Writings of Harry Everington 1929-2000
Preamble: A few words are perhaps necessary to introduce the contents of this book. The background, from which I have drawn my material, is the Frink School of Figurative Sculpture, where in recent years I have been privileged to teach and learn. In the maelstrom of British Art Education over the past fifty years, there has grown a need for the small, intimate academy with a specific discipline of study. “The Frink” works as a close community of endeavour and enlightenment, as the tutors open areas of enquiry. All the many aspects of sculpture are focused on the human figure which remains a prime source of inspiration now as it has from earliest times. The School is closer in spirit to a “master” and “apprentice” structure than an educational institution and the tuition is more concerned with revelation in sculpture than with its viability on the ‘Art Market. It has therefore provided the ideal environment for the rethinks which I have tried to put together in this book. The precepts in this writing are those of a sculptor and a teacher. Readers of a more scholarly disposition may have reason to be critical of what they see as my generalizations and absolute attitudes. The sculptor’s mind, however, is attuned to visual perception; to look at the model and seek the significant forms, to subordinate all detail and isolate not only the skeleton but the dynamics of structure which shaped the skeleton. The reader will discover fluctuations of style and rhythm in my presentation of the various sections of the writing. This occurs because the subjects discussed are drawn from applied teaching and the character of the writing is dictated more by the content than by a wish to maintain a literary consistency. The book is in two distinct sections. The first re-presents sculpture as an essential ingredient in the composition of humankind. The second part contains a prescription for the teaching of sculpture and is drawn from empirical studies at “The Frink” over the turn of the century.
Harry Everington, December 1999
A SCULPTORS GOSPEL ACCORDING TO HARRY: Part 1
The Spirit of Sculpture
It would be a formidable task to distil just one ‘spirit’ from the galaxy of wines which abound in every quarter of the globe. To define ‘The Spirit of Sculpture’ presents a similar task. Every soil and every climate, centuries of cultivation, all have produced a variety of Sculpture each having its own special flavour. What follows is not so much a ‘how-to-doit’, nor is it a selection of what is good or bad, right or wrong in Sculpture. It is about Humankind, the planet on which we survive and the part that those images, which we call Sculpture, have in our survival.
Long before this second millennium, the ancients described God as the maker of Heaven and Earth:
And the Earth was without form and void
And Darkness was upon the face of the deep
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters
And God said let there be light.
(Genesis 1; 2-3)
In four short lines of verse are described many major understandings amongst which is the illustration of “form” as being distinct from nothingness (void). The verse also describes the seas and the light. Thus is outlined a concept of the trinity of life; in the language of the sculptor, rock, water and sun. The sun evaporates the sea and the clouds so formed precipitate water onto the rock. Over vast periods of time, life is generated by these three elements in interaction; there commences a chain of evolution from the first minute cells, to the infinite variety of flora and fauna which now populate this planet.
Humankind has emerged as part of this evolution. A small but very significant fragment in vastness of correlated life. Significant, in that humankind has evolved not only with similar survival instincts to other mammals, but also with an ‘ awareness’ An awareness which carries with it emotional and evocative demands in the sense that the human is bonded with, and caring towards, the subject of his awareness. This ‘subject’ goes beyond the range of basic instincts, such as procreation, parenthood and ‘pack’ activity. It may include everything which humankind can perceive. This unique characteristic is the product of the human ability to make images and thus create the potential for our ‘imagination’ Of all the image‑making activities, including sound, sign and gesture, the outcome of binocular vision, thumb and pronation of the wrist, make the sculptural image the most permanent. Sound, sign and gesture maybe more immediate, but are lost in the ether as they are produced.
