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August 16 2012

Charting the history of flight – in pictures

Doris Freigofas and Daniel Dolz take us through from Icarus to the jumbo jet as they chart the making of their fold-out history of aviation, High Times





Scent of a kitten: the 20 irrefutable theories of book cover design

Do you judge a book by its cover? Designers Jon Gray and Jamie Keenan shared their theories on attracting readers – from cute cats to alluring perfume – at the Edinburgh book festival

1. Face theory

Research suggests that human beings spend 48.6% of their lives decoding facial communication, so a big draw for a potential book buyer will be the familiarity of a face. The cover of Nick Hornby's Otherwise Pandemonium, for example, uses a cassette tape to create the image of a face.

2. Association theory

Human beings make a connection with a given stimulus that leads to how they respond to something they see. The image on the cover of Luca Turin's The Secret of Scent uses the familiar image of the Chanel No 5 perfume label to help the reader respond to the idea that the book is about scent.

3. Zen theory

This theory presents a challenge to the human mind that some will accept and some won't. A zen theory cover mainly involves text with few images, telling the reader little about the book other than the name of the author. This is often used for books from well-known authors, such as Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, who will attract readers with their name alone.

4. Type as image theory

This theory uses original or customised typefaces to create images and ideas. The type often becomes the image, such as on the cover for Steven Levy's The Perfect Thing.

5. Textual plasticity theory

The human mind reads words as a whole not individual letters. If a letter is missing, the brain will still understand the word. The design for James Gleick's Faster has all the vowels missing from the author's name and title on the cover, but is still readable.

6. Overdetermination theory

The image on a cover using Overdetermination theory suggests the beginning or snapshot of a narrative rather than an overall end result.

7. Ringfence theory

The difference between positive and negative space can determine what the reader sees. The Rubin vase is a good example, where some people see two faces and others see a vase. In this cover, the iPod headphones shape a womb and two lovers' faces.

8. Zoom theory

Zooming in can give a taster of a narrative without giving too much away, while zooming out creates a bigger picture, depending on what is required. The pen nib on the cover of Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado is an example of close zoom.


9. Encapsulation theory

Typeface and image combine to create one unified image for the reader. Unity is more attractive to humans, as making connections doesn't require as much effort. The cover of Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian has a picture of a tractor and the word "tractor".

10. Molecular theory

Layers of symbols that make up a whole, understandable theme define molecular theory. The cover of Karen Maitland's The Company of Liars uses skull symbols inside a silhouette of a dog to symbolise that this is "a novel of the plague".

11. Unheimlich theory

This theory takes a familiar image or symbol and makes it strange or unsettling. One cover of Lolita uses the image of a girl's bedroom wall to represent a girl's legs and underwear.


12. Absent presence theory

A gap is left on the cover, a missing image or text, that implies something. By having this space, the reader is forced to fill the gap with their imagination in order to understand the meaning.

13. Ju Jitsu theory

The opponent, the cover, forces a view or conception upon the defender, the reader, such as the bloody, violent implications on the cover of Anthony McGowan's love story Stag Hunt.

14. Toy theory

A fixed image allows the reader to remain passive and distance themselves from a cover. A fluid image, like the one on William Boyd's Fascination requires the reader to actively explore the cover and become curious about the content.

15. Obfuscation theory

If something is hidden it suddenly becomes more interesting to the curious nature of the human mind. The cover of an edition of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day obscures the image that depicts the content with white lines and text.

16. Combination theory

Because a book is static, two ideas can be presented at once to create a doubly effective but meaningful image to the reader. Moses Isegawa's novel Abyssinian Chronicles is about modern Africa, and the cover uses old books to create the shape of the continent.

17. Navigation

The eye is deliberately led via an understandable pattern; left to right, bottom to top, to create an easily recognisable overall image. Hannah Holmes's Quirk depicts the brain through a mind map.

18. Turd theory

A single, unsightly object can be seen as repulsive. Multiply the image and use bright colours, and it can become attractive. Usually used in series design, the effects can be seen in a sequence of Georges Simenon books designed by Keenan.

19. Maximisation

Everything is huge and thrown on to the cover. Bigger images and text can catch a reader's eye in a sea of detailed designs. The cover for Zadie Smith's new book, NW, is a good example of maximisation.

20. Fluffy kitten theory

Nothing draws a reader to a book like a picture of a fluffy kitten.


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August 15 2012

Medieval mischief: monks bring light relief to Macclesfield

Religious books were 'illuminated' by monks, who filled the margins with cheeky images, and the Macclesfield psalter is a master of English illumination





August 13 2012

'Robert Hughes was brutally honest about art and himself,' writes Nicolas Kent

Generous, irreverent, politically incorrect, erudite, clear-sighted and very funny, with an irrepressible appetite for the good things in life, Robert Hughes was also sensitive, sometimes vulnerable and always brutally honest about everything, including himself.

Bob cheated death 13 years ago when he had a head-on collision on an isolated road in Western Australia. He had taken a day out from an arduous filming schedule to go fishing for tuna and was on his way to rejoin the crew when the accident happened. He was in hospital for six months. There is nothing quite like facing death in the land of your birth to prompt you to see the place clearly, he said at the opening of his documentary series about Australia, which he miraculously completed in time to air on BBC2 and PBS to mark the start of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Bob's subsequent difficulty in getting about on crutches, and his using a wheelchair, is increasingly evident in the six films we made together over the next 10 years, culminating in The Mona Lisa Curse (2009), in which Bob is virtually immobile throughout the film's 75 minutes.

