Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

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Today brought the sad news of the death of Robert Hughes, one of the most influential art critics and historians of the last few decades. Everyone who cares about art knows him as a long time critic for Time magazine. His television documentaries about contemporary art drew record numbers of viewers, impressed by his indomitable spirit and take-no-prisoners attitude. And let me add that he was also a great conversationalist. I had the pleasure of interviewing him a number of years ago when he was a guest on KCRW's Politics of Culture.

  Art critic and historian, Robert Hughes
Photo by Mario Ruiz/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Coincidentally, I spent the last two weeks reading his very last book, Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History, devoted to the history of Rome, which is anything but academic research. Instead it is Hughes' trademark passionate and very personal take on the blood and glory of this ancient city. With the same passion he wrote his seminal book, The Fatal Shore, a history of his homeland Australia and numerous other books on subjects as varied as Barcelona, Goya and Lucian Freud. We, art lovers, are indebted to this great man.

The Hearst Castle

Last weekend, I treated myself to a short trip to Hearst Castle in San Simeon. It has been almost two decades since I was last there and nothing has changed. Only this time, my dear friends, knowing that it was my birthday, arranged for me a special four-hour tour, including all the hidden nooks and crannies of this Shangri-La. I marveled at Mr. Hearst's insatiable appetite for art of all kinds. How lucky he was to find an amazing architect, Julia Morgan, who could realize his nearly impossible dreams.

Interior shot of the Hearst Castle

A few years ago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented a unique exhibition telling the story of Hearst the collector. There were many exceptional artworks on display that were once owned by him but later sold during times of personal financial trouble. Many of these works now reside in various museums around the world.

Interior shot of the Hearst Castle

Just imagine what a great conversation could have taken place between Robert Hughes and William Randolph Hearst, these two larger than life, opinionated and passionate people. But who knows, maybe that is exactly what they are doing right now, in Heaven, with time on their hands.

Interior shot of the Hearst Castle

Speaking of passionate opinions, last week's Art Talk, Should Art Schools Ignore the Art Market?, ignited a very robust response from the audience. Some listeners agreed with my assessment that most of the art exhibited at the Pacific Design Center by MFA graduates was "seriously undercooked." Others had the same harsh opinion about my critique.

San Simeon Beach

I encourage you to go to Art Talk's website and to read these responses. Some of them are merely one sentence, others are long and thoughtful pieces elaborating on the issues that I raised. So let's continue our debates about art and life. As the Latin saying goes, "Ars Longa, Vita Brevis," which I humbly translate as "life is short, but art is forever."

Banner image: Roman portraits at the Hearst Castle. All photos by Edward Goldman except image of Robert Hughes