Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists by Robert Hughes

By Robert Hughes

The main debatable artwork critic in America--author of the bestselling The deadly Shore and The surprise of the New--looks with love and loathing, wit and authority, at paintings and artists from the earlier to the current. Hughes inspires and defines the essences, works and worlds of a variety of artists.

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Maybe they were right. But this is perhaps to give too much automatic credence to the idea that pop music depicts history almost without trying—which is precisely what is in question. To leap all the way into the affective world of our own moment, of course, might require something else: electronic sounds. To reproduce a new universe, or to spur a desire to carve out a life in its midst, a band might need a limited quantity of beeps, repetitions, sampled loops, drum machines, noises, and beats.

Barrett and his band used far-out, fantastic electronics to do just that. Under Waters, as Macan explains, Floyd’s radical musical explorations of alienation gave way to lyrical indictments of education, capitalism and other human institutions. With aggressive nuclear powers to the east and west eyeing each other suspiciously through the 1970s and 1980s, Waters was less interested in conjuring psychedelic, transformative possibilities than in directly criticizing the oppressive, limiting realities he observed around him.

The Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union were gone, the Balkan nations felt liberated, and many hoped that cold-war fears and insecurities would be a merely sad chapter in modern history. But new threats and demons emerged (such as war and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and Africa, climate change, persistent disease and poverty, and new extremes in corporate greed, Enronstyle). What made the post-cold-war world seem especially sinister, however, was the continued growth of a new kind of technology—information technology—that made Moog synthesizers seem quaint and harmless.

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