Bob's opinions were always expressed with a muscular certainty, a disdain for anything fake, in words of clarity and power that will be relished by future generations. As much as Bob thrived in the visual medium of television to illuminate the visual medium of art, his skill was to remind us that great television is as much about words as it is about images. He was not a snob but he was an unapologetic elitist who believed in the value of discerning the rarely achieved good art from the more freely available bad art, and he was fearless in denouncing the mediocre and the politically correct (which Bob invariably saw as one and the same) irrespective of the critical consensus, popular opinion or the hype of the art market.

Three memories spring to mind:

Scene 1: Bob loves food. He loves to eat it and he loves to cook it. Here he is in the very small kitchen of a friend's house in Sydney making chilli stone-crab for a large party. This is cooking as war. Bob is assaulting the crab with violent rapture. The kitchen is covered in detritus. It's a scene from a Jacobean tragedy. After Bob has finished cooking, and before he can join his guests for dinner, he excuses himself. He has to take a shower and hose himself down.

Scene 2: Bob is in his minimalist loft apartment in Soho, New York, surrounded by the book-crammed shelves he lovingly crafted himself. It is 11 September 2001, and we are making a film about Bob's great hero, Goya, to be shown on the launch night of BBC4. Through the picture windows of Bob's apartment we have a cinematic view of the Twin Towers as they erupt in flame and then collapse. Bob's TV is on the blink so, perhaps fortunately, we are spared commentary; we just watch the tragedy unfold mute. Bob response is refracted through art; he is reminded of the caption to Goya's shockingly brutal image from his classic series of prints, The Disasters of War: "I saw this."

Scene 3: Bob is in hospital after the car crash. He has more pins holding him together than I can count. He is telling the story of his accident, at least the bits he remembers. It turns out that Dan, the friend who took Bob tuna fishing, hears about the crash and keeps Bob company while they wait for the emergency services. The car has been crushed beyond recognition and Bob is pinned inside. He can see liquid dripping from the engine on to the tarmac. He asks Dan to check it out and Dan breaks the bad news to Bob that the liquid is gasoline.

Bob knows that Dan used to be a commando and asks him if he is carrying a gun. Dan says he never leaves home without it. Bob says he has a favour to ask: if the gasoline ignites, he wants Dan to shoot him. Bob doesn't want to die, but if he has to die he does not want to burn to death. Dan promises Bob he will do as he asks. Before it comes to that, the helicopter ambulance arrives. As Bob is strapped into the stretcher, Dan says, "Bob, you're the bravest man I ever met." Bob replies, "Come off it, Dan. That's bullshit." Dan reconsiders. "OK, Bob. You're the bravest art critic I ever met."

Bob felt that was not a bad epitaph and it still rings true.


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Tags: Books

August 12 2012

London 2012: Team arts go for gold

David Hockney fumed at the opening, Gillian Wearing captured Bolt, and Susan Philipsz mashed up some anthems . . . but what else happened when we challenged artists to respond to the Games?

Opening ceremony

David Hockney
The painter and committed smoker was inspired by a detail in Danny Boyle's spectacular that passed others by: Isambard Kingdom Brunel's unlit cigar – and this in spite of belching chimneys and live soldering. Hockney's iPad painting appeared in last week's g2, and read: "I noticed there was a lot of smoke from fireworks but none from Brunel's cigar. Does this mean that the BBC sees art as directive (unlit) and not reflective (lit)? Debate." People did (look up the comments).

Day three

Olafur Eliasson
The artist who put an artificial sun into Tate Modern's Turbine Hall used one of his own-design solar lamps to pay tribute to the Olympians' speed and dynamism. He wrote: "For me, the Games are about being together, about sharing attention and ideals. They are about feeling connected to people from all over the world, physical engagement and energy. Light generates action: it is as physical as anything you will see in the Olympics."

Day four

Mark Titchner
The Turner 2006 nominee picked up on the anxious mood of the early days, before the medal rush. One layer of text in his artwork quotes from the tabloid press ("Historic bronze for our brilliant gymnasts, but please can we have just one gold. Any sport"); the other layer pays tribute to Team GB's eventing horses: Lionheart, Opposition Buzz, High Kingdom, Miners Frolic, Imperial Cavalier ("Do they get medals, too?").

Day five

Richard Wentworth
The sculptor, curator and lecturer took a break from a camping trip (location undisclosed) to watch Bradley Wiggins take gold in the time trial. He wrote: "The 30-year habit of summer camping sets me apart from world events. Catching sight of televisions in bars is the kind of glimpsing I enjoy – images, languages and events all arbitrarily associated with time and displacement. The latch on this door will remind me of the warm domestic afternoon in early August 2012 when our friends invited us to watch London as a site of Olympic spectacle. An odd thing if you know the city well, but much stranger if you are camping a long way away."

Day six


Michael Rosen
The poet and former children's laureate performed his own new poem about gold medal anxiety – still an issue even at this stage, with Team GB behind France. "I love sport," Rosen said, "but become uneasy when it is overly shackled to nation, corporate grabbing and only-first-will-do-ism. All three and I'm nearly out of here. Imagine there's no countries, it's easy if you try." Here's an extract from his Olympic poem:

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis
Day 1 day 2 day 3 day 4
you was down I was on the floor
feeling such a failure
would I finish below Australia?
Then from the heavens came day 5
I discovered the reasons I am alive
better than when I met Christopher Biggins
Glover, Stanning and Bradley Wiggins.

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis

Then before I came to grief
came the moment of pure relief
as the afternoon began to unfold
I ... won ... double gold.
And yet I had cause to fret
there were silvers for me to regret
I gave the medal table a glance:
Horrors! ... Above Brand GB ... France!
• Read the poem in full

Day nine

Gillian Wearing
The Turner prize 2007 winner was in the Olympic stadium on Sunday 5 August as Usain Bolt crossed the 100m finish line, and took this image (right). She said: "I got into track and field through watching Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett's memorable races against each other at the Moscow 1980 Olympics. After that, I have never missed the opportunity to be a couch Olympics supporter. I was in row 48 of the stadium, quite high up, but just above the finishing line. This image is just after the 100m final. Both Chris Gatlin and Usain Bolt have cameras trained on them. In the corner of the image, Yohan Blake, the silver medal winner, congratulates Gatlin on his bronze."

