art making, Hughes suggests the following, by way of his own protest and as a way forward for the art world:

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 ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures.

Slow Art is an idea whose time has come.

3 thoughts on “Robert Hughes on Slow Art

    • Indeed. Hughes speaks the truth beautifully, as did the boy who said the Emperor has no clothes. Not one just to tear down, Hughes also suggests where the Emperor might find a better tailor.

  1. Pingback: Andy Warhol Supports Slow Art | Slow Sculpture

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