BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert Hughes, in The New Yorker piece on you in May there's a quote from Barbara Rose that says that, `In September of 1970, Bob was wearing love beads, a transparent linen shirt, a yellow wide-wale corduroy suit and a black leather coat with nail heads on the back that spelled out "This is not a coat,"' she says. What is that about?
Mr. ROBERT HUGHES, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN VISIONS: THE EPIC HISTORY OF ART IN AMERICA": I was carrying the coat. I was not wearing it when I came through US
LAMB: That was when you first came to the United States?
Mr. HUGHES:: That was when I first came to the United--well, it--it was when I
came to the United States to try out for Time. And it wasn't my first visit to
the United States, but it was the one that caused all the trouble.
LAMB: Why were you coming here for Time magazine?
Mr. HUGHES:: Because they'd asked me to come and try out to see if they liked
me and I liked them. They--they--they were looking for an art critic, and in
some moment of aberration they--they got me. It was purely accidental, as all
things are. There was a--a book that I'd just brought out called "Heaven and
Hell in Western Art," and it sold about three and a half copies in the United
States and, very luckily for me, one of those copies found its way to the
then-managing editor of Time, Henry Anatole Grunwald, who said, `Well, let's
try this fellow.' And through a rather protracted business, they ran me to
Earth in London. And our marriage was cracking up and all things favored a--a
retreat from England, so I thought I'd go and see what it was like in the
States. Of course, I thought I was going to stay for two years.
So, anyway, Barbara met me at the airport, and there I was. What she didn't
mention was that I'd come from Italy and I had all these bags of an herbal
mixture called potpourri, which I'd got from the Pharmacia de Santa Berria
Novella in--in Florence. And I was going to give them to friends as presents.
And the guy going--was going through my bags, and he saw these plastic bags
full of this herbal mixture sitting on top, and he said--but the--I mean, his
eyes lit up and he thought, `I've got another one.' And he--and he said,
`What's that stuff?' And I said, `It's potpourri.' And he said, `What?' And I
said, `Potpourri.' `How do you spell it?' `P-O-T'--and I--and--so I nearly
didn't make it into the United States.
LAMB: Twenty-seven years later--this has been in bookstores for a couple of
months. What is it?
Mr. HUGHES:: This? It's a book. It's called "American Visions," which my
editor subtitled "The Epic History of Art in America." It is a book vastly
expanded from a television series that I did for PBS and for the BBC. And it
is basically, I suppose, a kind of rather opinionated social history of the
United--of American art.
LAMB: And then there's this, which is a--a special of Time magazine.
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah, that's right. So that is--it's not a condensation of the
book. That had to be written again from scratch. I wrote the whole issue,
something that I've never tried before. But it's amazing what the prospect of
hanging can do.
LAMB: The television series is over, or at least its run on--on public
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah, it's--it's a...
LAMB: And you've--the book's been in the bookstores for a couple months. The
magazine is out. How do you feel?
Mr. HUGHES:: Intensely relieved and very like going fishing. It's a wring-out,
you know, a project like this. It's to--the whole thing took me four years,
and--and--and I was a month, more or less, on the road promoting it. And
the--the--there was no rest for the ungodly, and--and I'm just glad it's over
and I'm glad it came out well.
LAMB: There's also a lot of copy that's been written about you that during this
period you had depression.
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, yeah. Oh, sure. Well, not during the whole period; that
would have been unendurable. But I went--you know, I crashed at the end of the
series. The--I mean, it wasn't a fatal crash, but I woke up one morning and I
thought, `Yikes, life is devoid of meaning and horrible in all respects,' you
know. I mean, I don't know whether you've suffered from this, but it's
a--yeah, it's a medical problem. It's not lot like you suddenly grow horns and
a tail and turn into something, you know, tur--although I must say my wife
rather felt as if she was dealing with the little creature from "Alien"
But, no, it was--I--I--no kidding, it was bad. And they--and--and it was
caused by overwork, you know, with all the trials, of course, that go back into
childhood. And--but, anyway, then I sort of woke up and realized, `Well, I've
got to write this damn book. I've got to write two hundred and s--something
thousand words of copy in the next nine months.' And so I had to put myself,
more or less, on military discipline. You know, I'd get up at 4:00 every
morning and have my tea--I was too wired up to have coffee, which, you know,
was a nuisance, but there it was--and write fif--1,200 to 1,500 words a day and
do four--four miles a day on the treadmill, if possible and--and just bang it
through. Because if the series comes out, and you don't have a book there,
obviously, it's not the best business practice. No, it was--it--it was very
hard. I mean...
LAMB: What's it feel like when you've got depression?
Mr. HUGHES:: What's it feel like? It feels terrible. You--you--you know,
the--the--luckily, if you've just got one thing to concentrate on, you can
concentrate on that, or at least so I feel. If I haven't had the book to
write, I would have been in big trouble. The--you feel as though your life is
essentially without meaning; you know, that stuff that you've done is not going
to last, and that the--Oh, how can I put it?--it deprives you of--of--of
pleasure in the company of others. It makes you solecistic and sort of
self-enclosed without being successfully introspective. And it's an altogether
What I did was I, you know, did what I would have--I would never have
contemplated normally. I went along to see a shrink. I mean, finally, at the
age 57, I--I went to a shrink. But, you see, good Catholic boys don't go to
shrinks. What they do is they go to confession, and that sort of gets rid of
the--of the, you know--of one part of it without actually sorting anything out.
So I went to see a shrink. I took drugs. I--you know, and I've got to say it
all helped a lot. The shrink was a fellow fisherman, and it was a little
difficult to sort out whether we were discussing, you know, fly-fishing for
striped bass or my own deeper problems. But we--we did, in the end.
LAMB: When was this picture taken?
Mr. HUGHES:: That picture was taken about two months ago.
LAMB: Where is it?
Mr. HUGHES:: It's in my loft. The bare and Spartan and messy appearance of the
loft is not a matter of set dressing; it's a mat--you know, the--the
bookshelves you see are empty. I'm moving all of my books out in order to
rebuild the loft.
LAMB: Where is the loft?
Mr. HUGHES:: On the corner of Prince and West Broadway, in su--in SoHo, in New
LAMB: How--and how long have you lived there?
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, God, since 1970, '71. Yeah, that's right, 1971. And I moved
to New York in 1970. I stayed in the Chelsea Hotel for a few months, and then
somebody said to me--actually, it was Barbara, the person that we referred to
earlier--said to me, `You know, if you want cheap, large space, then there are
these really cheap big ware--warehouses down in this unnamed part of New York.'
A lot of artists were living there; I went and got one.