Day 11

Jackie Kay
The poet and novelist read three new poems, a kind of writer's triathlon, inspired by the Brownlee brothers' medal success in that event, as well as Team GB performances in javelin and cycling. She wrote: "I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish schoolgirl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that, too. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!" Here's the final leg of her poem, Point of View:

Farewell Victoria Pendleton
It was a day of drama in the velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.
Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – your armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on the throne.
Read the poem in full

Day 13

Cornelia Parker
The sculptor and installation artist took this image of her own living room, explaining: "I haven't been able to focus on art since the Olympics started, not quite managing to peel my eyes away from the TV. After too many days of viewing, gorged with patriotism and pride, I starting to behave oddly … too much information perhaps, too much success. Now I find myself draping my daughter's union flag over the TV in a feeble attempt to blot it out – but in the process I manage to cause a minor marital rift as my enraged husband misses a crucial bit of action."

Day 14

Wolfgang Tillmans
The artist and photographer, newly returned to London from Berlin, took this photograph of an Olympic traffic lane in east London. The lanes are now suspended but will come back into force for the start of the Paralympics.


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August 11 2012

London: Portrait of a City by Reuel Golden – review

Charting urban change from the Victorian era to the modern day, this is a celebration of London's people, spirit and style

As a pictorial history of London, this handsomely produced volume is unrivalled. One of Taschen's bigger-is-better coffee-table books, it is arranged into five chronological sections, celebrating – and occasionally lamenting – urban change in London from Victorian times to now. It tells a powerful and vibrant story, zeroing in on the pubs, docks, alleys, construction sites, crowded streets, markets and shops – places where people either meet or cross paths as strangers – that give shape to daily life.

The book draws richly on urban still photography and decades of the city's photojournalism to illustrate its major themes and trends. The best pictures, aesthetically and historically, vividly reveal the city's slums. London is often depicted as crowded, intimidating, dirty and anonymous; murky images of its dank fogs – one of which claimed 4,000 lives in 1952, mainly as a result of respiratory diseases – reveal their density and gloom. Other pictures – men walking on a frozen Thames in 1894, a homeless shelter in 1901, troops at Euston on their way to the Somme – all retain a human individuality, revealing the stoicism and camaraderie of the inhabitants and capturing the city's indomitable spirit, its landmarks and its style.

Collated by Reuel Golden, former editor of the British Journal of Photography, London features work from David Bailey, Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Terence Donovan and Roger Fenton, among others, alongside a well-crafted and informative text and references from key films, books and records. Many pictures have not been used before, so there's a constant feeling of revelation, and it's fascinating to see the images presented in such an indulgent and uncrowded manner.


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August 09 2012

Four short links: 9 August 2012

  1. Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy (Amazon) — soon-to-be-released book by Bill Janeway, of Warburg-Pincus (and the O’Reilly board). People raved about his session at scifoo. I’m bummed I missed it, but I’ll console myself with his book.
  2. Cell Image Librarya freely accessible, easy-to-search, public repository of reviewed and annotated images, videos, and animations of cells from a variety of organisms, showcasing cell architecture, intracellular functionalities, and both normal and abnormal processes. The purpose of this database is to advance research, education, and training, with the ultimate goal of improving human health. And an excellent source of desktop images.
  3. Smartphone EEG Scanner — unusually, there’s no Kickstarter project for an iPhone version. (Designs and software are open source)
  4. Feynman — excellent graphic novel bio of Feynman, covering the science as well as the personality. Easy to read and very enjoyable.

Guardian Artangel Books podcast: Alain Mabanckou in A Room for London

A Room for London is a small living space in the shape of the Roi des Belges - the boat in Joseph Conrad's novella The Heart of Darkness, which has been moored on the top of the South Bank as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

For four days every month, as part of a year-long project by Artangel, a writer takes up residence, tasked only with writing an essay on the theme of London, rivers and/or Conrad. Join the seventh resident, Alain Mabanckou – award-winning novelist and professor of literature at UCLA – as he meditates on the bloody colonial history of Congo-Brazzaville, where he was born and Conrad's novel is set.





August 08 2012

Olympics in art: Jackie Kay writes her own armchair triathlon

Scottish poet Jackie Kay draws inspiration from Team GB's highs and lows in the triathlon, javelin and cycling to create three short poems that capture the spirit of the Games

Reading this on a mobile? Click here to view

Jackie Kay writes:

I was inspired by the triathlon today and the Brownlee brothers to try and write a triathlon myself. So I've written three short poems on three different sporting events today: the javelin, the triathlon itself and two events in the velodrome. I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish school girl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that too when I wrote the poem. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!