The facility of perception in three dimensions is not the unique prerogative of humankind. However, the facility of conception and the creation of appropriate images is. Our special application of this perception stems from a complex of environmental changes which characterise the evolution of our species. With each of these changes perceptual information from the past is retained and added to associations in the present, just as the ‘pack’ instinct of the dog becomes the means of bonding the animal to the service of humankind. Along with other anthropoids, homo sapiens are in the first instance, fruit-eaters. They procreate as they pass through the forest responding by instinct to the signals predetermined by evolution. The smells, the noises and the ‘body language’ determine their action which when completed, leaves them free to go about their separate tasks independently. When, with the changes in world climate, humankinds’ survival is threatened, they adapt by eating grubs, roots and eventually small animals. They retain the sensory perception associated with the forest and the corresponding images in the mind. For example; the colour sense, once a valuable asset in the selection of non‑poisonous fruit, is continued in a new context in which it has to signify in the area of being pleasing or displeasing, tasteful or distasteful. As the need for food, necessary for survival, causes humankind to hunt larger animals yet more and different imagery is added to the mind. The relationship between male and female, which, in the fruit-gathering era was perfunctory, must, at this stage, take on a new structure. An additional vocabulary of images emerges out of the inter-dependence of hunter, child-bearer and her offspring. The female cannot hunt as well as safeguard the offspring, thus the male becomes the hunter for a ‘family’. The necessity of a ‘den’ for the male to bring food to and where the female may bear and safeguard the young, all bring into being specific new imagery.
It may be a matter of amusing speculation to consider, in this context, not only the development of the ‘den’ imagery into modem domestic architecture, but also the contemporary disputes between the sexes. The images associated with the hunter, the child-bearer and the den have had to adapt to so many changes in the course of social evolution, that the stimulus of the associated symbols may give rise to confusion. We cannot now be sure whether we are to start a family or buy the products of commerce. In the context of our ‘equality of the sexes’ society, it may be that the imagery of the ‘fruit‑gathers’ would be more relevant than that of the ‘hunter-den-maker’. The earliest making of images demonstrates an elemental awareness of the conditions of living. The images replace and make permanent the expressions of our bodies. We still express our reactions to life and communicate our needs by the use of facial expression, sounds and body language despite the sophistication of the spoken language. Alongside this the language of form makes a representation of the awareness of life and draws for vocabulary on all the previous phases in the history of human evolution. Although, primarily, the created image is an extension and to some degree a sublimation of ‘what we are’ it also serves to both stimulate and over‑ride evolutionary instincts. “Fear” as an emotional condition resulting from the need for self-preservation, may assume a less commanding state by our being presented with the ‘created’ image of aggression. Similarly in the idiom of sound the stimulating effects of Pipes and Drums are well known where there is a need to “disguise fair nature in hard favoured rage” Of a more permanent character, the ‘artistic’ shaping of a weapon may eliminate all other considerations except its lethal application. The ‘flick-knife’ with sensuous curved blade and ivory handle shaped to fit the palm has caused more violence than the equally lethal cooking knife. Fertility imagery, derived from the physiology of mating signals, may, in the context of an inhibited society, revive the earlier ‘drive’ or may, if presented in a different way, be used to inhibit fertility.
The image is the machinery of the imagination and the ability to conceive the image is the unique tool of humankind. We have the means to chose which ‘drive’ will suit which ‘purpose’ The ability to make permanent images, the ability to make sculpture, gives us a will of our own. To determine by this means, our direction, divides us from the evolution created animal, the imposition of our evolution is taken into our own hands. To be aware, to perceive and then to conceive. Unimpeded imagination is the freeing of the spirit from the body and in prescribing for the imagination, the sculptor proposes the uniqueness of the human species.
Out of Eden
If we are to search for the spirit of sculpture, we must discard any notion of progress in terms of human intelligence. Rather, we should speculate on the implications of change. The image‑making of earliest times gave rise to a way of recording knowledge. The ‘stock-piling’ of knowledge may delude us into believing that we have progressed, that knowledge is the criteria of ability and yet, without the ability of language, even the smallest child can convey its needs and demonstrate its awareness. It can communicate with facial expression, gesture and, of course, noises. The child who left a hand-print on a cave wall 20,000 years ago might, if born into our age, become an airline pilot, computer operator, watch television or even write books about sculpture. Sculpture is made and understood without the stockpile of knowledge. It belongs to the area of understanding which has no need of a learning process. The human being does not have to be ‘taught’ to communicate although the ‘how’ to communicate may intrude as a taught necessity in the idioms of sophisticated society. The spirit of sculpture is an individual expression of our awareness yet it can be comprehensible to all. Comprehension is inhibited only where a cultural preconception, a learnt idiom, contaminates the direct output of creativity or appreciation. Such is often the case, for instance, when photographic realism is the cultural criteria and the viewer is presented with ‘primitive’ sculpture.