LAMB: And when I read about this painting, one of the--I--I guess it may not be
new, but it was new to me--that you talked about the artist being a closet
Mr. HUGHES:: Yes.
LAMB: Is that well-known?
Mr. HUGHES:: I think it's fairly well-known. I certainly didn't ask him. It's
in the literature.
LAMB: And why...
Mr. HUGHES:: Grant Wood. I mean, whether he was a practicing gay or not, I
have absolutely no idea. But, you know, he--the--the--I mean, he was a man
of--of, pictorially, very refined tastes. And he had a--I mean, the big
infl--you know, far from being a sturdy son of the Midwestern soil, he was--I
mean, he was, in fact, born in--in--in--in Iowa, it's true, and he lived there
a good deal of his life. But the big influences on him were 15th century
Flemish po--portrait painting, with its very high finish and intense
concentration of craft, and it is said his mother's willow-pattern china. And,
periodically, Grant Wood could be prevailed upon.
Yes, there I am in front of the--the house in "American Gothic," which is not
the real house in "American Gothic"; it's a fake "American Gothic" house, which
has been built closer to Grant Wood's former art school. But
the--the--sometimes he would be prevailed upon to put on a pair of blue bib
overalls and, you know, sort of stand in close proximity to a tree so as to
look like a farmer. But that was all part of the promotion of the--of American
regionalism in the '30s.
LAMB: What--what does it mean that so many different companies have used this
Grant Wood painting for their own advertising?
Mr. HUGHES:: It--it means that it's the American "Mona Lisa." Now the fame of a
painting is a really mysterious thing. I mean, nobody really knows whether
"Mona Lisa" got famous, although I have some theories. This one became
fantastically famous, I think, in part, through its ambiguity. The--the--I
mean, first of all, it's a very, very memorable image, one which strikes deep
into people's ancestral memory, or what they would like their ancestral memory
to be. You know, there he is, the stern, Puritan father holding up the
pitchfork defending the virtue of his not-very-alluring daughter. And
the--the--it is humorous and, at the same time, it's hard to be sure whether
he's--whether Wood was praising that kind of Midwestern rectitude or not. So
people project on it.
That comes from a painting by Gilbert Stuart, the so-called La--no, not the
Lansdowne portrait. The--it's--Stuart got to paint Washington three times from
the life. This is derived from the unfinished picture and, of course, it's on
the American dollar bill. That's the--that's the canonical image of George
LAMB: What do you think of the Americans putting this particular painting on
the dollar bill?
Mr. HUGHES:: I think it was a good idea. Well, first of all, they're not
putting a painting on the dollar bill; they're put--they're putting one of
zillions of engraved images which were derived from the painting. It's not a
reproduction of the painting, but it is, you know, a version of--there it is.
Yes, that's--that's Washington. And as you can see, it's reversed by the
engra--you know, I mean, the--the--in--in--in that one, he's facing to his
right, and on the dollar bill he's facing to his left. That's because it's,
you know, engraved.
LAMB: What can you tell us about Gilbert Stuart?
Mr. HUGHES:: I can tell you a lot about Gilbert Stuart. Gilbert Stuart was--I
mean, first of all, he was a tremendously able and--and an immensely fluent
portraitist. He was a great believer in the--in the--you know, in multiplying
his images. He used to unabashedly refer to his portraits of Washington--oh,
well, there's Martha Washington, too, yeah--he would refer to his portraits of
Washington, for which there was an immense demand, as his $100 bills.
So--and--and he painted, I think, Martha and George in the same week, if not in
the same day, you know, from the life a--I think, at Mt. Vernon. Yeah.
LAMB: You say there were three...
Mr. HUGHES:: There were three original ones of Washington which were done from
the life with the great man present. But he then spun off from those at least
114 versions. And that was what you had to do, you know. The--the----you
couldn't tie the president up indefinitely with photo ops or, at any rate, with
painting ops. And--and so the--the--there--there--there was a real demand for
effigies of Washington, also served by people like the--the Peales, both f--you
know, f--I mean--I think--I think it was Raphaelle Peale--no, it wasn't
Raphaelle. Oh, my God, so long after the book, I'm getting confused. Charles
Wilson Peale was the father who founded this dynasty of--of artists, and one of
his sons--Was it Rubens? Raphaelle?--I can't remember--specialized in port--in
portraits of Washington just like his dad had. And there are hundreds of them
all over the United States.
And--but, of course, this is an age before mechanical reproduction, and here we
have Copley, certainly the greatest American portraitist of the 18th century,
and this is the--again, it's our canonical image of Paul Revere, you know,
the--the--the intelligent, skeptical, determined American craftsman as citizen.
I mean, it's one of the archetypal portraits of a skilled American.
LAMB: You can see there--this actual painting was on the cover of David Hackett
Mr. HUGHES:: That's right.
LAMB: ...on Paul--Paul Revere.
Mr. HUGHES:: That's right.
LAMB: And he pointed out there that in the--what he's got his hand around, you
can see the reflection of the...
Mr. HUGHES:: You can see the reflection of the window which is behind the
artist, and that burning spot on the sort of a teapot that Revere has just
finished making is a reflection of the window. And, of course, that's the
light source for all the light in the--in the picture. Yeah.
LAMB: What's so special about this particular artist, Jonathan Singleton
Mr. HUGHES:: There--a lot of things are special about him, but I would say the
thing that is most special is that he was the--well, he was the first resident
American to really make a rather grand style out of what was actually rather
liny and plain and, you know--and came out of the New England limner tradition.
He couldn't, at first, attain the sort of grace notes of the--of 18th century
English portraiture. But with that extremely craftsmanlike approach of his and
that ple--you know, and that plainness, he actually produced something which I
think was more valuable than that. He produced something which was, you know,
sort of s--completely sober, unfussed, unflattering, all the moles and warts
and wens in place, you know.
And, you know, he was the first great American empi--you know, great American
empiricist, which, I might add, this guy that we're looking at now, John
Trumbull, was--was not. I mean, Trumbull yearned to be a history painter. The
problem of being a history painter in the 1820s was that Americans, then as
now, were less interested in their own past than in their own future. There's
a very interesting letter from, I think, Adams to Trumbull on this--possibly
Madison to Trumbull on this subject saying, `I see no interest in the public
around us in the commemoration of the events of the Revolution.' And this was
when the negotiation was going on for the four pictures, of which that is one,
which now decorate the rotunda of the Capitol here in Washington. Already,
Americans, in other words, were complaining about the selective amnesia of
their--of their citizenry.
LAMB: How do you do all this?
Mr. HUGHES:: How do I do it?
