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4.2 out of 5 stars
American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Dismissing a critic simply because you disagree with him, even violently disagree with him, is to miss the value a critic has. A critic's role is to spark your own thinking and investigation, to encourage us to formulate our own views and develop our arguments for them more explicitly. Letting a critic supply you with your views or to simply reject him because he doesn't confirm your pre-dispositions is a waste of your own reading time as well as the work the critic put into to his work.
Rejecting a critic's views is fine, if you do it with well-formed argument and facts or for explicit aesthetic views and tastes. The whole purpose of affirmation includes the idea of rejection. Just as accepting everything is to accept nothing, making choices on acceptance includes the statement, "No, not this."
Robert Hughes has strong views and has the talent for stating them forcefully. Whether or not you agree with him is almost beside the point. This book is a wonderful tour of American Art from Colonial times through the mid 1990s.
While I don't want to try and state Mr. Hughes' views for him, my reading of this book tells me that when architecture, painting, and sculpture comes from an artist honestly trying to come to grips with his or her views of the world and our living in it, Mr. Hughes considers that a good thing. Whenever that is compromised in favor of social acceptance or whenever an artistic establishment forms to enforce an orthodoxy and muzzle expression he considers that a bad thing.
He also tends to favor actual skill, facility, and even virtuosity in expression (if not necessarily technique) over posing and demanding acceptance. The artist must be able to communicate to others and win an audience and hold them over time to win the author's admiration. Influencing others and having resonance with other artists and other times is also a plus.
The sorry state of art in our time with the dominance of a self-reinforcing elite art establishment in the museums, the shows, and the galleries comes in for a heavy beating later in the book. It isn't a blanket rejection of current art, rather it is a large pin the balloon of recent pretension and I think this is very valuable.
I see this in the book and hope I am saying this correctly in part because I agree with this view. Not every conclusion Mr. Hughes makes is one I find myself endorsing, but as I say, that is beside the point. He has mastered a lot of information, presents us with hundreds of wonderful works to consider, and challenges us to think for ourselves about the issues he raises. I think this is a wonderful service and that this is a wonderful book. I am glad to have it on my shelf to dip into again and again.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
I have been a fan of Robert Hughes since I fist saw the television show "Ths Shock of the New" and also his criticism in Time Magazine. In this book, he takes as his subject the epic of the American artisitc experience. In lesser hands this could be a dull topic, but thanks to Hughes's enthusiasm and interesting takes on American life, this subject becomes quite fascinating indeed.
Hughes begins at the beginning and starts off with a discussion of Spanish colonial art of the old west before moving onto the East coast and the founding fathers of American Art (West Copley, Peale and Stuart). When discussing the paintings Hughes ties it in with the politics of the various periods, the literature and even the music, establishing that art does not exist in a vacuum.
I have seem many of the works discussed in this work and found Hughes's insights inspiring in some instances sending off to look up material on them. The strongest sections deal with aside from the early American artists, Cole's The Way of Empire series, the Eakins, Steiglitz, and Masden Hartley.
Although I rate this book with five stars, I did have one or two problems. I would have thought that he might have examined Sargent's technique more thoroughly. I have always noticed that he seems to have a problem drawing hands.
The most profound disagreement that I have with Hughes is over theRegionalist movement of the 1930s. I am afraid I do not share his view of Benton. Rather than put him in the context of socialist realism and nazi art, I would have thought a more natural point of departure would be the discovery (some might say invention) of an early American aesthetic. Benton, Grant Wood and John Curry were more part of this trend than any of the international movement of totalitarian art.
I also disagreed with the section on the abstract expressionists who Hughes likes and I do not, finding them sterile and self-indulgent.