Point of View

i Goldie and the Three No Throws

I remember the fancy footwork of the discus or javelin,
That feeling as a spear left your body, as if it'd come from within
To be thrown into the future: the armchair of a middle-aged woman, watching the Olympics, twenty-four seven, shouting instructions!
(The only thing worse than an armchair politician is an armchair athlete, who no longer gets athlete's feet; or has to nurse her Achilles heel.)
Now, the woman from the Czech Republic, takes the chalk circle
An ancient Amazonian, her spear spikes the flaky air.
Then, out comes Goldie and the great bear of the crowd's roar.
But Goldie loses the qualification and her despair
Is as ancient as it is modern: hindsight is a golden thing
Goldie Sayers' words are wise – and the crowd adores.
Belief puts itself on the line; hope is not far behind.
My tears for her bravery, the biggest surprise.


ii The Brownlee Brothers

When the race begins, the swimmers together
Seem shaped like a great bird in the river,
The green-capped feathers all of a quiver.
The big bird cracks open; and from the bird's-eye view
Single swimmers emerge, brothers first – phew!
Alistair and Jonny Brownlee – sibling stars,
Shedding their wet suits first (the fourth element
Some say, of this transition) and mount the bikes fast.
The road to ambition is a road to perdition.
All transitions come with great risks.
The river, red tarmac and the Serpentine Road
Where one brother will get crowned with a gold
And the other brother a bronze, but hey
It is not the swimming, cycling, running
That is the biggest feat; it's the 15-second penalty
Possibility of defeat – that's the real deal.
Sport's biggest test is a character test
And sport reveals true pluck and nature
As the bird in the river unfurled the swimmers.

iii Farewell Victoria Pendleton

It was a day of drama in the Velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the Omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.

Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the Velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – you armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on throne.


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Jackie Kay creates her own armchair triathlon – video

Scottish poet Jackie Kay reads out three short poems she wrote after being inspired by Team GB's recent performances in the javelin, triathlon and cycling. She follows the highs and lows of Goldie Sayers, the Brownlee brothers and Victoria Pendleton





August 07 2012

Robert Hughes on art

He wrote about Goya, Rembrandt, surrealism and Damien Hirst. Here are some highlights from the late critic's writing for the Guardian

On Damien Hirst's shark, 2008

The publicity over the shark created the illusion that danger had somehow been confronted by Hirst, and come swimming into the gallery, gnashing its incisors. Having caught a few large sharks myself off Sydney, Montauk and elsewhere, and seen quite a few more over a lifetime of recreational fishing, I am underwhelmed by the blither and rubbish churned out by critics, publicists and other art-world denizens about Hirst's fish and the existential risks it allegedly symbolises.

One might as well get excited about seeing a dead halibut on a slab in Harrods food hall. Living sharks are among the most beautiful creatures in the world, but the idea that the American hedge fund broker Steve Cohen would pay an alleged $12m (£7.7m) for a third of a tonne of shark, far gone in decay, is so risible that it beggars the imagination. As for the implied danger, it is worth remembering that the number of people recorded as killed by sharks worldwide in 2007 was exactly one. By comparison, a housefly is a murderous beast. Maybe Hirst should pickle one, and throw in a magnifying glass or two.

On the 1988 theft of Lucian Freud's portrait of Francis Bacon

Freud rang to tell me. It was shocking news. I had never known a friend's painting to be stolen, particularly not a picture that I thought of as an unequivocal masterpiece: that smooth, pallid pear of a face like a hand-grenade on the point of detonation, those evasive-looking eyes under their blade-like lids, had long struck me as one of the key images of modernity.

"Well," I said to Freud, "at least there's someone out there who's really fanatical about your work." "Oh, d'you think so?" he replied. "You know, I'm not sure I agree. I don't think whoever it was took it because he liked me. Not a bit of it. He must have been crazy about Francis. That would justify the risk."

And as I chewed this over later, I came to think that Freud was quite possibly right. There was, after all, no way a thief could sell the little head. It was too well known, and so was its subject. I saw it in my mind's eye, hanging on a nail in some rented room in Berlin, with its thief adoring it. Would it ever reappear? In that moment, I realised that it would probably not. "Present whereabouts unknown", the captions in the art history books still say.

On early Van Gogh, 2006

Did ever an artist have a less promising start than Vincent van Gogh? People love to imagine that if only they had had the chance to see his early work, they would have recognised his talent, coddled it, saved him from neglect and suicide.

But if one thing seems apparent from the show that opened last week at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, it's that anyone could have been forgiven for looking at his early work and passing it by. Perhaps no artist who got as good as Vincent has ever started out so bad. Not just bad, but worthy bad, which is (if anything) worse. Even today, you'd hardly want one as a present. Those dogged, I-share-your-suffering images of ground-down peasant women and Dutch cloggies grouped around the sacramental potato, done in glum, awkward homage to Jean-François Millet and English social-consciousness painters, all testify that sincerity, on its own, is not an artistic virtue.

And yet the amazing fact – and it has never ceased to be amazing – is that this earnest duffer pupated into one of the great visionaries of western art.

• These are edited extracts from articles written for the Guardian. Follow the links to read them in full


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Tags: Books

'Robert Hughes was Australia's Dante,' says his friend Peter Carey

Robert Hughes wasn't just a great art critic. He was one of the finest writers Australia has ever produced – the man who told his countrymen who they were. He also carved a mean leg of lamb

In London, he might be happy to seem the descendant of an Irish policeman, but in Sydney we all knew he had grown up in a fancy house in Cranbrook Road, Rose Bay. We knew his grandfather and great uncles were members of the state legislative council. His much older brother Tom had been a terrifying (to me at least) conservative attorney general.

That is to say, Bob Hughes was not some Irish pub brawler, and although he might be mistaken for Crocodile Dundee in Belgravia, in Sydney there was never a question: he was patrician.

We Australians understand how dangerous it is to be known as privileged, and Bob made every effort to correct our "misunderstanding". If he failed, it was because his background was clear in every public word he uttered. He sounded posh, not only in his speech, but in his refusal to hide his considerable learning. He was unashamedly elitist, and was happy to declare his preference for the company of the cultured to the ill-read.