LAMB: Yeah. How--how do you remember all this? How do you--is--is--you know,
Mr. HUGHES:: Man, I've been over my ears in it for the last five years, you
know. I have to--you know, I--I mean, my main problem is going to be clearing
this stuff out of my head in order to get on with a book on Goya or whatever
the next one will be.
LAMB: But--but wh--but when we see you in your least exciting moment,
what--what are you doing? I mean, how--how did you compile all of this
information and get to be such an expert on all this?
Mr. HUGHES:: I've been an art critic working in America for 27 years.
Inevitably, some stuff rubs off. But I'm extremely curious about America, you
know, the--the--I mean, I'm curious about America in the way that foreigners
are. I'm not a citizen; I'm an Australian. But nevertheless I'm a--I'm what's
called an alien--an alien resident, you know, one of them (makes gesture with
fingers to simulate antennae on head).
LAMB: You going to stay that way?
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah. Yeah.
Mr. HUGHES:: My wife's American. They can't take that green card away from me,
not now. The--I haven't said anything about Clinton in this book, you know.
The--no, I'm going to stay that way because, beyond a certain age--and I'm
58--the--the leopard has difficulty changing his spots. I mean, I have--for
instance, I'm interested in politics, but the only country in which I can be
politically active is Australia. I mean, it would seem sort of ridiculous to
abandon my Australian citizenship when my family has been active there for so
long. I mean, I'm not coming from somewhere in order to completely remake
myself, you know.
LAMB: Your family--What?--you had a--is it a brother who was an attorney
Mr. HUGHES:: He was the attorney general, my brother Tom, yeah, in--during the
Vietnam years. The--he was--he was attorney general at the same time,
actually, that Mitchell --that Mitchell was the attorney
general here. He met Mitchell. He was--you know, he was given a trip over
here to find out more and better ways of dumping on Vietnam protesters. And he
was horrified by Mitchell because Tom is a true conservative and not, you know,
a--an egregious schemer like Mitchell.
Anyway, the--there was a--no, I mean, our lot have been pretty much embroiled
in Australian politics since the 1900s--the--the early 1900s. And the--you
know, and I--there's a family history there that I'm kind of--that--you know,
that I'm proud of and would not wish to renege on.
LAMB: G--go back to my original question. How do you do all this? In other
words, where do you work?
Mr. HUGHES:: I work at home in Shelter Island. I have a house there with a
barn. Upstairs in the barn, there is my writing room; downstairs, there's my
wood shop. When I run out of paragraphs I go down and, you know,
absentmindedly cut a few dovetails, and then I go back up again and--well, you
know, I mean, one of the frustrations of writing this bloody thing was that
I--I didn't get the nose of a boat outside Coecles Harbor once during the whole
year. I didn't catch a bluefish; I got a couple of bass on fly. That was it.
But the--the--anyway, I have my art library there. The--half of the top floor
of the barn is books; half is writing room. I get up early in the morning and,
you know, I do what you do: I work. And--and the--the--I found it excellent
for concentration. It's a little frustrating because, you know, Shelter
Island, unlike other parts of eastern Long Island, has absolutely no social
life of any description, you know, which is actually quite a good thing, you
know. I mean, all those hotshot agents with their big cocoa-colored Mercedeses
full of tortellini salad are afraid of the water, and so they don't come across
on the ferry and that. And, also, you know, if you're at some utterly boring
dinner party, you can jump up--or my wife can jump up with a stricken
expression on the face and say, `My God, it's nine--it's already 9:00, and the
last ferry leaves at 9:45. I'm terribly sorry, Samantha. We have to go,' you
The--look, the biggest lesson about work I ever had--because when I was a kid,
I--of course, I thought--you know, when I was in my 20s, I thought that it was
done by inspiration--the--was from Alan Moorehead, now alas dead, who took me
under his wing and was, so to speak, my surrogate father as a writer. And he
did this thing which I found utterly incomprehensible. I c--you know, it
seemed so strange. He would get up at six in the morning, and at 7:00 he'd be
in this little writing room up the--you know, up the hill at the back of his
place in Italy. And he would stay there until 11:00. I mean, he wouldn't come
out. He wouldn't--you know, he wouldn't take telephone calls. He wouldn't do
anything like that. And--surprise, surprise--at the end of the morning he'd
usually have 700 words.
LAMB: Someplace there's a reference to you having an exceptional memory.
Mr. HUGHES:: I have a very good memory. It think it's beginning to decay a bit
under the--you know, the influence of age, booze and other things. But, no, I
think I've got a pretty good memory. I used to be--you see, I--when I was a
boy and when I was at Jesuit school, they would make you--no apologies about
it--memorize huge chunks of stuff. But I, you know, had a--some people found
this onerous; I found it delightful. I mean, I can still--no, I'm not going to
do it, but you know, I can still quote ad libitum from numerous Shakespearean
tragedies. I can d--I can recite you "The Waste Land" by heart, if you like.
But I'm not going to. We've got better things to do.
LAMB: Now this is--you know, interestingly enough, in the magazine version
and--which this is, the Time magazine special, the pictures are the--the--it's
a lot bigger...
Mr. HUGHES:: Yes, it is.
LAMB: ...than it is in the--in the book.
Mr. HUGHES:: Yes.
LAMB: By the way, what is this?
Mr. HUGHES:: That--that is a painting painted in the 1890s called "Memories of
1865" by Jo--by John Frederick Peter, who was a magic realist who--whose
paintings actually were quite popular in America. But the--one of the
interesting things about Peter is that he has this exceptionally nostalgic kind
of coding. You know, this is--it's called "Memories"--of s--"of '65" because
that's the year Lincoln was assassinated. And there's Lincoln's daguerreotype,
and there's this old rusty bowie knife, which was one of his studio props,
which was picked up on a Civil War battlefield and it's hanging over him
as--hanging over the image of Lincoln like the sword over Damocles. And the
deliberation of the thing is shown by that card there, which reads
something--`of the house,' which was a common kind of card used, I think, in
table settings at the time, and it originally read, `head of the house,' so the
knife is figuratively cutting off the head, and it's an allusion to the
assassination of the president.
LAMB: What do you think of art around Abraham Lincoln that you've seen?
Mr. HUGHES:: Peter--well, you mean, around Lincoln...
LAMB: Just Lincoln in general. I mean, is there a lot of it--i--did--that you
Mr. HUGHES:: There's a lot--there's a tremendous amount of photography.
Lincoln was the first president whose image was really, really ramified by
photography. But that's, of course, because there was a popular demand for his
work. He was the first president of the age of photography who really was
regarded as popular in a, you know, almost demigodlike way, at least for
Northerners. And the--but official paintings of Lincoln are, for the most
part, pretty dull. I mean, the--you know, as American or any other official
portraiture tends to be. But it's the--you know, it's the photographs
that--that we remember him by.
