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Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  548 ratings  ·  17 reviews
From Holbein to Hockney, from Norman Rockwell to Pablo Picasso, from sixteenth-century Rome to 1980s SoHo, Robert Hughes looks with love, loathing, warmth, wit and authority at a wide range of art and artists, good, bad, past and present.
As art critic for Time magazine, internationally acclaimed for his study of modern art, The Shock of the New, he is perhaps America’s mos
Paperback, 448 pages
Published February 1st 1992 by Penguin Books (first published April 1st 1990)
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The majority of this book, besides the introduction and the last few essays, consists of reviews of art shows that Hughes published in times magazine in the early-to-mid 80s. His style of criticism is perfect - it finds that wonderful balance of historical context, biographical information, and (the part that so many critics miss) astute observations in front of the work itself. One of the main themes of his writing is that great art is built on history, rather than (in the prevailing myth of mo ...more
Lauren Albert
I enjoyed this more than I expected to though I admit to skimming a few of the reviews towards the end since I didn't recognize the artist. With no images, his critiques don't mean much if you don't know the work and its context. Hughes doesn't seem to actively dislike a lot (Thomas Hart Benson, Julian Schnabel and Warhol are three) and does try to see what is good in the art that he doesn't otherwise like. I was surprised at how broad his interests were--assuming as I did that he was conservati ...more
Jul 14, 2010 Tony rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: art
Hughes, Robert. NOTHING IF NOT CRITICAL: SELECTED ESSAYS ON ART AND ARTISTS. (1990). *****. I’m always amazed at what you can find on the remainder shelves at a bookstore. Here’s a real winner. I ‘discovered’ Hughes years ago when I read his book, “The Fatal Shore,” a one-volume history of Australia. It was a winner, too. In this book, he has collected many of his essays from the 1980s, when he was the art critic for Time Magazine. There are also several articles previously published in The New ...more
Prooost Davis
Whether or not one agrees with Hughes's critique of the current art market (or that of the 1980s, when this book came out), I don't think one can find much fault with the depth and breadth of his knowledge of art history. "Nothing If Not Critical" serves as a very good survey of Western art. The book, unfortunately, has no illustrations, and a few artists whose work he didn't write essays about are probably missing, but, boy, the writing is wonderful, and Hughes's love of art is evident througho ...more
I love the vigour that Hughes brings to his criticisms, you feel like you're really reading someone that knows his stuff. It's a great way to pick-up insights about artists, and their work, that you may have missed yourself. Nevertheless, given the format (from Time magazine) the essays eventually become somewhat 'one-note.' His feelings about the New York art world start to become repetitive, and his sentences, whilst sometimes very clever, run on way too much.
Dave Holcomb
I find that the older I get, the more Robert Hughes. I'm not sure what that says, about him or me, but I enjoyed this book enormously. A collection of art essays and reviews about from the 1980's, this is Hughes at his best: literate, practical, clear, and frequently just a teensy bit vicious. He speaks clearly and directly about the artists he's reviewing, and he cuts through a lot of the clutter and hype to the bones of art. If you're interested in art, especially the art of the twentieth cent ...more
Nov 14, 2014 Cris rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: art
I have to say I am disappointed. There is more sensationalism in this book than there is critique. Yes, the essays were meant to amuse as much as to inform, but there is entirely too much name dropping and vague unnatributed references here. For the most part, I agree with his assessment of the artists and art events depicted, but I don't always trust his 'cultural facts'. He doesn't always accurately portray the mainstream opinions. Instead he passes off his imprecise information and opinions ...more
Cat Bennett
Sep 14, 2013 Cat Bennett rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in art.
Though I read this book in 1990, I love it still. Hughes discusses artists from Caravaggio to Degas, and Sargent, René Magritte, Picasso, Pollock, Hockney and more. Most of these pieces were written for Time Magazine and he brought a deep sense of history and visual memory to a discussion of art that reached masses of people. He looked with his eyes, his mind and his heart. He searched out authenticity and disparaged the phoney or contrived. He looked for meaning and beauty, found it where he co ...more
Robert Hughes is an enthousiastic writer and knows how to bring a subject in an engaging language.
Jul 08, 2007 Ellyce rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: artists, for sure
I can't say I agreed with everything Hughes says in this collection of essays, but his occasional bias is easy to detect and his infrequently pompousness easy to forgive because he frequently has incredible insight into the artists, movements, and art markets that his essays examine.

As a BFA student, I think the book is an valuable glimpse at artists' work which every art student should be well versed in. And aside from all that, its truly interesting and an easy read!
If you are art history knowledgeable this book will give you a good chuckle and increase your everyday cynicism. If you love smack-talking art reviewers, R.Hughes is your man.
Robert Hughes is such a great writer. He loves art and thinks it is important. He hates Robert Mapplethorpe.
Mar 01, 2008 Nic added it
A terrrific sttraight up read about a collection of contemporary artists and the art market
His common sense approach, learned arrogance and discerning wins the usual
Cat Bennett
Rereading! And just as good as when I first read over twenty years ago!
Kevin Tole
THE best book of art criticism from a master critic
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Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO was an Australian art critic, writer and television documentary maker who has resided in New York since 1970. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study arts and then architecture at the University of Sydney. At university, Hughes associated with the Sydney "Push" – a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the ...more
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