Robert Hughes was a character. Like him or not, he got your attention when he spoke, and he had a lot to say. What was the big deal?
Simple. Modern art spat on tradition. You might go farther and even say that modernists pretended that tradition didn’t exist. That to look forward, one had to stop looking back. But there is a lot to look back on (as Sir Kenneth Clark demonstrated). And now we can also look back on the reasons why modern art turned its back on all that. Hughes took a close look at that in his great book, The Shock of the New. It was made into a TV series and you can catch a glimpse of it here.
Hughes affirmed the value of the “moral imagination”. And he asked that art address “what is worth remembering.” Somewhat like Schiama has done more recently in his treatment of Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Bernini, Turner, Picasso, and Rothko. But back to Hughes. He said
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.
Notice how Hughes has mashed together “fast food” (something that is universally held in low esteem) and something called “fast art”. “Fast art” is “modern art”. Unrefined. Perhaps even unhealthy. You get the idea. It is a clever bit of writing that appeals to a broad audience, not just snobby art critics. And that gives us a glimpse of why Hughes was so popular in his day.