LAMB: Now this is a--on the cover, is something we see all the time: the
American flag. But it's...
Mr. HUGHES:: J--by Jasper Johns.
LAMB: Now when was this done?
Mr. HUGHES:: This was done in 1955, and what a stir it caused then. Strangely
enough, you know, the...
Mr. HUGHES:: Well, because, you know, the--the--it caused a big stir in the art
world because i--people couldn't be sure whether they were looking at a flag or
at an image of a flag. I mean, it clearly was an image of a flag, but if so,
you know, the painting consisted of nothing but the flag, and so it set up all
sorts of odd, I suppose you might say, philosophical or ontological vibrations
around itself. The one thing that didn't happen was that, unlike later artists
who incorporated the flag into their work, Johns didn't run into any flak for
defacing the flag or for blasphemy against it.
LAMB: Who is he?
Mr. HUGHES:: Johns is--now he--I mean, well, he's--he's--he's certainly one of
America's leading painters. He was always bracketed with Bob Rauschenberg, you
know, the--in the '50s. He m--he--he's sometimes regarded as one of the
fathers of pop art, but he's not really, you know, because pop art is a very
different kind of enterprise to Johns. But Johns was infatuated with popular
culture, and he wanted to find images which, as he put it, were so well-known
that they were not well-seen: flags, targets, stuff like that. And I think,
you know, the early work, up to about 1960--it's always a terrible thing to say
that you like an artist's early work better than his late, but I do, you know,
without in--without disrespect.
LAMB: Do Americans treat the flag differently than other countries usually do?
Mr. HUGHES:: Absolutely. They're obsessed with the flag. In Australia, or
even in France or--or in England, you don't have those rituals surrounding it.
I mean, America, you know--in America, there are specified ways of folding it.
It must--must not be allowed to touch the ground. Politicians always wish to
bring in, you know--or, at any rate, politicians on the right--many of them
would like to see an--an actual amendment to the Constitution protecting this
icon from defacement or burning or whatever. I mean, if you burnt an
Australian flag, you know, nobody would give a damn, which, I guess, is why
people don't burn them.
The--you know, it--the flag, to Americans, is a curious kind of almost living
presence. It has this sort of eucharistic aspect which it--it generally lacks
in other countries. I mean, I daresay that if you pulled out a tricolor, you
know, and--and started ostentatiously trampling on it in front of the Champs le
de--de--de Depute in Paris, some cop might come up and give you a whack with
his baton and tell you to move along. But they don't have constitutional
amendments about it, I think.
As for the Union ja--but then there's that double side because one wants to
preserve--they wo--Americans like to preserve the flag against blasphemy or
defacement, but at the same time they make everything out of it from--from, you
know, girls' underpants to advertising signs at gas stations. I mean, nobody
thinks there's anything weird--which I do, rather--about a gas station so
surrounding itself with hundreds of Old Glories just for the purpose of
I mean, that sort of seems di--I'm--I have a next-door neighbor out in Shelter
Island--well, not quite next door--who has this flagpole on the back of his
house. And at--at night Old Glory goes up and he has a spotlight on it. And
it's sort of irritating, actually. You wonder why he's making such a--a
flapdoodle over it. Is it to say, `I'm American. I live in America'? But we
know he's American; we know he lives in America. It's nutty. He's a retired
LAMB: Let--let me--I've got a bunch of reviews here that--that l--you know, the
television show's long since past.
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah.
LAMB: By the way, is it available that you can buy?
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, sure. You get it on cassette. Absolutely. Please do.
LAMB: What's it cost? You know?
Mr. HUGHES:: I don't know. `I do not concern myself with these mundane
preoccupations.' I think, actually, they haven't priced it yet.
LAMB: Paul Richard in The Washington Post wrote this about the television
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah.
LAMB: And I want you to--when--when did you first think about doing television?
Mr. HUGHES:: About doing television of any kind, or this?
LAMB: For this--of this--of...
Mr. HUGHES:: 1982, after I'd fin--after I finished "Shock of the New."
LAMB: And--and something called "American Visions" popped into your head?
Mr. HUGHES:: Well, it wasn't called "American Visions" then. The--I was
looking around, and I thought, `You know, they--there is a terrific subject
here, and it's really strange--a terrific subject for television. And it's
really weird that nobody in America has tried this one.' And so I started
checking it out, and the mo--the more I did, the more convinced I became that
there was a pro--you know, a really interesting television series to be made
about American art and its social meanings, as it were.
And originally, I wanted to do 10 programs. There--there wasn't the money for
that. And there wasn't any money for it, initially. I mean, the BBC shelved
it because what they we--they were going through a sort of period of the MTV
itchies, you know. The--the didactic miniseries was a thing of the past, you
know. He--here I was, this sort of little velociraptor careering around after
Kenneth Clark's T. rex, and--but this sort of stuff was extinct. It's not
extinct; it never will be.
LAMB: Let me just read you what Paul Richard said in this...
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah.
LAMB: ...in his review. He said, `Hughes set out to paint an epic, a mural of
America as one might view it through its art, through its churches, chairs and
cars, its newness and its rectitudes, its follies and injustices and its art
world hype. But then the medium trapped him. His series, a co-production of
BBC 2 and Time Warner, was created by committees, by teams of TV specialists.
Hughes never got to paint the mural he envisioned. He only got to sketch.'
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh. Well, that's an interesting criticism because it's perfectly
true and perfectly not. It is true that the nature of television somewhat
changes the arguments you can make. You know, television is bad for abstract
argument; it's good for show-and-tell. The--it demands a simple narrative,
very simple--iconically so. And the--the--and it's certainly true that the
book is richer than the television series. But I think within terms of what
telly can do, series is reasonably successful. And there are parts of it that
I think are hokey, yeah. The--but I'm not going to tell you what they are, and
I'm sure there are--I'm sure you know what they are, anyhow.
But I--I--I mean, what Richards essentially is saying here is that the book is
a better account than the television series of American art and its various
ramifications. And I would not disagree with him there; it is. But at the
same time, I think the telly series has a certain value and interest...
Mr. HUGHES:: ...particularly for people who might have no previous expe--not
much previous experience of American art.
LAMB: How long did it take you to do the television part?
Mr. HUGHES:: It took three years.
LAMB: Three years total concentration?
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah. I mean, I was thinking about it before then, you know, and
I would send resentful and intrusive faxes to the BBC saying, `Come on, why
don't you (makes guttural noise) or get off the pot?' you know. But the--the
actual planning and work on it was about three years.
