Friday, September 26, 2008

Things You Might Like to Know

I'm currently reading Things I Didn't Know, a memoir by Robert Hughes. I first came across him when he made a TV series called Australia: Beyond the Fatal Shore. He came across as an educated, rather curmudgeonly type, perhaps a little irritated by the world in which he found himself; very perceptive, extremely dry, but always interesting. As a younger man he notoriously had fallen out of love with his home country of Australia and generally that makes for a bad documentary but this wasn't, and I like Australia so it wasn't that he was just confirming any previously held views I might have. Being very nearly killed in a massive car crash in Western Australia shortly after starting to make the series and then vindictively prosecuted by a malicious judicial service certainly wouldn't have encouraged him to mellow his views.

This lead me to find his book The Fatal Shore which is a book I've read probably three times now. It's pretty much agreed to be one, if not the, definitive book on the convict settlement of Australia. If that sounds like a bleak or dry subject, then I encourage you to nip down to your local bookstore, pick up a copy and read the first few paragraphs of any chapter and you'll walk out of the shop with it. It's visceral, gripping, and immaculately researched and written.

Strangely, for me anyway, is that what he's really known for is being an art critic. Now I can mooch around a gallery if the mood takes me but I'm certainly no follower of the art scene, nor could I name another art critic* and so the three pieces of work I've encountered of his are unrelated to what he's best known for.

Anyway, it was with particular pleasure that I stumbled across an opinion piece by him this week discussing the prices gained at auction for some works by the British shock/schlock artist Damien Hirst. He pretty much nails what the average person I suspect tends to think of modern art. Robert Hughes is considered old school in art criticism but I would guess it still hits home in the art community where an outsider's opinion might have been more easily dismissed. I particularly liked his comment about Charles Saatchi "...that untiring patron of the briefly new."

* I just thought of one - Brian Sewell.


sabrina said...

Have u ever read Bill Bryson's Down Under? It is a 'travel' book but sooo much more interesting than the normal travel books out there

After reading it, i totally fell in love with australia and can't wait to journey thru the outback.

A hilarious read!

King of Scurf said...

Hi Saby: Yes, I've read pretty much all of the Bill Bryson books. I've even read his mini-dictionary called Troublesome Words which is about commonly made mistakes in English usage.

I had a great time in Australia back in the 90s. You should go there if/when you get a chance.