That is not, for a second, to underestimate his huge roaring Australianness, his eye for bullshit, his colonial pleasure in announcing that the king had got no fucking clothes at all. Nor should anyone doubt the massive affection he felt for his country. When, in the tabloid aftermath of his car accident in 1999, Australia turned on him, it is hard to overestimate the anguish he suffered in private. Whatever he said publicly in retaliation should be understood as the product of a mental pain every bit the equal of that suffered by his mangled body. In that nightmare tangle of events and allegations, he sometimes spoke unwisely and was often reported with hysterical inaccuracy. Whatever the truth of that car accident, we owed him so much more.

For God's sake, this was the author of The Fatal Shore, his epic story of our country's founding. He was the man who had shown us who we were, or what darkness we had to confront in order to grow up. He had grasped the cruelty of our birth and shoved it in our faces. Here, in this vast masterpiece, was the hell we were born into, and he would be our Dante. We could trust not only his research, but also his courage and breadth and depth of learning. And we would be seduced by those sentences that made him – then, in 1987, and now today – one of the greatest writers our country has yet produced.

Bob was a complex man, confident and filled with doubt. He possessed a thrilling sort of energy. He was wilful, ambitious, needful of his friends, then not at all. He was as generous in his support of fellow writers as he was with his cellar (which word evokes a vision of Bob carving one of his bloody legs of lamb with the gusto of a sensualist).

It is to Australia's great shame that we cast out the author of The Fatal Shore. Now we have missed our last chance to tell him that we loved him. Perhaps we don't yet know how much that is.


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Tags: Books

Robert Hughes: the great art critic of our time

Rude, hilarious, eloquent, but never petty ... the Australian writer, who has died aged 74, made criticism look like literature

Robert Hughes, who has died aged 74, was simply the greatest art critic of our time and it will be a long while before we see his like again. He made criticism look like literature. He also made it look morally worthwhile. He lent a nobility to what can often seem a petty way to spend your life. Hughes could be savage, but he was never petty. There was purpose to his lightning bolts of condemnation.

That larger sense of purpose can best be seen in his two classic books on art, The Shock of the New and Nothing If Not Critical. The first is the book of his great BBC television series about the story of modern art. For Hughes, it is a tragic story. He believed he lived after the end of the great creative age of modernism. I remember, watching the television series as a teenager, how excitingly he described the Paris in the 1900s, when motor cars and the Eiffel Tower were young and Picasso was painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. But Hughes would not tolerate any glib pretensions that art in 1980 (when The Shock of the New aired) lived up to that original starburst of modern energy. For him, Andy Warhol was an emotionally thin artist bleached by celebrity, and Joseph Beuys ... Well, he didn't have much time for Beuys.

It was as if the BBC had commissioned the 18th-century satirist Jonathan Swift to make a documentary about modern life.

Hughes makes his anger with the depths that art has sunk to even clearer in the essays gathered in Nothing If Not Critical. For the best part of his career as a critic, he lived in New York. It was the decline he perceived there, from Robert Rauschenberg to Robert Mapplethorpe, that so disgusted him with the fall of modern art. This was a political and ethical judgment, as well as artistic. Art had become the plaything of the market, he believed. It was getting too expensive as it turned into the sport of 1980s investors. Artists like Jeff Koons and – he later added – Damien Hirst were barely real artists at all, but grotesque market manipulators.

If he was right, God help us all, for the conquest of art by money and the proliferation of celebrity artists that he condemned continues to multiply. The art world of today might be mistaken for an apocalyptic vision dredged from his darkest satirical imaginings.

The joy of reading Hughes is infectious and often hilarious. His sheer rudeness can be liberating. His piece on the death of the graffiti painter Jean-Michel Basquiat is brutally titled "Requiem for a Featherweight". Other essays in Nothing Is Not Critical call a named art dealer a "sleazeball" and take on the artist Julian Schnabel in a rhetorical standoff involving bullwhips, motorbikes, and, of course, Hughes's utterly damming judgment of Schnabel's work.

Hughes would doubtless see it as one more instance of the art world's absurdity that, while Schnabel was fawned on by curators when the fiery critic was mocking his vacuity, nowadays art fashion sees Schnabel as a silly old expressionist dauber. Schnabel has, however, built a second career in films.

In his final book Rome, this critic whose prose is so majestic and rolling writes about some of his literary heroes. They include the ancient Roman poets Virgil and Juvenal. These Latin authors were the models for the so-called "Augustan" writers of 18th-century Britain in whose style Hughes himself wrote. His power of scorn consciously evokes such works as Swift's Modest Proposal – he even once penned a poem about the art world modelled on Alexander Pope's Dunciad. How many writers of the late 20th century compare with Pope and Swift? Even if you do not agree with a word Hughes wrote or said, the eloquence of his voice makes him a modern classic. At his best, he was a finer writer and sharper polemicist than his friend Christopher Hitchens, a mightier wordsmith than most of today's leading novelists.

Hughes believed in modern art, whose story he told more eloquently than anyone else ever has. He was not some stick-in-the-mud. But he compared art in the 1900s with the art of today and observed that even our best do not deserve comparison with the pioneers of modernism. This is a truth that is hard to refute. The words of Robert Hughes have cost me a lot of sleep.


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Robert Hughes quotes: 20 of the best

Robert Hughes, the acclaimed art critic and writer, has died aged 74. Here are some of his best insights about the art world

Share your tributes to Hughes here

"The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize."

"The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive."

"One gets tired of the role critics are supposed to have in this culture: it's like being the piano player in a whorehouse; you don't have any control over the action going on upstairs."

Hughes on Caravaggio: "Popular in our time, unpopular in his. So runs the stereotype of rejected genius."

"So much of art – not all of it thank god, but a lot of it – has just become a kind of cruddy game for the self-aggrandisement of the rich and the ignorant, it is a kind of bad but useful business."

"A Gustave Courbet portrait of a trout has more death in it than Rubens could get in a whole Crucifixion."

"In art there is no progress, only fluctuations of intensity."