LAMB: And the BBC s--ran it before we saw it here in America.
Mr. HUGHES:: That's right. And Australian television ran it before the BBC
did. It went out in Australia in July last year, then in England in--in
October and finally here, thank God.
LAMB: Why would people that live in Australia or in Great Britain be more
interested in it than we would be here?
Mr. HUGHES:: Well, it's not that they're more interested in it. It's just that
they had first dibs on it. The one thing that I wanted to avoid was having it
go out last year because I--in America because I would not have had the book
ready by then. And, you know, to be brutally candid about it, you know,
the--the--the series, as with all previous television series--whether we're
talking about Sagan's "Cosmos" or Ken Burns on the Civil War or back 30 years
ago with Kenneth Clark, the series has to function as an extended commercial
for the book.
LAMB: What do they say to you in Australia and Great Britain about this?
Mr. HUGHES:: They love the--they love the series in Australia.
LAMB: What'd they say about America because of it?
Mr. HUGHES:: They thought it was a very fair and reasonable and balanced
portrait of America with a few jabs and, you know--and the same in England.
They--the--the--this is the curious thing. I mean, the--the--a couple of
rather crankish critics who've--who've said that this series and book are
intended as a kind of assault upon the image of America, you know, written by
this weirdo, liberal, foreign leftie--nothing could be further from the truth.
But the idea of having a souffle with no ground glass in it at all, I think,
would be intolerable.
LAMB: In a conservative publication called The Weekly Standard, a fellow by the
name of David--I--I'm not sure how to pronounce...
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, I haven't read this one.
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah.
LAMB: It's probably pronounced right, I apologize to him.
Mr. HUGHES:: Gelernter.
LAMB: Hughes You Can Use: An Art Critic's American Visions. I just want to
read you this. He says, `Hughes tells us that American culture is in deep
trouble and that today's US art is largely no good.'
Mr. HUGHES:: Now that is not true. That is not what I'm saying. I'm saying
that American culture is in some trouble and I'm saying that quite a lot of
what is being promoted as the most promising or whatever art of the last 10 or
15 years has been no good. But I'm not painting an absolutely negativist
picture of the current art scene.
LAMB: He also says, `Hughes' non-Americanist tells most when he convinces us
that the crisis is grave but has no ideas about how to fix it.'
Mr. HUGHES:: Well, I--you know, when a car begins to slow down and emit curious
noises from the transmission and smoke starts coming out from underneath the
hood, you don't actually need to be an engineer to perceive that something is
going wrong with it. I am deeply tired of people with quick cultural fixes.
The--the--there was a whole industry, as you well know, living in Washington
of, you know, peop--you know, I mean, running all the way from A to B, you
know, from Bill Bennett to Arianna Stassinopoulos or whatever that ghastly
woman's name is.
The--the--there is this whole industry in--in--in--trying to persuade people
that various unspecified movements in the direction of virtue
and--and--and--and--and--and charity and what have you are going fix to what's
wrong with America. I don't think that any--you know, if there is one single
way of fixing what's wrong with the--with the art world, I am quite unaware of
it. I think the truth is that cultures do go into sort of slack water
sometimes. You know, they do go into periods in which their energies are
dissipated and not filled.
Now I think it's entirely possible that we might have a few better artists
around if you had better art training, but I don't think that would be the--you
know, an automatic quick fix. The--the--it's very hard today for an artist to
navigate satisfactorily in a cultural environment in which so much of the air
in the room is taken up by mass media. This was not a problem in the 19th
century. There were no competing mass media, there were no elo--there was no
television, there was no film, etc., etc.
People's sense of reality is so much generated by mass media today, mediated by
it, that the arts of painting and sculpture, drawing and what have you seem
distinctly powerless against the cataract of images that we get from other
LAMB: If you're going to tell an amateur four of five places to go in this
country to see the best American art or art that is American--it may not be the
best--but where would you send them?
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, well, I'd send them--I'd send them to the Whitney Museum in
New York--oh, I'd send them to New York, you know, th--so they could have a
look around. Washington--I mean, the--the National Museum of American Art
here, which is a branch of the Smithsonian, is probably the fundamental
collection of American art in this country. Now the strange thing is that it's
not as well-known as it ought to be. I mean, you'd think it was--this was a
complete impossibility that you could have a National Museum of American Art in
the capital of America that was not all that well-known in comparison, say, to
the National Gallery.
LAMB: This is the one connected to the National Portrait Gallery?
Mr. HUGHES:: It's one that's connected to the National Portrait Gallery, yeah,
and the--the--and its collection is really extraordinarily interesting. I
mean, there's great stuff in the Corcoran, too, you know, the--the--here in
Washington. I would send them to--I mean, those two are the obvious standouts.
Of course, there's no place--there's no single place which is a repository of
every possible kind of American architecture, you know, but, you know, where
are the places you have to go to see that? All over. Chicago--I was about to
say Atlanta, but not Atlanta obviously, but--but the South, you know, Virginia,
New York. It depends on what you're looking for. The--I would certainly send
them to Chicago for the collection of the--of the National Museum--I mean--I
mean, of the--of the Art Institute and of the Terra Museum, which has some
very, very good specifically American paintings.
LAMB: If--if you could have any American art you wanted in your home...
Mr. HUGHES:: What would it be?
LAMB: ...what would it be?
Mr. HUGHES:: I'd like to have a great Hopper.
LAMB: Which is a great Hopper? I've got a b--I just happen to have it turned
Mr. HUGHES:: Both of them. They're too great for me. "Early Sunday Morning",
such an extraordinary picture, totally magical.
LAMB: One--one--who is Ed Hopper?
Mr. HUGHES:: Edward Hopper--don't call him Ed; he would have bit your head off.
Edward--Ed--Edward Hopper was a deeply inhibited, professional, unspectacular
artist who told more truth about the conditions of life in the American--you
know, the sort of spiritual condition of life in the American city than anybody
else in the 1930s. He was an extraordinary poet, educated. I mean, he was--he
was trained by Robert Henri, who was the leader of the Ashcan School. He
studied in Paris. And as one can see from the pictures, he was very deeply
formed by period--by French illustration of the 1890s, and people like--also
And he was better at painting the spaces between people than just about
anybody. You know, you always feel as though you're intruding on something
that you see--the--I mean, there we are, "Nighthawks," you know, one of the
canonical American pictures. He had a tremendous effect upon popular culture.
Cameramen love him. The house in "Psycho" is a Hopper house. The house in
"Giant on the Prairie" is a Hopper house.
LAMB: When did he live?