The book concludes with a survey of the art work of the 1980s and 1990s. This is more about commerce and perception and is illustrated by a story of the purchase of Van Gough's Irises. Whether one agress or disagrees with Hughes's judgements, oneis sure to find this survey of American art history stimulating and thought provoking.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
The first thing to say about this book, and the most important, is that it is a good read. It illuminates its subject matter whereas much writing about art, especially catalogue writing and writing in magazines such as ART FORUM is bad writing. Such bad writing draws attention to itself and is characterised by jargon, obfuscation, and mystification. Mr Hughes is guilty of none of this. Mr Hughes informs elegantly, argues persuasively and entertains amusingly. Art is well served by this elegant and opinionated craftsman. I also admire his tone which seems confidently irreverent. He is a wise debunker without being arrogant. He pays respect where he thinks it is due but refuses to be taken in, unlike me, by the sentimental, overwrought or portentous. As a general reader I found him especially helpful in his analysis of the American icons Andrew Wyeth (whom I'm a sucker for) Thomas Hart Benton, and the illustrator Norman Rockwell. The pre-20th Century sympathetic commentary on such masters as Winslow Homer, whose retrospective at the Metropolitan in New York in 1996 was such a stunning event, is sheer delight to read. But I appreciated too his later chapters on contemporary art where his waggish insights informed by a formidable intelligence and eye never fail to amuse. Brilliant, and such fun! More please.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2008
Format: Paperback
For a student of American Studies or anyone interested in American art this book gives a great introduction. It's very readable and the pictures are of great quality. Most interesting are the connections beetween history, religion, culture and art that Robert Hughes draws. They help integrating the American art history into the knowledge the reader might already have about American culture.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
History is incredibly rich, interesting, keeps you mesmerized ... only when it goes into print, it so often becomes boring, dead. If it comes to history, very, very few people have the gift to keep you on the edge of your chair while reading what they wrote ... one of them is Robert Hughes! His style is absolutely spell binding! Personally I don't like modern/contemporary art (the last chapter in this book), but I kept on reading about it, simply because it was written so well. Of course the book is carefully researched, there is all the information you could wish for, and yet, despite its volume, it is not a mere enumeration of isolated facts, events, historical data. Robert Hughes brings it all together like in a historical novel. Very rewarding! I do wish he would write about European art (medieval art, renaissance, baroque, romanticism etc.) the way he did about American Art.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
We have lost one of the most controversial, most brilliant, most informed, most acerbically critical, opinionated, and most reliable art critics of the day. Hughes 01938 - 2012) may have passed away but the volumes of his writings will likely remain in the classrooms of universities and art schools throughout the world for many years to come. Born in Australia but writing in both England and the United States, he is the author of such widely read books as The Art of Australia, Barcelona: the Great Enchantress, Culture of Complaint Frank Auerbach, Heaven and Hell in Western Art, Lucian Freud Paintings, Nothing if Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists, Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History, The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change, and Things I Didn't Know: A Memoir.

Though all of Hughes' books are rich in controversy, nowhere is he more in his idiom than in this massive survey of the history of art in America. Hughes writes so well than even when he stirs our aesthetic ire he does so with such grace that he still makes us smile. The book is long and covers territories in art not usually included in art criticism books, but for every subject he discusses he uses his rich resources of investigation to give credence to his at times curmudgeonly opinions.

Robert Hughes critical, if at most times caustic, voice has been silenced, but pick up any of his many books to read and it is guaranteed your knowledge of the world of art will be enhanced. Grady Harp, August 12
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Using barrelling, passionate, reckless, witty and poetic prose, Robert Hughes as an author often comes off as drunken and macho new world pirate gleefully beholding a vast store of riches in his exploration of American Art History.
Because American Art is an Epic in the writing (as in fact is all forms of World Art), Hughes does betray an Euro-centric bias and, as a result, slightly overlooks the contribution of many other minority artists to the rich tapestry of American Culture.
That criticism aside, Hughes' passion and devotion to his subject rings true all throughout the entire book, making this a fast and consistently entertaining and educational read. His championing of Hopper, Benton and Pollock as world class visionaries is particularly enlightening (probably because I agree!). Hughes manages to sound scholarly without resorting to dry ivory tower musings. His rants and raves, while maintaining the informed and educated discourse required of a true scholar, also posses the wit and wisdom of skilled stage performer.
Although there are plenty of fine reproductions here, even more would have aided in creating a more complete book. But why quibble? This book is a fine starting out point for anyone interested in reading a fine author's exploration of a rich subject.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 1998
Format: Paperback
The depth and breadth of Hughes' investigation of American art is remarkable. The book is detailed enough to provide students or art critics at a professional level adequate food for thought; at the same time, the book is incredibly easy to read and understandable for the first-time student. Interspersing historical fact with humor, Hughes clearly establishes a link between art and American history/culture. He misses nothing. Beginning with the Puritans, the author takes the reader on an artistic journey that begins in the churches of New England and ends in the scandals of the 1990s. Along the way, the reader, through viewing major artworks, examines the Revolutionary Era, the expansion of the West, ages of Division and Discovery as the U.S. is torn apart by a Civil War, Realism and Naturalism influences, symbolist movements, and the anxieties of the post-modern and current ages.
American Visions is truly a remarkable work: during the past academic year, I have rewritten my high school eleventh grade Humanities curriculum to include it as both a main text and research resource. My students, as well, have tremendous praise for this book since it makes the study of American history, literature, and art interdisicplinary and understandable.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Why are art and music the first to go when school budgets are cut? There is a complex historical reason for this thinking which Robert Hughes explores in clear and fascinating prose. Stop complaining about the situation and learn the roots of the problem so that you can take steps to correct it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
What I especially liked about this book was the way Hughes has intertwined the particular details of the stories of all our established individual artists with overarching major trends in U.S. history. He has made an enlightning history an entertaining one.
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