Australian art critic Robert Hughes has died today in New York, aged 74, from a long battle with an illness. I was first introduced to Hughes’ work when I began studying Postmodernism at university, reading his work Shock of the New (1980), based on the BBC Time-Life television series of the same name. The book looks at the relationship between art, technology and Modernism, including insights into the various art movements including Pop Art, the Avant-Guard and Impressionism. In the book, Hughes writes, “ [Picasso’s] Guernica was the last great history-painting. It was also the last modern painting of major importance that took subjects from politics with the intention of changing the way large numbers of people felt about power… the idea that an artist, by making a painting or sculpture, could insert images into the stream of public speech and thus change political discourse has gone, probably for good (108).”
While these discussions of art (along with its place within the theory of postmodernism) have often been criticised of being Eurocentric, it is nonetheless an interesting take on the political and social impacts of twentieth century art that is lacking in contemporary society. Hughes’ insights and observations, particularly those expressed in the chapter The Mechanical Paradise (“Despite its apparent precision, perspective is a generalisation about experience. It schematizes, but does not really represent the way that we see”(17)), while being overtly postmodern are nevertheless apt in the impact of technology on art.