Hughes on Cezanne: "The idea that doubt can be heroic, if it is locked into a structure as grand as that of the paintings of Cezanne's old age, is one of the keys to our century. A touchstone of modernity itself."

"Landscape is to American painting what sex and psychoanalysis are to the American novel."

"What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants."

"I have never been against new art as such; some of it is good, much is crap, most is somewhere in between."

"There is virtue in virtuosity, especially today, when it protects us from the tedious spectacle of ineptitude."

"What does one prefer? An art that struggles to change the social contract, but fails? Or one that seeks to please and amuse, and succeeds?"

"An ideal museum show would be a mating of Brideshead Revisited with House & Garden, provoking intense and pleasurable nostalgia for a past that none of its audience has had."

"Drawing never dies, it holds on by the skin of its teeth, because the hunger it satisfies – the desire for an active, investigative, manually vivid relation with the things we see and yearn to know about – is apparently immortal."

"A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop."

"The auction room, as anyone knows, is an excellent medium for sustaining fictional price levels, because the public imagines that auction prices are necessarily real prices."

"Can it be that the artist who paints flowers starts at a disadvantage? Almost certainly. To many people botanical subjects seem not altogether serious ... a kind of pictorial relaxation, an easy matter compared to landscape or the human figure."

"Nothing they design ever gets in the way of a work of art."

"What strip mining is to nature the art market has become to culture."


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Remembering Robert Hughes: What did he do for art?

The Australian critic Robert Hughes, who has died aged 74, shook up the art world with his uncompromising views. Share your thoughts about him here

Typing "Robert Hughes" into Twitter today returns a stream of condolence messages, quotes and praise for his books The Fatal Shore, Things I Didn't Know and The Shock of the New.

One tweet reads:

RIP Robert Hughes, scourge of phony Art & absurd demagoguery, & up there with Vidal & Hitchens as one of the great talkers of our times.

Another, sent by Simon Sellar, editor of Architectural Review Asia Pacific, says:

'One gets tired of the role critics are supposed to have in this culture. It's like being the piano player in a whorehouse.' Robert Hughes

While author Bret Easton Ellis tweeted this very intriguing line which begs to be expanded upon:

The only time I came in contact with Robert Hughes was in 1991 when he threatened to leave Random House if they published "American Psycho."

And in Hughes's obituary, Michael McNay wrote of his TV series The Shock of the New that it was "the best series of programmes about modern art yet made for television, low on theory, high on the kind of epigrammatic judgment that condenses deep truths."

What do you think Robert Hughes did for art criticism? Leave your tributes and comments in the thread below.


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Robert Hughes obituary

Australian writer whose TV series The Shock of the New took modern art to a mass audience

Robert Hughes, who has died aged 74 after a long illness, dismissed the notion of Crocodile Dundee as a representative Australian figure as "macho commedia dell'arte". All the same, Hughes as the Crocodile Dundee of art criticism is too good a parallel to reject: burly ocker from the outback, tinny in left hand, confronted by New York aesthete armed with stiletto, reaches with his right hand for his own massive bush knife, commenting slyly to his terrified assailant: "Now that's what I call a knife."

I described him in the Guardian once as writing the English of Shakespeare, Milton, Macaulay and Dame Edna Everage, and Hughes enjoyed the description. His prose was lithe, muscular and fast as a bunch of fives. He was incapable of writing the jargon of the art world, and consequently was treated by its mandarins with fear and loathing. Much he cared.

When he reached a mass audience for the first time in 1980 with his book and television series The Shock of the New, a history of modern art starting with the Eiffel Tower and graced with a title that still resounds in 100 later punning imitations, some of the BBC hierarchy greeted the proposal that Hughes should do the series with ill-favoured disdain. "Why a journalist?" they asked, remembering the urbanity of Lord Clark of Civilisation.

He gave them their answer with the best series of programmes about modern art yet made for television, low on theory, high on the the kind of epigrammatic judgment that condenses deep truths. Van Gogh, he said, "was the hinge on which 19th-century romanticism finally swung into 20th-century expressionism". Jackson Pollock "evoked that peculiarly American landscape experience, Whitman's 'vast Something', which was part of his natural heritage as a boy in Cody, Wyoming". And his description of the cubism of Picasso and Braque still stands as the most coherent 10-page summary in the literature.

Hughes was born in Sydney into a family of lawyers descended from an Irish policeman who had emigrated to Australia 100 years before Robert's birth. This was something of which Hughes was obscurely ashamed, because convicts were to be the heroes of his great work of Australian social history, The Fatal Shore (1987). His father died when he was 12, and he went to a Jesuit boarding school, St Ignatius college.

At Sydney University, where he went to study architecture, he was academically undistinguished. In his words, "I actually succeeded in failing first year arts, which any moderately intelligent amoeba could have passed."

All the same, he went on at the age of 28 to write a book on The Art of Australia (actually quite a long book). He himself later dismissed this as juvenilia. In truth, it is a useful source on those rare occasions when one needs to know about Australian art: so rare that this may be what motivated the popular historian Alan Moorehead to advise Hughes, who by now was making a bare living as a freelance architectural writer, to go to Europe.

Hughes took the advice, travelled around the great art capitals and the dodgier casinos, washed ashore in London, wrote art criticism for the Sunday Times which, with the proviso that art did not have the hold on the public imagination then that it does now, had something of the same effect as the young Kenneth Tynan erupting in the theatre columns of the Observer. In London he wrote a book called Heaven and Hell in Western Art (1969) that bombed. However, a Time magazine executive happened upon a copy, leafed through it, and promptly hired Hughes as art critic. In 1970 he moved to Manhattan and wrote for Time for the rest of the century.

