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Bernard Smith and Robert Hughes: A Critical Dialogue

Berryman, Jim (2021) Bernard Smith and Robert Hughes: A Critical Dialogue. Journal of Art Historiography (25). ISSN 2042-4752

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URL of Published Version: https://arthistoriography.wordpress.com/25-dec21/

Identification Number/DOI: https://doi.org/10.48352/uobxjah.00003472


This paper explores the origins and development of the public dialogue between Bernard Smith (1916-2011) and Robert Hughes (1938-2012). Smith and Hughes were giants of Australian art history of the twentieth century. Both, however, followed very different career paths: Smith’s readership was primarily academic and local, while Hughes’s audience was popular and international. And yet, despite their differences, a considerable amount of exchange existed between the two. After first locking horns in 1961, Smith and Hughes engaged in public debate intermittently for more than four decades. This dialogue, which transpired in the pages of published sources, especially their reviews and books, was characterised by acrimony and bitterness, as well as moments of conciliation and mutual respect. When contesting issues of common interest, both writers played to their natural strengths. Smith was dominant in the field of art history, while Hughes had the upper hand in art criticism. Each, however, encroached upon the other’s area of expertise: Smith wrote art criticism and Hughes wrote art history. Conflict was greatest in areas where their respective spheres of authority overlapped. Although tensions receded after 1964, when Hughes left Australia, they did not end. Key topics of debate included abstract art and modernism; provincialism and internationalism; and most importantly the vexed issue of Australian cultural isolation, which was defined in terms of Australian art and its relationship to European art history (or, as Smith termed it, ‘Renaissance tradition’).

Type of Work:Article
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
Department:Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
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This article is archived in ePapers for preservation purposes

Date:December 2021
Keywords:Bernard Smith (1916-2011), Robert Hughes (1938-2012), Australian art history, modernism, art criticism
Subjects:N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Copyright Status:Copyright for articles published in this journal is retained by the authors, with first publication rights granted to the journal. Authors may subsequently archive and publish the pdfs as produced by the journal. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings. Copyright restrictions apply to the use of any images contained within the articles. This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/
ID Code:3472
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