To examine further the true nature of sculpture, it might be helpful to remember our earliest experience with a bright coloured, waxy crayon. First grasping it, then turning it to view it in three dimensions, putting it in the mouth to taste and smell it, hammering it on the table and finally grinding it round and round to make a cake of colour. This sequence is the most basic enactment of self‑expression resulting in a permanent image. The face of a child whilst creating in this fashion, declares not only immense concentration but also satisfaction. From this satisfaction, linked to fulfilment, stems the experience of release. The spirit of self has been released from the demands and restraints of the body, the impositions of parental will, the dressing and feeding, the changing of nappies, the pulling along by the hand, the picking up and putting down, all impinge on the child’s self In the creative sequence with the crayon, the child has discovered ‘self and in so doing, has opened the door of awareness to all other aspects of its life. A perspective for perception and comprehension is achieved only when there is such a starting point.
In the same manner, stone age people in the British Isles found release from the imposition of survival demands. One of the earliest manifestations of this newfound freedom of their spirit was demonstrated when they discovered that they could transcend the animal restrictions of eating, procreating and dying. With oval hard rocks, ground smooth in a river bed; they hammered and ground hollow cup-forms in the softer bedrock. In Ireland, Scotland and the northern Pennines these cup-forms can be seen although it is many thousands of years since they were created. These very simple expressions of the will to be creative were, with the advancing complexity of social evolution, to become the ideographic basis of a Celtic art form and subsequently the early Christian imagery of Northern Europe. They are, in their simple motivation, amongst the most significant demonstrations of the spirit of sculpture, comparable to the megalithic monuments which, apart from hinting towards future architecture, became extinct. I feel the need to comment at this point, that some perceptive sculptors of the 20th century have retrieved this simple motivation and found appropriate means to express it. However I digress from hypothesis.
The child must enter into the culture of the world into which it was born. It must be ‘taught’ to communicate in a manner which is appropriate to the structure of the specific society. The ‘self must learn to conform for the convenience of the community and use a language which is the common ‘self expression. This prescribed language is, of necessity, generalised and without the delicate nuances, the deeper motivations and the passionate ‘drive’ so evident in ‘childlike’ expressions. This change of creative status may be better understood if we remember how our early marks with crayon were received by adults. ” Very nice but now let me show you how to draw properly” So the adult, on behalf of society, teaches a language which can only become evocative in a creative sense with the added supplement of facial expression, gesture and ‘animated’ enunciation. To convey more than words can say we must utilize the skills of the actor and the poet. The musician too, with eight notes can evoke sensations and the sculptor, with hands on inanimate materials also produces images of significance similar to music and poetry. The eight notes may be prescribed and standard equipment, supplied ready made, by society but the orchestration of those notes can convey the most delicate sensations far beyond the scope of the ready made. In sculptural terms, the cone, cube, prism, sphere, cylinder etc. are a ready made set of ‘notes’ and the orchestration of them may also evoke whatever sensations the sculptor can conceive. The machinery of sculptural orchestration is set in motion by the artists’ urge to a specific task, more profound than ‘information’ and manifested through the passionate use of proportion, rhythm, mass and space just as the poetic actor may use body-language and facial expression to transcend the mere words.
Perhaps the importance of this ‘primitive’ content in the making of images is best represented by the following anecdote. In the late fifties, when I was a junior lecturer at a County School of Art, my colleagues and I were presented with a unique student. The young man’s upbringing had been in the isolation of a quarry which was situated in a very remote corner of the county. His birth and the subsequent death of his mother had never reached the ears of the Authorities. By the age of sixteen his life had been confined to company of his father, a rude home carved out of the quarry face and the wild countryside surrounding the quarry. Authority eventually discovered him and since he could neither read nor write nor even speak articulately, he was first placed in a Primary School and then in the hands of the County Psychologist who discovered that he could communicate fluently by graphic means. He was therefore passed on to the School of Art.