Mr. HUGHES:: He died in 1967. He was born in 1890--no, 18--1880-something, I
think. I c--I can't remember his birth date. His other places were Cape Cod,
as you can see there, you know, that--that ex--that haunting picture of that
blonde standing in the slightly-too-small doorway of that little cottage in the
sea light, you know, with the light just falling on her breasts early in the
morning. Wonderful picture.
And he--no, Hopper really defined a side of the American imagination as--as no
one has done. That--that's, in part, a sort of--almost a joke picture. If you
shift it a little bit that way, you can see a portrait of his wife, Joan
Nivensen, who was a real shrew, yelling at him out of--you know, at this
failing gas station owner, who is Hopper himself. The road is empty. He's
being bypassed by history. His wife...
LAMB: Who else...
Mr. HUGHES:: ...is--is nagging him.
LAMB: Who else would you put in your home if you could have anything?
Mr. HUGHES:: If I could have anything at all?
LAMB: Anything American.
Mr. HUGHES:: Well, I can't say that I'd turn down a great Pollock. I would
like to have a--I would like to have one really, really good Winslow Homer
watercolor. I think he just is the greatest watercolorist practically since
Turner, who's an astonishing virtuoso of watercolor, and also, the life that
he--he depicts is one which I dearly love. You know, everything to do with the
sea. And--yeah, that's an oil. That's in the--that is here in Washington.
That's in the National--National Gallery here.
LAMB: Who is Winslow Homer?
Mr. HUGHES:: We--Winslow Homer was a--well, he's a man about whose character
not a hell of a lot is known because he--his four favorite words, according to
such friends as he had, were `mind your own business.' And the--he started off
painting--or, rather, drawing reportage of the Civil War in the 18--you know,
he--he--he was there at the front in the 1860--in the early 1860s. This
picture here, "A Veteran in a New Field," is probably, I think, the most
moving, the--the least direct of all pictures to do with the Civil War. I
mean, the man is a veteran who's come back, he's mowing the wheat, but it also
alludes to the terrible massacres of Antietam and Gettysburg, you know, which
took place in wheat fields.
"Prisoners From the Front," young Union--youngish Union officer surveying these
four--these three prisoners. You know, there's this little--there's this
hellfire Kentuckian or Virginian in the front, you know, looking as mean as
hell, sort of--he's got a face like McVeigh. There's a--an old man who's too
old to change and there's this cracker kid who's too young to know anything. I
mean, when people say this is an objective picture. Of course, it's not. It's
a piece of wartime propaganda.
LAMB: You mention in your book that--and a lot of people write about your
position on slavery, that that's one of the biggest problems we've had.
Mr. HUGHES:: The tr--well, sl--slavery itself was, naturally. But
I--it--it--the--the--it's an interesting fact that it doesn't--you know, I
mean, certainly there are 19th century genre paintings of slaves and there's
one very good one by--by Eastman Johnson of esca--of some escaping slaves on a
hor--a horse. It's a very fine picture, that. But by and large, slavery
doesn't show much--show up much in the--you know, in the painted record of
American life or, at any rate, write comments on slavery don't. The--and when
they do, they're usually in the form of, you know, the sort of jolly--jolly old
water--watermelon-chewing--you know, it's--it's sort of like an…opera. It--it--it--it presents the slave household as a kind of simple
Arcadia--or tends to.
LAMB: We're talking about your television show and your special for Time
magazine and your book and now the sales of your television show. Is this
going to make a lot of money for you?
Mr. HUGHES:: I hope so. I would be a hypocrite and a fool to deny that I hope
LAMB: Is it going well?
Mr. HUGHES:: I don't know how much money is a lot. It's going well. They have
a first printing of 100,000. It'll take a while to shift 100,000 to--to $65
per, but I have no doubt that we'll be reprinting by Christmas. This is
actually--if I can so say without sounding like some sort of snake oil
salesman, I think this book actually does fill some kind o--you know, it does
find its niche, you know, in America at present because people are really
curious about American art, much more so than they were when--I mean, Americans
are--much more so than when I first got here. And, you know, so much of the
American story is inscribed in its art that I think, you know, it may fit into
a kind of general interest in American self-consciousness.
LAMB: How many of this Time magazine special was printed?
Mr. HUGHES:: Five million. Five--half--half a million for the newsstands and
4--4 1/2 million for subscribers.
LAMB: And how many of the videos were...
Mr. HUGHES:: I have no idea. Actu--but--but that they can sort of do in a more
ad hoc way, you know. You don't have to do a while big edition of videos and
then hope you sell it. You can, you know, gear it more to the demand.
LAMB: We--we talked earlier in this discussion about depression. Have you
gotten over all that?
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: What got you out of it?
Mr. HUGHES:: Hard work, help.
LAMB: What would you recommend...
Mr. HUGHES:: The trust of my friends.
LAMB: What would you recommend to someone that--you know, what--what would you
Mr. HUGHES:: Don't be ashamed of it. Don't think you can bash your way through
it before it's time. But just remember, it's going to pass, which is the
hardest thing of all to remember. And above all, you know, try and--try and
get on, you know. I mean, if you've got some project, you know,
tr--you--you--you--if you--if you--see, I'm very lucky. I--you know, I own
my--I'm living as you do doing s--things that I really like doing. Most people
don't. But if you're lucky enough to--to do that, you know, use it.
LAMB: How would you avoid it, though? I mean...
Mr. HUGHES:: You can't.
LAMB: You cannot.
Mr. HUGHES:: You can't. It's like treading on a water moccasin. You don't
know it's there and suddenly wango, you know. And the--the--it hits very quick
and it's--of course, it's totally unfamiliar. This is the thing. You just
have no idea what's happening to you. You know, you--the--the--und--it's not
as though you wake up one morning and the entire world is changed. But, you
know, it--in my case, it changed over about a week. I kept thinking, `I can
shove this to the back of my mind, get rid of it,' but I couldn't and it just
LAMB: And how do you feel now that this project's over?
Mr. HUGHES:: I feel immensely relieved, hopeful and really looking forward to a
holiday. I'm going to go to Australia, back home to Sydney. I have a week's
promotion to do on the book there, and then I'm going up to a place called
Wilpo, which is on the Gulf of Carpentaria on the Arafura Sea. It's that big
bite out of the top of Australia. And it's just full of big fish and, you
know, crocodiles that you wouldn't want to meet. And I'm going to take my
godson, young Alexander, with me and also his father, who's never been there.
And we shall sit around the campfire, eat boiled mud crabs and sing sad songs
about the perfidy of women, you know, and the--the...
LAMB: How many children do you have?
Mr. HUGHES:: I have one son.
LAMB: How old is he?
Mr. HUGHES:: He's nearly 30.
