Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on August 14, 1997 in Resource Library with permission of the author. Prepared for the column Dunbier on Fine Art Valuation, Dr. Dunbier writes on issues regarding the valuation of fine art. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Lonnie Pierson Dunbier in Scottsdale, AZ, at ldunbier@mac.com.


Robert Hughes: Art East of the Catskills

By Roger Dunbier, PhD


I am not aware of anyone who considers book reviews as a strong point of computer utilization--I certainly do not. However, once in awhile, with the right program some elements which might escape the unaided human intelligence come into focus. By using the computer--pitting concrete information against an author's so called stated fact--the not so apparent biases of the author emerge.

A case in point is the Robert Hughes magnum opus, American Vision, The Epic History of Art in America, adapted to a recent public television series.

Now anyone familiar with Mr. Hughes would not argue with the assertion that he ranks right up there with H.L. Mencken as critic and crank. Mencken confessed to never having changed his mind on any subject past his childhood years--amazingly honest words. Mr. Hughes spent his earliest years in Australia, in part contemplating the wonders and to him, the antipodal then emergent New York School of painting but only in magazine reproductions. His fulfilled goal was reaching that city where he has remained opining on American art.

Though at some time, Hughes may have admitted to repeating Mencken's confession. He should--his youthful interest in New York as art capital holds tight forty years later.

The computer, of course, has no opinions on his opinions. It does however have the capacity to quickly produce some otherwise non-obvious aspects of his writing.

Using the works pictured in the American Visions; passing them into our database, one finds over half of the artists resident New Yorkers. Out of 152 painters whose work is pictured, 80 are from that state, and only 14 from states west of the Atlantic Seaboard. It is understood that many New York artists were born elsewhere, and some artists mentioned but not pictured were from other states, but the fact remains that New York plus two or three neighboring states, prevail constituting American art as viewed by Mr. Hughes from his desk in New York.

In a popular book of this type, being pictured and being mentioned in text are two very different things. Hughes mentions approximately 500 artists. Among those not mentioned are the following--call it an anti-index

 Oscar Berninghaus  New Mexico
 Robert Frederick Blum  Ohio
 Soren Emil Carlsen  California
 Eanger Irving Couse  New Mexico
 Maynard Dixon  California
 Frank Duveneck  Ohio
 Nicolai Fechin  New Mexico
 Frederick Carl Frieseke  Michigan
 Victor Higgins  New Mexico
 Thomas Hill  California
 Frank Tenney Johnson  California
 Sidney Laurence  Alaska
 Arthur Frank Mathews  California
 Julian Onderdonk  Texas
 Edgar Payne  California
 Louis Ritman  Illinois
 Guy Rose  California
 Charles Marion Russell  Montana
 Joseph Henry Sharp  New Mexico
 Walter Ufer  New Mexico


That these names are not included in a 600 plus page book on American art will and should surprise, the extent of that surprise undoubtedly mounting from east to west.

New Mexico painting presents a typical example of this country's art seen through the lens of New York publishers. As an illustration our ENCompass rankings show 30 New Mexico painters in the top 500 nationwide, 24 in addition to the 6 mentioned above. Mr. Hughes mentions only two and pictures one. The unpictured painter, Ernest Blumenschein, he refers to only as a "minor academic painter." The pictured artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, we carry as a New Mexico artist although she had gained original fame taking off her shirt in New York for the photographer, Stieglitz. For Hughes, that's it for New Mexico painters--two, "no mas!."

Now as much as your correspondent thinks that these subjective observations on viewpoint and values are necessary, please do not confuse them with what actually happens with the objective results from the computerized evaluation system.

Our computer base-line values rest upon an external art book indexing system. In this, we can locate references to any one of 20,000 artists linked to almost 5000 books and catalogues. Tabulating and averaging dates of publication provide two indexes, subsequently used by the computer in establishing artist name values.

Ironically in our computer calculations, Mr. Hughes' eastward slanted opinions on what constitutes "epic" artists increase the value of those artists he mentions and decrease value to those unmentioned.

When the Hughes book is added to the 4607 art books and museum catalogues in the database, those artists he includes are marginally increased in rank, while those he omits show comparative decreases. His book becomes an additional reference to the included artists while those excluded languish. My thoughts either way have nothing to do with the ongoing enumerations of books. Although I may disagree with Robert Hughes, in our computer his thoughts take precedence over mine.

This lies at the heart of ENCompass values--fact over opinion. He wrote the book. I did not.

© 1997 Roger Dunbier



About the Author:

From 1982, Dr. Roger Dunbier (1934-1998) combined his professional economics training, research skills, and love of art to develop an easily accessed, 'all-in-one-place' repository of factual information so that buyers and sellers of American art could make decisions based on hard-core data rather than just marketing hype.  With ever-more sophisticated computers, programmed by Charles Lefebvre, his long-time associate, Dunbier built an artist record database, which by the time he died 16 years later, had 17,000 names linked to their respective auction prices, literature and biographies.  Today the result of his dedication lives on as the foundation of AskART.com, an internet site since 2000.  

Dunbier's innovation of computer systems began in 1963, when he pioneered computer mapping on what were then relatively primitive computers.  In 1967, he utilized concepts of 'arbitrage' and 'comparables' in designing the first real estate Multiple Listing System.  Its direct descendent remains in use by realtors across the United States, and he later applied the same underlying principles in building his artist database.  (right: Roger Dunbier, photo courtesy Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, derived from a larger image at http://tfaoi.org/am/16am/16am17.jpg)

Dunbier was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska.  His interest in American art was natural because his father, Augustus Dunbier, (1888-1977) was a prominent landscape, still life and portrait painter and art teacher, whose studio and classroom were in the family home.   Although Roger showed few 'right brained' skills, he did have other talents.  He graduated first in his class and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Omaha in 1955 with majors in economics and history.   He then received a Marshall Scholarship, which led to enrollment at Oxford University in England from 1955 to 1959.  During that time, he was on the Oxford University basketball and track teams, and was a member of the British National Basketball Team.  In 1961, he received a Doctorate of Philosophy, Economic Geography from Oxford.  His dissertation, The Sonoran Desert, Its Geography, Economy, and People, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 1960, and subsequently used as a text book for college geography courses.

After formal education, Dunbier held full-time professorial positions for several years at the University of Omaha and the University of California-Irvine.  He lived most of the remainder of his life in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and had economic-geography related jobs including CEO of his management consulting firm that prepared demographic and locational studies; and President of Metro Press, Inc., publisher of over 100 computer generated area directories for Metro Phoenix.  In 1991, he married Lonnie Pierson of Lincoln, Nebraska.

-- By Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2008

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