As a student amongst his own age group and surrounded by creativity of a visual order, he became much calmer, although still withdrawn. He produced art-work in every area; Drawing, Painting, Pottery and Lithography of outstanding excellence. In the course of the following five years, he became increasingly self-confident and it was thought that a viable career for him might be found in the “Potteries” His initial success was quite astounding. It was the custom, at that time, for the larger firms to offer incentive prizes for young designers. In his first year in the potteries, he won every prize. In the course of time he was to be taken in hand by a young lady who was to become his wife. She taught him to read and write and to become at one with the life of the industrial city. As a postscript to this story, two features remain to be given consideration. The first is that in his most creative period, he showed little ability to discriminate between his work of outstanding merit and that which was, by the standards of current Art Education, inferior. The work of excellence was drawn from his close and exclusive relationship with nature during his early years. The inferior work was an attempt to respond to the ‘taught’ idioms, which were the Art Schools’ stock-in-trade. The ‘idioms’ were the product of the socially acceptable and thus the popular styles of the day. The second feature appeared some thirty years later when, by coincidence I was working in the “Potteries”. Out of interest, I looked him up. I had little difficulty in finding him since he was, by this time, a much respected executive. He was carrying a clipboard round a warehouse when I arrived and had only the vaguest memory of his years at the School of Art or his, what to me were very special, activities as a creative artist.
Art and Design
So far, I have described sculpture as the language of form, which in the context of a ‘made’ image, conveys and sublimates an awareness of life. However life in our world has changed from one in which we view ourselves as a part of that which is natural to one in which we see ourselves as distinct from the natural. So far has this attitude developed that, in the words of an Outdoor Pursuits instructor, ” Our youth live in a computer oriented world, in which they are at home. When we take them to the footpaths, they have the experience of a strange new world” The freedom of the spirit, initiated by the image maker of long ago, opened the door to the advancement of material benefits. The imagination, once set loose in the human mind, could conceive ways by which we could improve on the inadequate physical equipment bestowed on us by nature. We lack the teeth of the carnivore so we invent the knife; we lack the speed to catch our fleeing prey, so we invent the projectile. These inventions are the work of the artefactmaker, who, however, still has need of the image-maker. The ‘tool’ being an artificial appendage, does not, in itself, have the power to stimulate the user to apply it. The carnivore has sensations in teeth and gums as the horse has pleasure in the power of its legs. The image maker must convey human physical sensations to the artefact in the language of form so as to evoke a desire to use it. When sculpture is applied to shape the artefact, sculpture becomes ‘design’. A weapon, so designed, may create a wish to cut, stab or slash. Our clothing can translate an assumed personality at will. Our ‘den’ may become a prestigious symbol. As before, the sculptor is then to free us from the fetters of the natural order, but in doing so, the sculptor also opens the door to a level of diminished responsibility. We lose the powerful images which reflected our old awareness of life and replace them with images convenient to the way we wish to live. This revaluation we call ‘aesthetic’ and as such is confusing to a concept of the spirit of sculpture. Aesthetic values inevitably become pigeon-holes into which can be fitted atrophied designed images. They promote a character of sculpture without passion and therefore without the power to make us aware of life. They create a ‘safe’ chamber in which ‘Art’ can be viewed without disturbing ones’ current condition of life.
The ‘designer’ makes yet another area of confusion in which the spirit of sculpture becomes obscure. In seeking to extend our limited abilities, the artefact-image-maker adopts the properties of animals, birds and fishes to substitute our own physical sensations. The creation of imagination makes this ‘by proxy’ possible. Instead of the artefacts’ stimulus coming directly from our body sensations, we are to assume, in our imagination, the properties and characteristics of other creatures; to translate the creatures’ character, as we see it, from the creature to ourselves. For example, we may see the Bull as an animal of fearsome power, and so by adopting the image of the Bull we can assume for ourselves that fearsome power. Such adaptations become symbols, but they are not valid sculpture if the image of the creature is literarily copied from nature. To retain the spirit of sculpture, the image must convey human physical sensations. If we remember how gesture, facial expression and those expressive but inarticulate noises with which we supplement speech, conveyed the spirit of verbal communication when the language was inadequate, we may be able to understand how the shapes and masses of sculpture can bridge the gap between the replica of the creature and the significant image.
However in the successful management of symbolic images, the designer has carried us further away from a world in which humankind can be a part of the whole. For example, our desire for strength and speed, with its attendant emotional stimulant, led us to adopting the horse, literarily, and as an image. The designer of the motor car shapes the bodywork to convey, not only the strength and speed of the horse but the sense of liberation which we associate with riding the horse. Thus we see that ‘Art’ has become accumulated knowledge, to be used, as so much knowledge is, not for our being part of the world, but for our being apart from the world. We no longer share the world with the horse, the bird or the fish but use imagery to manufacture equivalents which identify them as belonging to a different world to the one in which we live. We have created an illusion of the natural world with our image-making skills. This is a synthetic world, in that it is created for the convenience of humankind and not true to ourselves or to the nature of our life on this planet.