The Shock of the New was a success around the world; the book was revised and republished in 1991. But, when Moorehead took Hughes under his wing and gave him shelter for a couple of months at his house in Porto Ercole, Tuscany, he also advised him that if he wanted to find a big subject for a book, he ought to consider convicts. Convicts?! thought Hughes. I didn't come all this way to think about convicts but about Piero della Francesca.

Nonetheless, the seed was planted. And when, in tackling a TV series on Australian art (called Landscape with Figures), Hughes could find no book to tell him about the experience of Australia's early settlers, in effect the cultural background, he was committed. "Our past was either denied or romanticised. I wrote The Fatal Shore to explain it to myself."

His private working title for the book was Kangaroots. In the public records office he found a privy council envelope marked Convict Ms, tied with faded ribbon still bright red in the knots and containing rat-nibbled papers bearing firsthand testimony of the experience of transportation under George III. The rest is history, 688 pages of it.

He followed this in 1990 with a study of Frank Auerbach, a painter whom he much admired, not least for his refusal to paint by the yard, either bespoke or made to measure. In a more dogged way, the British painter possessed the qualities that are most to be valued in Hughes himself and which are demonstrated in his collection of essays Nothing If Not Critical (1991).

Normally these collections of journalists' cuttings are not much of an advance on vanity publishing. Hughes's collection is a jewel box. Here he is on Watteau's "musicality": "it lives in pauses, silences between events. He was a connoisseur of the unplucked string, the immobility before the dance, the moment that falls between departure and nostalgia." And on a new manifestation of fashionable Manhattan, Hughes sets out his stall in the first sentence: "A taste for Alex Katz's work is easily acquired, but is it obligatory?"

Such certitude; but Hughes could also leave the door quietly ajar: "One may wonder if any painter in the last century put more meaning into his sense of colour than Gauguin; and while one is under the spell of this show, it seems quite certain that none except Van Gogh and Cézanne did."

His blithe clearsightedness always eschewed ideology, so that when he essayed into the broader cultural scene with his book excoriating American political correctness, Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (1993), he found himself ducking flak from left and right. And in 1995 a Time cover story on the assault on federal funding of the arts caused such outrage that Newt Gingrich, the house speaker, demanded and got a right of reply.

In 1999 Hughes had a near-fatal car crash in Western Australia, from which legal complications followed. The episode provided the starting point for his memoir Things I Didn't Know (2006).

The hallucinations he suffered after the accident led him to identify even more strongly with an artist taken up with grotesques and horrors, and in 2004 he produced a long-planned book, Goya. That was also the year of his BBC television sequel programme, The New Shock of the New, which regretted the growing power of money and celebrity in art. These themes recurred in a Channel 4 programme criticising Damien Hirst in 2008, and there was also plenty of scope for sharp observation in his last book, the historical survey Rome (2011).

Hughes is survived by his third wife, Doris Downes. His previous marriages ended in divorce, and in 2002 his son by his first wife took his own life.

• Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, art critic and historian, born 28 July 1938; died 6 August 2012


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Tags: Books

August 06 2012

The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen: in space and in a bookshop near you

A collection of 100 photographs will be fixed to the outside of the satellite EchoStar XVI when it takes off next month

Artist Trevor Paglen doesn't need to worry about his book, The Last Pictures, disappearing. The collection of 100 seminal photographs is due to be launched into space next month, where it is intended to remain in the Earth's orbit for billions of years.

Paglen spent four years interviewing scientists, anthropologists, philosophers and artists to make his selection of 100 images representing modern human history – "cave paintings from the 21st century", as he puts it. The book, The Last Pictures, is being published next month, and the images will also be etched on to a silicon disc encased in a gold-plated shell, which will be sent into space fixed to the outside of the communications satellite EchoStar XVI, when it takes off from Kazakhstan in September.

The book's co-publishers, Creative Time Books, called the project "both a message to the future and a poetic meditation on the legacy of our civilisation", and said the initiative was "rooted in the premise that these communications satellites will ultimately become the cultural and material ruins of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, far outlasting anything else humans have created".

The project was partially inspired by Carl Sagan's Golden Record, which went into space on board Voyager in the 1970s. As well as being a "cosmic message in a bottle", Paglen hopes it will "serve as a stark reminder of humanity's fragility and as a meditation on our ultimate fate".

"As human beings we're used to thinking about time in terms of hours or years. The Last Pictures asks: how we do think about a deeper time beyond the human?" said Joao Ribas, curator of MIT's List Visual Arts Centre, where Paglen completed a residency.

"Trevor has created an artwork that will likely be a part of our skyscape for billions of years – even longer than multi-celled organisms have been on Earth. It is a timescale so vast, it is difficult for us to comprehend," said Anne Pasternak, president of Creative Time, which is co-publishing the book of pictures with the University of California Press.

Paglen, who will be doing a series of talks about the project, is the author of non-fiction books including I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed By Me and Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World. His work has been shown around the world.


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Tags: Books

August 03 2012

Food as art: it looks almost too good to eat

Put away your recipe books. If you're wondering what to eat tonight, take inspiration from the world of design, art and literature instead

A few years ago, I wrote a cookery book called Cherry Cake And Ginger Beer that was inspired by the delicious food and treats enjoyed by the characters in children's classics. There were recipes for Mary Poppins' Raspberry Jam Cakes, Swallows and Amazons' Seed Cake, and Anne of Green Gables' Layer Cake. The idea emerged on a family holiday during a conversation with my then nine-year-old daughter, who at that point was engrossed in a marathon reading of Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outer series, which contains multiple references to macaroons and fry-ups. As I was also something of a greedy reader when young, together we decided to ransack the library to create a collection of recipes that could be made with and by children who wondered how the foodstuffs that are so avidly consumed on the page actually taste off the page.

