Inequality and the arts


15 March 2007, 19.17 CET

For of course I am completely an elitist, in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the esthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work, or a good carpenter chopping dovetails, or someone tying a Bimini hitch that won’t slip. I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones.

I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative. Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this.

I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has. I hate populist kitsch, no matter how much of the demos loves it. To me, it is a form of manufactured tyranny. Some Australians feel this is a confession of antidemocratic sin; but I am no democrat in the field of the arts, the only area—other than sports—in which human inequality can be displayed and celebrated without doing social harm.

—Robert Hughes, Things I Didn’t Know: A Memoir [reformatted for readability]

[via About Last Night]