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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Why Robert Hughes is Wrong, Once Again

The world's most self-assured criticEarlier this week, ArtsJournal linked to a piece in The Scotsman featuring the-most-important-art-critic-no-one-actually-reads spouting off about the current BBC poll to determine the greatest painting in the land. The voting is stupid, Robert Hughes says, and he’s not even going to discuss the subject.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. In one respect he’s right. A poll like this won’t determine a greatest painting as much as it will a favorite one. It’s a popularity contest, after all. Sound critical judgments are never reached through a nomination process and consensus vote.

But Australia’s most self-assured iconoclast is painfully short sighted when he dismisses the poll as nothing more than a “minor circulation-building exercise.” It’s building circulation not just for the BBC but for his industry as a whole. Hughes’s writing never sparks public discussion about and engagement with painting in the way that this media stunt has. And when in recent memory (apart from vile, repugnant crap like this) has a popular American news program provided such sustained coverage of visual arts topics?

Sure, the televised outcome will be one painting selected as Britain’s “greatest” or “favourite” or whatever. But the real outcome will be people thinking and talking about art who wouldn’t otherwise have done so. And that’s never a bad thing.

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