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Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists Paperback – February 1, 1992

4.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Time 's art critic assesses four centuries of Western art.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This collection brings together over 90 essays, many of which have already appeared in major journals. Hughes considers the Masters, 19th-century art and artists, the Modernist spirit, American and European painters, and contemporary artists in prose that is historically informative, understandable, witty, and often opinionated. Perhaps most interesting is Hughes's introduction, a recognition and partial analysis of New York City's decline as the center of the art world. This well-written, thought-provoking collection will appeal to most who find art and the art world important and entertaining. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/90.
- Jean Keleher, Wally Findlay Galleries, Chicago
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014016524X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140165241
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. Bestick VINE VOICE on February 19, 2006
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This collection of magazine reviews and essays, first published in 1990, serves as a short course in the development of American and European art over the last few centuries. The eye is keen, the mind is thoroughly grounded in art history and tradition, and the writing is lucid and provocative. Hughes wrote the magazine pieces while working as the art critic for Time Magazine. They tend to be triggered by major exhibitions of modern artists or major retrospectives of dead ones. Hughes always starts from the work, and deals with the constricted space of the magazine format by isolating something essential about an artist: DeKooning's draftsmanship; Hopper's despair held in abeyance; Pisarro's decency; Pollock as aesthete instead of wild cowboy; the mismatch between Rothko's intellectual aims and artistic strategies. Sandwiched between whiskey ads and the pimping of NBC's new sitcom, Hughes' magazine reviews demonstrate an admirable ability to dissect major paintings and analyze artists without talking down to Time's mass audience.

The longer essays first appeared in venues such as The New York Review of Books and The New Republic. In these pieces, Hughes lets his critical and rhetorical capabilities off the leash. The opening essay gives us Hughes' take on the 1980s New York art scene, which Hughes saw as a "low, dishonest decade," for several interrelated reasons. First, the art being produced did not serve or surpass the modernist tradition that preceded it; for Hughes, all serious art must grapple with what came before it, and figure out how to move beyond it. ("An artist's every action is judged by an unwearying tribunal of the dead.") Intelligent evaluation of the work produced by emerging artists became supplanted by hype.
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Either you love Robert Hughes or you hate Robert Hughes. I consider him the greatest art critic alive and his insights on XX century art are irreplaceable pieces of wit and culture.

This book is a sum of most of the author's articles published in Time Magazine and other medias and covers old masters as well as modern and contemporary artists.The articles on Warhol and Basquiat, as well as the one on the NY art scene, are brilliant. I bought this book when it came out and rereading it recently I saw how utterly modern it still is, considering today's art world.
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Hughes was the most insightful, witty critic art we'll ever have, and this book, a collection of reviews mostly from Time Magazine covering the era from pre-Renaissance all the way to the New York eighties art boom, is the perfect introduction to his work. He has a painter's insights into how every artist from Fragonard to Picasso developed their technique, yet he is unafraid to declare when the work slipped into self-parody, or was simply overrated garbage (see his hilarious pieces here on Basquiat and Schnabel). He was also disgusted by the current fad to rate the quality of art based on how many millions it makes on the auction market, something trumpeted in practically every Weekend Arts section of the Wall Street Journal. He died too early from complications of an automobile accident, but his work lives on. Get this and deepen your understanding of art through the sure hand of Hughes.
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I don't know much about art and I'm not even sure I know what I like. But it's obvious that this book is intelligently - and honestly - written, and I'm writing this review mainly to recommend the book to other people who aren't terribly interested in the visual arts. Hughes has made me think more highly of painting in general and made me re-evaluate much of what I thought about the twentieth century. (Don't worry: he also confirmed much of it.) He isn't at all afraid to announce that the emperor has no clothes - so on those occasions when he confirms that the emperor is, in fact, fully dressed, I am much more inclined to believe him.
Wittily written, too.
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Everything the late Mr. Hughes has to say is razor sharp and true.

The major problem with this book is the SIZE OF THE TEXT, which is minuscule to the point of being straining, and the terrible quality of the paper on which it's printed.

I miss him already and as an artist I only wish he were still here to critique and correct the ludicrous state of today's art "scene". There are many days of the year that reading a few words from Robert Hughes is the only thing that gets me to work.
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The best writer on art ever, and an inspiration to all artists seeking to understand their role in society and artistic developments of the recent past. Reading Hughes makes you look at art with fresh eyes, heart, and a kick in the head. He's like a velvet-gloved boxer.
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An introduction to many artists with whom I was unfamiliar. The brief histories helped provide background. His critique of Tom Wolfe was accurate, but exhibited a lack of familiarity with European Modernism. As Peter Smithson said "Modern Architecture never crossed the Atlantic." Walter Gropius did have a more ilarger impact on architectural practice than on his students. I was delighted to find that I shared the author's view of "banal glass boxes. After reading The Power of Art I really appreciated reading another perspective on the same artists. My understanding of Van Gogh's work was improved and revised markedly after reading both authors. It was frustrating to not have the artists' work before me while reading, especially with works I have never seen. I look forward to reading more of Robert Hughes's work.
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