08/10/2012 04:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis


Monday 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 knew 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.

robert hughes

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."

Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.

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