Quotes from The Shock of the New

Robert Hughes ·  444 pages

Rating: (24.7K votes)


“The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It's not something that committees can do. It's not a task achieved by groups or by movements. It's done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant-garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“What does one prefer? An art that struggles to change the social contract, but fails? Or one that seeks to please and amuse, and succeeds?”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“It seems obvious, looking back, that the artists of Weimar Germany and Leninist Russia lived in a much more attenuated landscape of media than ours, and their reward was that they could still believe, in good faith and without bombast, that art could morally influence the world. Today, the idea has largely been dismissed, as it must in a mass media society where art's principal social role is to be investment capital, or, in the simplest way, bullion. We still have political art, but we have no effective political art. An artist must be famous to be heard, but as he acquires fame, so his work accumulates 'value' and becomes, ipso-facto, harmless. As far as today's politics is concerned, most art aspires to the condition of Muzak. It provides the background hum for power.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“In the Somme valley, the back of language broke. It could no longer carry its former meanings. World War I changed the life of words and images in art, radically and forever. It brought our culture into the age of mass-produced, industrialized death. This, at first, was indescribable.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New



“It is hard to think of any work of art of which one can say 'this saved the life of one Jew, one Vietnamese, one Cambodian'. Specific books, perhaps; but as far as one can tell, no paintings or sculptures. The difference between us and the artists of the 1920's is that they they thought such a work of art could be made. Perhaps it was a certain naivete that made them think so. But it is certainly our loss that we cannot.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“Essentially, perspective is a form of abstraction. It simplifies the relationship between eye, brain and object. It is an ideal view, imagined as being seen by a one-eyed, motionless person who is clearly detached from what he sees. It makes a God of the spectator, who becomes the person on whom the whole world converges, the Unmoved Onlooker.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“When the war (WWI) finally ended it was necessary for both sides to maintain, indeed even to inflate, the myth of sacrifice so that the whole affair would not be seen for what it was: a meaningless waste of millions of lives. Logically, if the flower of youth had been cut down in Flanders, the survivors were not the flower: the dead were superior to the traumatized living. In this way, the virtual destruction of a generation further increased the distance between the old and the young, between the official and the unofficial.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“For the machine meant the conquest of horizontal space. It also meant a sense of that space which few people had experienced before – the succession and superimposition of views, the unfolding of landscape in flickering surfaces as one was carried swiftly past it, and an exaggerated feeling of relative motion (the poplars nearby seeming to move faster than the church spire across the field) due to parallax. The view from the train was not the view from the horse. It compressed more motifs into the same time. Conversely, it left less time in which to dwell on any one thing.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“But the existence of a cult does not mean that images appropriate to it automatically follow.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New



“Indeed, the idea that doubt can be heroic, if it is locked into a structure as grand as that of the paintings of Cezanne's old age, is one of the keys to our century. A touchstone of modernity itself.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“Machines were the ideal metaphor for the central pornographic fantasy of the nineteenth century, rape followed by gratitude.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“Political stress is always apt to shrink the private arena and attach it on to the public”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“that great condenser of moral chaos, The City.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“But aesthetic value does not rise from the work's apparent ability to predict a future: we do not admire Cézanne because of the Cubists drew on him. Value rises from deep in the work itself - from its vitality, its intrinsic qualities, its address to the senses, intellect, and imagination; from the uses it makes of the concrete body of tradition. In art there is no progress, only fluctuations of intensity. Not even the greatest doctor in Bologna in the 17th century knew as much a bout the human body as today's third-year medical student. But nobody alive today can draw as well as Rembrandt or Goya.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New



“In one sense, (Duchamp's) “The Large Glass” is a glimpse into Hell; a peculiarly modernist Hell of repetition and loneliness.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“Nevertheless, what was made in the hope of transforming the world need not be rejected because it failed to do so – otherwise, one would also have to throw out a good deal of the greatest painting and poetry of the nineteenth century. An objective political failure can still work as a model of intellectual affirmation or dissent.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“MOMA's values were blown through the American education system, from high school upwards-and downwards, too, greatly raising the status of "creativity" and "self-expression" in kindergarten. By the 1970s, the historical study of modern art had expanded to the point where students were scratching for unexploited thesis subjects. By the mid-eighties, twenty-one-year-old art-history majors would be writing papers on the twenty-six-year-old graffitists.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


“The World's Fair audience tended to think of the machine as unqualifiedly good, strong, stupid and obedient. They thought of it as a giant slave, an untiring steel Negro, controlled by Reason in a world of infinite resources.”
― Robert Hughes, quote from The Shock of the New


About the author

Robert Hughes
Born place: in Sydney, Australia
Born date July 28, 1938
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