The true spirit of sculpture cannot be clearly recognised where humanity has separated imagery from the context of what might be described as the ‘primitive’ life of the planet. By ‘primitive’ I mean to describe those parts of our beings which remain as they have from time immemorial and are unaltered by the evolution of society and the accumulation of knowledge. The potential of the sculptural image to adjust our attitudes so that we can conceive a link between an animal and ourselves can also be used as a means to unite humanity around a common purpose. A community can collectively acquire the attributes of a snake, a bull or an eagle. We may take, for example, a people who farm crops, as distinct from hunting and gathering. As an intuitive act of faith, a primitive gesture, they may prostrate themselves on the earth in an embrace of their means of survival. Such a people may regard the snake, whose belly is in constant contact with the earth and whose sensuous movements are akin to love-making, as an image to which they can physically relate. The image can now replace the demonstration. It can., in fact do more; it can unite a people into a specific community, providing a way of differentiating this community from all others. They will become the ‘snake people’ and retain the collective group image long after confidence in knowledge has replaced the need for faith.
The image which served to unify can be changed to identify different phases in the evolution of society. It can, for instance, promote a “ruler” Thus we may witness the transformation of a human into “King Snake”; a demi-god amongst the snake people. The sculptor’s image for the ruler not only records the peoples’ agrarian history but also proclaims the ruler’s authority. What was a gesture of communal humility to the earth becomes a disciplined and autocratic organisation. The figure at the apex of this pyramid structure is in supreme control of the collective strength of the people and can be seen to control all aspects of life which affect their well-being. Where nature proves to be beyond the powers of human control, floods, earthquakes and droughts, the pyramid creates imaginary powers to maintain its superiority to the natural. The sculptor is needed to make images to identify the supernatural, thus the ruler can order a sacrifice or a ceremony to demonstrate the ascendancy of humankind over nature. Without doubt material survival is improved; greater efficiency is achieved by consolidating human effort into a single initiative. It is also without doubt that abuse of the imagery, which initially sprang from an emotional and spontaneous gesture, had widened the gap between humanity triumphant and human beings as a part of the natural order of life.
In the western world, the ultimate phase in the ‘progress’ of society can be seen as a disenchantment with a pyramid structure such as the one just described. It is replaced by a democratic-style social organisation and the reestablishment of the individual. There is, however, no return to the humility which accompanied the individualism of the earliest phase. The structures which so benefited the conditions, if not the quality of life, during the ‘communal’ and the ‘ruler’ phases are still present. There is, however, a major difference in that the ‘God-like’ powers which had been the sole prerogative of the ‘ruler’ are now thought to be within the grasp of everyone. The social climate, far from being humble, is an arrogant ‘rat-race’ for power. The sculptor is to be dragged away from the business of creating the ‘Icons’ of human awareness of our place in the nature order. Instead the sculptor must present the “Heroic” image of humanity, showing us to be the supreme physical animal. Our powers are akin to God and we seem to bend the natural order to our convenience. Nothing is considered to be beyond the scope of humankind. The spirit of sculpture is no longer a natural phenomenon but a contrived technique to demonstrate skill and power. The sculptor must produce a likeness of ourselves as a vanity mirror which can sweep aside any consideration of vulnerability.
Paradoxically, in this last phase, we become introspective towards our historical evolution. We fill museums and art galleries with art and artefacts from the past phases. Our image-making excels in references to cultures remote from the contemporary scene. We may even bend it into ornamental decoration and design. It is not, however, a nostalgia for a lost quality of life. It is more an assertion of the superiority of this current phase. We seek to dominate and justify ourselves when humility would rediscover the lost harmony. Because we cannot live by the imagery of the past, we put it into glass cases with dates, the names of the scientists who brought it to light and, of course, catalogue numbers. We render it ‘safe’ to view, with all the intellectual equipment of an agnostic civilisation. Art and Design become so confused that we present the sculptors’ images in museum-like art galleries where, more often than not, the style of presentation dominates and nullifies the sculpture. We have become more concerned with the sterile aesthetics of exhibition design than with the content of the exhibition. Good taste, aesthetic considerations and the literary programming by art critics and art historians can lead to the kind of misunderstanding, which, with a blush of shame, I now quote.
