Robert Hughes: 'We are losing the skills on which true art is built'

From the address by the art critic to the Annual Dinner of the Royal Academy of Arts, in London
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The Independent Online

An institution like the Royal Academy, precisely because it is not commercial, can be a powerful counterweight to the degrading market hysteria we have seen too much of recently.Part of the Academy's mission was to teach. It still should be.

In that regard, the Academy has to be exemplary: a place that upholds the primacy of difficult and demanding skills that leak from a culture and are lost unless they are incessantly taught to those who want to have them.

In the 45 years that I've been writing criticism there has been a tragic depreciation in the traditional skills of painting and drawing, the nuts and bolts of the profession. In part it has been caused by the assumption that photography and its cognate media - film and TV - tell the most truth about the visual. It's not true.

The camera, if it's lucky, may tell a different truth to drawing - but not a truer one. Drawing brings us into a deeper and more fully experienced relation to the object. A good drawing says: not so fast, buster. We have had a gutful of fast art and fast food. What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn't merely sensational, that doesn't get its message across in 10 seconds, that isn't falsely iconic, that hooks on to something deep-running in our natures.

In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media. For no spiritually authentic art can beat mass media at their own game: that, we have to admit and take for granted, and move on.

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