LAMB: What's he do?
Mr. HUGHES:: He's a sculptor.
LAMB: And your wife? What's she do?
Mr. HUGHES:: My wife--my present wife, Victoria, yeah. Oh, she--she--she's a
garden designer. She does--I mean, she--basically, you know, she's what they
used to call a housewife. It's...
LAMB: Where'd you meet her?
Mr. HUGHES:: She picked me up after a lecture in 1977. I was doing a lecture
on Bob Rauschenberg in San Francisco. And after a certain amount of preamble
in the form of a note left at my hotel, this beautiful redhead appeared from
out of the audience and said, `OK, we're going to dinner.' And we've been
together, more or less, ever since. I was very, very lucky.
LAMB: Have you ever painted?
Mr. HUGHES:: Yes, but badly, but enough to know how difficult it is to make a
good picture. I used to--actually, to hold--you know, to have exhibitions and,
you know, sort o--and the sale--the--the sales from them would sustain my
toddling steps as a young writer. But when I went to live in Italy in '64,
the--I r--I re--I realized one day--I was living in Port Erkeno, which is just
about the only completely art-free town in all of Italy, because Alan Moorehead
was there, and the--I--I realized after one of the--you know, I had this little
motorcycle and I used to go everywhere, you know...
Mr. HUGHES:: No, it wasn't a Hon...
LAMB: There was some reference to a Honda somewhere.
Mr. HUGHES:: No--oh, oh, yeah. I used to ha--when I got to New York, I got
myself a Honda 750 and then a Harley. I used to have a Norton 750, but in
Italy I had a--a thing called a Moto Guzzi. And the--it was n--not a large
caliber bike. It was about a 400. But it got you around. And the--the--and
so I went to every provincial museum and crypt and church and God knows what,
you know, in that circle, up, you know, from northern Natzia, which is north of
Rome, where I was, up to Florence and Siena and the--the--and over to--over to
At the end of two and a half years of that, I--although, you know, I'd never
studied art history, I had overcome my initial fears of presenting the work to
somebody--to people who had. I realized that I'd seen an awful lot of stuff,
you know, not in slides either. See, I'm very, very--I'm a very strong
believer in the relation of works of art to their environment. It makes a huge
difference if, say, you're looking at a--you know, the terrace landscape in the
back of a 15th century Italian crucifixion, say a Piero della Francesca, and
the--the--and then you walk outside and there is that sa--essentially that same
terrace landscape in the hills. And the--the--it gives the thing a location.
It gives the thing a cultural context. There are all sorts of, you know, sort
of ramifications of that. Italy taught me that.
LAMB: How--how much formal education have you had?
Mr. HUGHES:: Quite a lot, but I have no university degrees. The--great things
were predicted for me when I--when I went to university, but the idea was, you
see, that I was going to be a lawyer, like everybody el--like every other male
in the--in the family. And so it was thought beneficial that I should do an
arts-law course combination. You know, BA, followed by law, so that I wouldn't
be a complete little barbarian.
And I--I'd--I'd just got out of this Jesuit boarding school in which I had been
immured boiling with infantile testosterone for something like five years and,
of course, pop, out you come and you don't think of anything but girls and pubs
and, you know, university journalism. And I succeeded in failing first year
outs, which was a--a course that a reasonably intelligent amoeba--even in
Australia, an amoeba could have passed.
And the--the--so panic and confusion. And they--they--`Wha--what are we going
to do with the delinquent young Robert?' And so at this point I rather
defiantly said, `Oh, I want to go away to Paris. I want to smoke Goldwells and
wear a beret and paint and look at naked women.' And they--well, like hell
I--they were going to let me do that, so, you know, I ended up as a sort of
compromised study in architecture.
But I never completed that degree in architecture, you see, because I--I got
within a year of it, but then somebody--well, actually, it was Allen Lane, the
founder of Penguin Books, who was out in Australia. He got me to--he was
interested in Australian art and collected it a bit and he--he saw that there
was no book on the subject--you know, there was no general book on the subject.
And so anyway, I--he commissioned me to write one and, goddamn it, that thing's
still in print. It came out in 1966.
LAMB: What does it feel like--it--it--I've got all these review here--just the
headline here, Robert Boynton in The--The New Yorker, The Lives of Robert
Hughes, `He's the world's most famous art critic, the potential of Vaclav Havel
of Down Under and...'
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, my God.
LAMB: `...and a man ready to trace his own gunpowder trails.' And then you've
got Peter Plagens who wrote in--in Newsweek, now that's your competitor.
Mr. HUGHES:: Yes, that's right.
LAMB: Newsweek said, `Reigns over American art criticism.' And you know I could
sit here and read all these other reviews that--almost of them...
Mr. HUGHES:: These rather exaggerated encomiums. Look, I have to tell you--I
mean, I'm v--deeply grateful both to Boynton and to Peter and to--and to others
for saying these complimentary things, but it has to be pointed out that
being--I mean, being the world's most famous art critic, if that's what I am,
is rather like being the world's most famous beekeeper. I mean, it doesn't
guarantee a hell of a lot and it is largely because I write for Time, of
course. I mean, you know, the--the--the--Peter Plagens writes for Newsweek and
you have an automatic built-in circulation there.
But the--the--listen, I'd be a hypocrite if I said I didn't enjoy that kind of
stuff, but it has to take it with a good--you know, with a grain of salt. I
mean, if you go around, you know, thumping on the doors of restaurants that are
hard to get into and saying, `I want a table for six right now, I'm the world's
most famous art critic,' you become some intolerable beast.
LAMB: In the review, he says that you're an English-speaking Alexis de
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, my God. Well, that's ve--again, that's very nice of him and
I--the--the--you know, and I--I--I mean, what am I supposed to say, `Yes, I am
an English-speaking Alexis de Tocqueville,' or, `No, I am not an English'--I
mean, I'm--it's--it's tremendously flattering that there should be anybody
intelligent out there who would think so. But I do not believe that this book
has the same fundamental value as de Tocqueville's travels in America. I hope
it has some value, though.
LAMB: What is this?
Mr. HUGHES:: That is a work by Ed Keenhotz called "The Portable War Memorial."
Keenhotz, now alas dead, was a tremendously strong, vernacular, political
artist who--the--the--you know, took all of the dark side of American life as
his field. And it's a--yes, it's an anti-war satire and, you know, on the left
you can see the--the version of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima with
an Uncle Sam--Montgomery flag's Uncle Sam behind them.
