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Far From Respectable

Far From Respectable
Dave Hickey and His Art

The first book on the critic and essayist Dave Hickey, Far from Respectable examines the life and work of this controversial figure, whose writing changed the discourse around art and popular culture.

Series: UT Press Fine Arts Endowment

June 2021
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152 pages | 6 x 7 | 25 b&w photos |

Regarded as both a legend and a villain, the critic Dave Hickey has inspired generations of artists, art critics, musicians, and writers. His 1993 book The Invisible Dragon became a cult hit for its potent and provocative critique of the art establishment and its call to reconsider the role of beauty in art. His next book, 1997’s Air Guitar, introduced a new kind of cultural criticism—simultaneously insightful, complicated, vulnerable, and down-to-earth—that propelled Hickey to fame as an iconoclastic thinker, loved and loathed in equal measure, whose influence extended beyond the art world.

Far from Respectable is a focused, evocative exploration of Hickey’s work, his impact on the field of art criticism, and the man himself, from his Huck Finn childhood to his drug-fueled periods as both a New York gallerist and Nashville songwriter to, finally, his anointment as a tenured professor and MacArthur Fellow. Drawing on in-person interviews with Hickey, his friends and family, and art world comrades and critics, Daniel Oppenheimer examines the controversial writer’s distinctive takes on a broad range of subjects, including Norman Rockwell, Robert Mapplethorpe, academia, Las Vegas, basketball, country music, and considers how Hickey and his vision of an “ethical, cosmopolitan paganism” built around a generous definition of art is more urgently needed than ever before.

  • Introduction: His Blue Eden
  • Far from Respectable, Even Now
  • The Value of Beauty Remains Unjustified
  • His Simple Heart
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes

Daniel Oppenheimer is is the author of Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century. He has written for the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Slate, Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly, Guernica, and The New Republic, among others.


Far from Respectable is a worthy introduction to the writing of a major American critic and should instill a desire to experience Hickey’s delights firsthand.”
—Washington Post

“[Far from Respectable] offers a coherent trajectory of a writer, from the childhood tragedy, to his lost years of drug use among the Nashville’s outlaw singers, to later-life prominence and tenure in Las Vegas (the town that best suited Hickey’s free-spirited nature). Above all, it has the salutary effect of reminding us of Hickey as an artist; instead of a gadfly, Hickey might be seen as a critical object himself, with a body of work worth experiencing.”
—The Nation

“Oppenheimer has written a poetic distillation of Hickey's art in America, the broken cowboy, and the cowering broker...In going back to the author's initial two questions: Is Dave Hickey worth the hype, and should anyone give a hoot? Far From Respect able, like the wandering iconoclast it follows, deserves nothing but respect.”
—Austin Chronicle

“[Far from Respectable is] neither a biography, a cultural history, nor a sustained assessment, although it has elements of each. It also features reporting and literary criticism, as well as autobiographical elements. Oppenheimer employs these materials as a dioramist might, reconstructing a few specific periods—Nashville in the 1970s, the culture wars of the 1990s—to illuminate his thesis: that much of Hickey’s writing transcends criticism to approach the status of art.”
—Alta Journal

Far from Respectable is the first book about Hickey,...but it won’t be the last. Any book in which one author writes about another writer can quickly sour into a competition between the subject’s writing and the author’s writing about it. Oppenheimer spares readers—and himself—such indignities, bringing clear-eyed insights and a straightforward voice to his explorations and explanations of Hickey’s life and work...If there will be many more books about Hickey and his philosophy of beauty, then they’ll have to be very good to get over the high bar that Oppenheimer sets.”

“Dave Hickey's lifetime of stops and starts, 'three fourths of a disaster,' produced a brambly, bubbly body of work that ranges from Flaubert to Liberace and from Hank Williams to Michelangelo. It's the kind of legacy that demands an explanation, and Daniel Oppenheimer provides a brilliant one. Hickey is beautiful—and so is this book.”
—Benjamin Moser, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sontag: Her Life and Work

“The never-to-be-completed mosaic that is Dave Hickey’s life and work gains some beautifully hand-crafted tiles from Daniel Oppenheimer. His authorial voice—open, intimate, probing—is the perfect vehicle for plumbing the depths of Hickey’s overall essentialness. I devoured it.”
—Steven Soderbergh, Academy Award-winning film director


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