Robert Hughes: The black sheep from Down Under

A memorable 60 Minutes interview with "irreverent curmudgeon" Robert Hughes, the famed art critic who died this week

In this week's obituaries, Robert Hughes was remembered as one of the most influential, eloquent art critics in the world. But after watching Steve Kroft's memorable 1997 interview with him, it's reasonable to think Hughes himself would have scoffed at all the lofty praise.

Here's Hughes' exchange with Kroft from the 60 Minutes archive:

STEVE KROFT: You don't have a university degree.

ROBERT HUGHES: No, none that I earned, anyway.

KROFT: You tried painting and you quit.

HUGHES: Yeah.

KROFT: You started out as an architecture student...

HUGHES: That's right. And quit....

KROFT: Why is Robert Hughes qualified to be an art critic?

HUGHES: I thought you'd be coming to that. The qualifications for an art critic are essentially the same as the qualifications for a writer.

KROFT: Which means you need a pencil.

HUGHES: Which means you need a pencil.

Being an influential art critic, Hughes said, didn't mean "a hell of a lot." He told Kroft, "It's rather like saying that somebody's the most influential beekeeper in the world."

During their lively interview, Kroft and Hughes dissected all manner of topics, ranging from fly-fishing to Princess Diana's death to Hughes' disastrous stint as a news anchor-- and there was no shortage of jokes along the way.

"Robert Hughes was the brightest, funniest person I have ever interviewed for 60 Minutes," remembers Kroft.

"He had the intellect of an Oxford don, the wit of an Australian publican, and the confidence and courage to say exactly what was on his mind, even if it made people angry...especially if it made people angry."

But Hughes made no apologies. Quoting Popeye, he told Kroft: "'I am what I am and that's what I am."

Robert Hughes, irreverent curmudgeon of the art world, died this week at the age of 74.

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