But, you know, on the blackboard, which you can't read on this reproduction,
there are the names of something like 300 countries which had ceased to exist
because of war during the last 100 years. There are--three--300 states. And
then, you know, there's the y--your average Joe American couple, you know, the
Pentagon business going on as usual, having a--having a hot dog with this
killer of a real dog beside them. And, you know, what it's about is war as
business as usual.
LAMB: What is this?
Mr. HUGHES:: That is really horrific. It is called the--I--I think it's called
"The State Institution" or some name like that. Keenhotz worked for awhile as
an attendant in a California madhouse and he was horrified by the way that the
patients were treated. We're talking about 1960 now. And so here are these
two dreadful, emaciated figures whose heads--you can't see this in the
repro--have been replaced by goldfish bowls in which these live fish are
swimming erratically. They're on a double cot, as you can see, and one is
dreaming the misery of the other, you know. There's no escape from this
circle. There's this neon thought balloon around the figure on the--in the top
bunk. It's a picture of an eternal night--I mean, it's an image of an eternal
nightmare and it's constructed, of course. It's not a painting, you know.
LAMB: The--the farther you get in your book, the more unusual the art is in the
Mr. HUGHES:: Well, yes, because the further you get into American history, the
more unusual the art becomes.
LAMB: What's--what's caused that?
Mr. HUGHES:: Modernism and the--the--you know, just more--you know, an opening
up of different modes of technique and--and above all, I would say, you know,
the--the entry of--of a more experimental and critical frame of mind among
American artists. I mean, really, the--you know, the--the--the--the idea that
art should have functions other than official ones, really, only came to
America at about the same time as it did to the rest of the world. That is to
say, you know, sort of after the 20th century began.
LAMB: Whatever happened to art like this?
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, whateve--but people still love it. Norman Rockwell, yeah,
absolutely, the Christmas turkey. I mean, you--Thanksgiving turkey--What am I
saying? I put that in there for obvious reasons. You know, Rockwell had an
enormous effect upon the American imagination. He had this great consoling,
you know, binding kind of effect. Nobody knows what his paintings look like in
the sense that nobody has ever seen, practically speaking, a Norman Rockwell in
the original. They were all designed for reproduction. But he--he was one of
the most powerful disseminators of a certain kind of American dream--his
imagination was quite authentic--that there's ever been in this country.
I take him--I mean, I don't--y--you know, I don't think he's Rembrandt, I don't
think he's Jackson Pollock, but I--you know, the--the tendency to write off
Rockwell, I think, is--particularly if you're looking at American society
through its art, which is what this book tries to do, you know, you can't write
LAMB: On more than one occasion, we found this...
Mr. HUGHES:: Oh, that's a wonderful thing.
LAMB: ...particular thing in--in a lot of books that people have written,
including a book written about Eleanor Roosevelt, who used to go out there and
sit and look at this.
Mr. HUGHES:: Yeah. That is--that is St. Gordons statue. It's his
commemorative figure, which has no name, no title. It was a funerary
commission in which Adams commemorated his wife, Clover, who
committed suicide by...
LAMB: Henry Adams?
Mr. HUGHES:: Henry Adams.
Mr. HUGHES:: And he got St. Gordons, who was, by a country mile, the best
American sculptor of the 19th century to do it. I mean, I think there have
been two unquestionably great--well, I mean, there have been a lot of very good
ones, but two unquestionably great American sculptors and one is in the 19th
century and that's St. Gordons and the other one is in the 20th century and
that's David Smith. And St. Gordons was a tre--a tremendously interesting
LAMB: By the way, what's next?
Mr. HUGHES:: Well, I--I've got to alter my commitment to write a book on Goya.
If that sounds a bit unenthusiastic, it's not meant to be. It's just it's
going to take me a long time to do it. So I think what I'm going to do--I'm
not going to do any more television for a while. I've been asked to do a
series about Australia for the year 2000, but I don't think I'm going to do it.
It's too bloody disruptive. You have no home life left. You have no private
And--I don't know. I think perhaps as a result of the depression, the
shrinkage, the treatment and all of the rest of it and a lot of introspection
that went on, I might actually delve back a bit. I think I might write a
memoir about growing up Catholic in Australia. The--except that, you know, it
would be quite unlike most memoirs of--of childhood that are--that are written
these days in that nothing nasty will happen in the woodshed. There will be no
predatory uncle groping me behind the--the--the sacristy. None of that
happened. I was a fairly happy kid.
LAMB: If you were an American and could vote in this country, which way would
you go? And the reason I ask that, by the way, is because you're characterized
in a lot of these reviews as hitting the right and the left.
Mr. HUGHES:: That's right. Well, to tell you the truth, I don't--you know,
I--I--I should rather feel a plague on both your parties at the moment.
If--see, I--I have a intense dislike of Clinton--his image manipulation, his
hypocrisy, his--you--you know, the--you know, that awful sort of brand of
pseudotherapeutics that he's always dragging out and waving in the air like a
But on the other hand, you know, the--I mean, I'd vote for the party of--of Abe
Lincoln, but I would not vote for the party of Newt Gingrich or Dick Armey or
any of these guys. So in a way, I m--I mean, I guess, probably, I would tip
towards the Democrats, but the--the--but only--only with reluctance.
LAMB: What?--do you think the future of American art is based on the...
Mr. HUGHES:: I don't know, but I hope I'm around to see it. The--see,
this--you know, I'm not a--an absolute declinist. I di--the--the--you know, I
mean, I think--I think we're going through a bit of a rough patch at the
be--you know, sl--sl--slack water, so to speak, at the moment. And there
aren't any strong cultural tides running, you know, at least in the domain of
the visual arts.
I mean, one thing is for sure. It's going to k--you know, people are going to
keep on making art in America. They're going to keep on making images that
explain themselves to the--to--to--to--to one another and to themselves. You
know, there is always going to be that desire in America because it's
imp--it--it just seems to be implanted in, you know, humankind. But what form
it will take, I really don't know.
LAMB: Why did you pick this for the cover?
Mr. HUGHES:: Because it tells you a bit of a story. It tells you two of the
themes of the--one of the major themes of the book, which is landsc--you know,
the effect of landscape upon American imagination, you know, this heroic idea
of landscape, there it is, this great valley out in Albuquerque with lightning
striking at the poles that have been put up by the artist Walter De Maria. So
it's both old and new. Yeah, there it is. The--it seemed better than running
a--you know, a detail of a 19th century landscape. It tells that part of the
story very concisely. And also, I think it's a rather marvelous work of art,
that thing of De Maria's. And it's dramatic and it stands--and it stands out
well in the stores.
LAMB: And our time is up. And here's the cover of the book. It's called
"American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America." And our guest has been
Robert Hughes. Thank you very much.
Mr. HUGHES:: Thank you very much.
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