In the early fifties I had, with a fellow student, the opportunity to escort a young member of Muslim royalty around London. At his request, we took him to the medieval church of St. Bartholomew in the City. The silent and gloomy interior with its cave‑like plump columns and low dark timbered roof evoked all the primitive spirituality of Anglo Saxon faith. There was, however, a discordant note in, what to us, was a shrine of consistent imagery. It consisted of painted crucifixion made in the ornamental tradition of the age of Queen Victoria. To avert our aesthetic discomfort, my colleague and I ignored this sculpture. Later, over a cup of coffee, we were to discover that our disdain had considerably upset our Muslim charge. He told us that, as a child, he had been taken by his father to witness crucifixions so that he might be moved to abolish this form of punishment when he grew up. We could not, without embarrassment, tell him that this same image had become a part of jewellery for self-adornment, nor could we explain our rejection of the sculpture because it was stylistically inappropriate. For us, atrophy had robbed the image of its potency. This experience, salutary as it was, is not the unique. In 1937 the sculptor Eric Gill made a caustic comment on the detached attitude of our society towards images which could be dismissed as mere works of art:
It is not true that capitalists and industrialist don’t care about beauty. No, on the contrary, they worship it; they give it special honour; honour unheard of in medieval England. They endow picture galleries and museums. They flock to the Royal Academy; they endow art schools; they worship prominent painters, and sculptors and architects and poets, making some of them Lords and many Knights. No, there is no lack of honour for beauty. The evil thing is that they make it something special, something separate, not an ordinary thing to be found everywhere, but a special thing made by special people and found only in special places.
This almost contemporary illustration may appear familiar.
Conclusion or Beginning
One has to acknowledge that the result of our reflective introspection, which I have hitherto condemned, has been to provide the perspective by which I can prescribe a new beginning to the cycle of social changes. The “rise and fall” of civilisations is much documented in our libraries. The last phase, the ‘fall’ is, in every history, dominated by a surfeit of over-familiar and thus, atrophied imagery, and, with variations, each of the other phases which preceded it are regarded as academic and of interest only as antique. The “Art” of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, of Aztec and Inca. of India and China, is all readily available to the society of the second millennium. Will we file it away as evidence of our ability to amass knowledge? Or will we re-think our state of being? We may consider that the civilisations recorded in our books moved through ‘rise and fall’ cycles and that the phases which I have outlined in terms of sculpture may not only describe our present state but also offer proposals for our future. We may see a parallel between the hedonism of Babylon, the Maze of Minos, the Library of Alexander and the gladiatorial amphitheatre of Rome. We may cast a glance at the art of the ‘sensationalist’ and the popularity of the sexual and violent images which provide distraction and entertainment to today’s society.
It may be noted that in each ‘decadent’ phase of the past civilisations, the seeds of new beginning were already appearing as shoots whilst the contrived entertainment was in full flower. Thus the legend of Theseus arises as the Minoan civilisation is collapsing. The concepts and imagery of Christianity fertilised in the catacombs beneath the orgies of the amphitheatre. We do not, however, see a linear progression in the evolution of imagery, rather an ebb and flow. Whilst the tide will inevitably reach its high or low levels, each wave comes across the beach only to recede and come again. The sculptor who struggles to create images which are to be the vital seeds of a new beginning will be seen by future generations as having ‘been ahead’ of his or her time. By comparison, the sculptors who reflect the contemporary scene will be popular and applauded in their own time. As with all language, the language of form will only be understood and its content interpreted when the social climate indicates the need to understand. My mother, in advanced years, on seeing a herd of cows in a field, remarked, “Don’t cows do anything except eat?” When humankind does anything except survive, it does so by creating images, of which sculpture remains the most poignant. The image feeds humankind an awareness of living which is akin to love of life.
At this point, my reader may well look at the contemporary British Art scene with consternation. What is clear is that it is consistently out of step and self-contradicting. It would appear that a great many British Sculptors do not know to which age they belong and therefore attempt a compromise of many. Apart from belonging to a society which collects “Art” and therefore robs the sculptor of any incentive to create images of universal significance, the British artist has suffered from the effects of ignominious Art Education.