As it now turns out, the book was an early example of a new phenomenon that sees adventurous cooks finding inspiration everywhere but in a recipe book. Today, there is a flourishing movement of food from art and food as art, with young food writers and stylists mining painting, design, literature, poetry and even Pantone charts for ideas, and using them to create strikingly original dishes and recipes.

Megan Fizell, an Australian based in Sydney, is an art historian who began her Feasting On Art blog in 2009 as a way of combining her interests in food and art. The results are rarely a direct recreation of the image, but more image-inspired. So Cézanne's Still Life With A Plate Of Cherries (1885-87) is the jumping-off point for a rich and fruity cherry and nectarine clafoutis, while a glorious vase of red poppies painted by Van Gogh is the basis for lemon and poppyseed bread.

The blog is richly creative and educational, with each post providing a very palatable side dish of art history. It's also refreshingly down to earth, as Fizell tells of the challenges, difficulties and mess. Unlike more professionally produced shoots and articles, there is no pretence of perfection.

While her savoury dishes are historically accurate and authentic, many will be wowed by the sweet things she creates, the fabulous geometric Mondrian pound cake, colourful, circular Hirst cineole cupcakes, and Warhol-esque tomato soup cake. A chicken is a chicken, but sponge, icing, chocolate and food colouring are the kitchen creator's media, just as clay, stone and paint are for the sculptor or painter. In fact, there is little in the artist's studio that cannot be substituted in the kitchen.

Take colour charts, for example. Emilie Griottes was inspired by the Pantone colour chart to create a range of Pantone tartes. Griottes is a French food stylist and, although she gives recipes, the tarts are really for looking at admiringly, wonderingly, while you ask yourself why you never thought a banana, marshmallow or apricot was an example of a Pantone reference rather than simply a food. Hers is a playful approach, the grown-up version of the food art created spontaneously by children who arrange alphabet spaghetti into words and draw faces with ketchup.

Equally creative, but more low-key and with a plain, contemporary, fashionably stark aesthetic is the series of Fictitious Dishes, by Dinah Fried, an American graphic designer and photographer who takes famous literary meals and turns them into artfully arranged pictures on her website. So Oliver Twist's bowl of gruel is suitably meagre and miserable, while the famous chapter on chowder in Moby Dick is distilled into a thick, pale, appetising clam chowder (for another take on this, as well as Jane Eyre cardamom seed buns and Toni Morrison tribute beloved blackberry tart, check out Cara Nicoletti's yummy-books.com).

Fried's photographs are shot from above, so that they look like paintings, with the food arrangement becoming a modern-day still life. Since there is no text to explain anything, the images have the reverse effect of sending you back to the classics to read and digest the food sections on the page. There are just five dishes in the series so far, but Fried is asking for suggestions, so perhaps we can look forward to her interpretation of Miss Havisham's wedding feast or the wonderful descriptions of food in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar or George Orwell's Down And Out In Paris And London.

Fried's approach is to stay close to the inspiration but to give it a cool, modern twist, whereas Eat This Poem, a blog written by young American poet, Nicole Gulotta, has a more reverent tone. It offers up recipes inspired by the spirit and mood of her chosen poems, mostly by contemporary US poets but with a few by writers such as Elizabeth Bishop and William Carlos Williams. Gulotta's dishes and writing are more tangential and esoteric. She is at her best, and the connections most interesting, when she is inspired by a poem that contains a direct reference to a foodstuff, such as when she selects Pablo Neruda's Ode To An Onion to create a rich and comforting onion galette with blue cheese and honey.

It's vibrant, energetic and very modish, but this style of arty food also raises the question of "gastro porn". Some certainly give out a look-but-don't-eat message, but the most successful combine fun and inventiveness to produce something you know will taste great and – you hope – be eaten with relish.

Taking art and literature as inspiration means no rules, and the freedom to express your culinary creativity as you please, according to your vision and the contents of your cupboards. It's a far cry from the hand-holding of our usual kitchen guides. If you don't know what to make tonight, start by putting away those recipe books.

• Jane Brocket's new book, Vintage Cakes, is published by Jacqui Small in September at £25. To pre-order a copy for £20, including free UK mainland p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop, or call 0330 333 6846.


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Olympics 2012 in art: Michael Rosen's gold medal anxiety

Continuing our series of artworks celebrating the Games, the poet and former children's laureate expresses his unease about our obsession with gold medals in his own inimitable way

Reading this on a mobile? Click here to view

Michael Rosen says of his poem:

I love sport but become uneasy when it is overly shackled to nation, corporate grabbing and only-first-will-do-ism. All three and I'm nearly out of here. Imagine there's no countries, it's easy if you try ...

Michael Rosen's Olympic poem

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis

Day 1 day 2 day 3 day 4
you was down I was on the floor
feeling such a failure
would I finish below Australia?
Then from the heavens came day 5
I discovered the reasons I am alive
better than when I met Christopher Biggins
Glover, Stanning and Bradley Wiggins.

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis

Look at me doctor can't you see
I'm loving the brand Team GB
I'm seeing the shape of the Big Society,
but me I've got gold medal anxiety.
The lightweight four had me worrying
I've got the feeling they just weren't hurrying
settling for silver's not good enough
Brand GB is made of finer stuff.

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis

Then before I came to grief
came the moment of pure relief
as the afternoon began to unfold
I ... won ... double gold.
And yet I had cause to fret
there were silvers for me to regret
I gave the medal table a glance:
Horrors! ... Above Brand GB ... France!

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis.


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Olympics 2012 in art: Michael Rosen gets gold medal anxiety – video

Continuing our series of exclusive artworks celebrating the Games, Michael Rosen expresses his unease about our Olympic obsession with gold medals in his own inimitable way





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