Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO, the art critic, writer and television documentary maker, was born in Sydney in 1938. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study arts and then architecture at the University of Sydney. At university, Hughes associated with the Sydney "Push" – a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the group were Germaine Greer and Clive James. Hughes, an aspiring artist and poet, abandoned his university endeavours to become first a cartoonist and then an art critic for the Sydney periodical The Observer, edited by Donald Horne. Around this time he wrote a history of Australian painting, titled The Art of Australia, which is still considered to be an important work. It was published in 1966.
Hughes left Australia for Europe in 1964, living for a time in Italy before settling in London, England (1965) where he wrote for The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Observer, among others, and contributed to the London version of Oz. In 1970 he obtained the position of art critic for TIME magazine and he moved to New York. He quickly established himself in the United States as an influential art critic.
In 1980, the BBC broadcast The Shock of the New, Hughes's television series on the development of modern art since the Impressionists. It was accompanied by a book of the same name; its combination of insight, wit and accessibility are still widely praised.
In 1987, The Fatal Shore, Hughes's study of the British penal colonies and early European settlement of Australia, became an international best-seller.
Hughes created a one hour update to The Shock of the New. Titled The New Shock of the New, the program aired first in 2004.
Hughes published the first volume of his memoirs, Things I Didn’t Know, in 2006.