The Sculptor and Art Education
It is perhaps significant that a great deal of what I have previously discussed as the starting point and most significant phase in the cycle of civilisations was inspired by the work of continental artists. During the first half of this last century Picasso, Marini, Manzu, Giacometti and Germaine Richier amongst others, carried forward a program of sculpture which has been called “Primitive” Many British sculptors have also been inspiring but for the most part their contribution sprang from continental models. Moreover, during the first fifty years of the last century until about 1950, the few British sculptors of importance were condemned by the media and art educationists. Such was the national rejection of his work that Epstein’s “Adam” could only be accepted as a curiosity in a fairground booth. In my own experience as a student in 1948, I was warned off any work which might be classed as ‘universal symbolism’ and instructed to stay on the safe ground of ‘social realism’. Picasso and Henry Moore were regarded as charlatans and all works of a ‘primitive’ content were wilfully misunderstood and often classed as surrealism which the media had used as the refuse- bin for every art-form which failed to fit in with what they thought society expected. For the most part members of staff in Colleges of Art were hesitant towards what had become ‘modem art’ and their teaching directed students to disregard the work of anti-establishment sculptors. Staff were, understandably, more concerned with the success of their students in the national examinations than with the evolution of sculptural attitudes on the international level.
I cannot believe that the native talent of the British sculptor was lacking compared with those of the continent so why had so few ventured up-hill and against the wind? It is certainly not because Britain is more decadent than any other country in the western world; it is, on the contrary, because Britain has a history of excellence in higher education. Pride and confidence in the validity of this academic achievement and a misconception of the artisan character of sculpture paved the way for the study of art to become a subject in the context of a University-style education. The inappropriateness of this context caused not a ripple of doubt in the minds of those who dictated the structure of Art Education. That sculpture is the very antithesis of academic and scientific sophistication could not be acceptable in Britain where so much faith is placed in literature and the advancement of material benefits.
To compound the background of British Education in sculpture further, the introduction of ‘State’ art education was sponsored in the beginning for entirely commercial purposes. It was therefore in total contradiction to the aspirations of sculptors who may otherwise have trod the same path as their continental counterparts. State education is rarely the product of educational idealism. The misadventure of art education in Britain goes back to 1883. Whilst Paul Gauguin was making the first overtures towards ‘primitivism’, Queen Victoria was founding the Royal College of Art. Her sponsorship was in response to the findings of a Royal Commission, which had been instructed to investigate the failure of British products in world markets. Its report to Her Majesty indicated that although British technology was superior, the ‘design’ of our products was less attractive than that of other countries. The example of The Royal College of Art was to spur local education authorities, industry and commerce into a frenzy of activity. Within a few years there were 800 Colleges of Art in existence all over Britain. State education for the sculptor was unique in the world; even the smallest industrial township could provide a College of Art. It must be remembered that the purpose of art education was to better the design of industrial products. What was missing, however, was teachers of art who had any notion of sculpture outside the ‘neoclassical’. There was no such animal as an industrial designer; the staffing of the Colleges had to come from those artists who had studied ‘Fine Art’ at the Royal Academy or the Slade faculty at University College, London. The Royal Academy was founded by Sir Joshua Reynolds for the furtherance of antique Italianate culture and Felix Slade’s patronage was to the same purpose. The acquisition of imagery and familiarity with the neoclassical was a prestigious social asset. In both of these older institutions, it was the ‘Painter’ who dominated the educational structure. The ‘Drawing Exam’ was to be the national criteria for excellence in art and design. Every College of Art was stocked with replica plaster casts of antique Greek, Roman and Renaissance sculpture and the examiners gave credit to students who, with graded pencils and smudger, contrived to give a faithful imitation of these casts on paper. The live model was used on occasion and the term ‘model’ could well be pertinent since he or she was, in the drawing, a mere variant of the plaster casts. The model was not to extend the borders of perception but to provide a variant for ‘classical’ themes. The anomaly of the need for sculpture in applied design and the teaching programme dictated by ‘Painters’ who promoted drawing as the prime requirement, was already established. Regrettably this precedent set the pattern into recent times.
By 1930 little had changed in State art education and the few new elements only served to make a yet more confusing structure for the education of the sculptor. The Pre-Raphaelite movement had given rise to the consideration of more ‘earthy’ values and by the thirties, the efforts of William Morris had led to the promotion of hand-craft, at the same time casting some doubts upon the virtues of neoclassical art and the ‘art gallery’ as a means of presentation. The doubts, however, were insufficient and only served to split art education into two camps; ‘Fine Art’ and ‘Craft’ design. In Paris, neoclassical art had given way to a (romantic’ movement, which, in turn, had paved the way, for the ‘realist’ movement. Realism being to call a spade ‘a bloody shovel’; to look at the world with uncompromising, almost brutal objectivity. ‘Impressionism’, the outcome of the realists, attracted the interest of British Artists such as Sickert and ‘Social Realism’ which by 1930 was the idiom of the Royal College of Art and through that body became the more advanced directive for the 800 Colleges of Art. Neoclassical ‘applied design’ could no longer be maintained as the raison d’etre of art education. Sculptors who produced classical nudes to support sewing machines and relief decoration on pottery had to be instructed within industry, State education concerned itself with the two remaining areas of study; Fine Art, being social realism and painter oriented, and ‘craft designers’ where manual skills combined with a confused understanding of what idiom they were to pursue. The choice inevitably reverted to industry and popularity in the market. Sculpture in art education was thus thrown into the unenviable state of being a misfit. Sculpture might be considered a ‘craft’ but as such, would be better taught in the appropriate industry, or as a Fine Art, in which case it had to conform to the attitudes of the ‘Painter’ dominant schools. The Ministry of Education, ever conscious of the original brief, (to improve the marketability of British goods) established a new qualifying examination to be called ‘The National Diploma in Design’. The title should have clarified the structure of Art Education. However, the Fine Art departments were not to be put down so easily. The post‑graduate colleges reacted strongly against the ‘design’ motive in the national diploma criteria. They saw themselves as the bastions of a national culture and the principal of the Royal College declared emphatically that the Fine Artist was the only ‘artist’ and designers were much second best. ARCA being the desirable qualification for lecturers in Colleges of Art and Design, this assertion propagated an unsettling schism throughout the country. By the 1940s, Sir William Coldstream had moved the attitudes of ‘New English Art Club’ into the Slade faculty of University College thus introducing the more emancipated ideas of Paris into post‑graduate studies. By the 50’s Britain could boast a very worthy group of sculptors and painters who were substantially adding to the revaluation of 20th century art. Despite this, however the examiners for the National Diploma in Design were still assessing students by 19th century criteria.
The critical moment was at hand for a revision of State Art Education. The character of study for the National Diploma had little or no connection with the work of the leading artists of the day. Leeds College of Art employed, as visiting staff, many of these artists whose assessment of the students proved to be at complete variance with those of the ministry’s assessors. Such a situation could not be ignored and resulted in the professor of the Slade School being asked to produce recommendations for the revision of Art Education in Britain. The ‘Coldstream Report’ was one of the most brilliant documents in the annals of Art Education. It was destined to put the whole study of painters, sculptors and designers into perspective. The implementation of the ‘report’ however proved to be the length of rope on which the future of State Art Education was to be hanged.
Her Majesty’s government viewed the existence of 800 Colleges of Art with an average intake of 30 students each year for five years of study, as something of an extravagance. The more so when the purpose of such establishments was in question. The implementation of the Coldstream Report provided a means by which the questionable area of Art Education could be ‘rationalised’ Surely design for industry and commerce was a technical subject to be correctly studied in the ‘polytechnic’ structure. If Fine Art was not technology, then it must be an academic study. The way ahead was being paved for the ‘intellectual’ sculptor who would survey the contemporary scene and select appropriate imagery to comment on it, in much the same manner as the popular media. Such commentary was, after all, not far removed from ‘social realism’ it differed only in as much as it was more literal and omitted the process of ‘perception’ to ‘conception’ to the recreation in the materials of traditional art. From Germany, the philosophy of the ‘Bauhaus’ group began to make itself felt in the new educational structure. Maurice de Sausmaurez’s book on “Basic Design” outlined a structure for ‘Foundation’ studies, where much of the spirit of the Coldstream Report had been retained. As such, it was an excellent method of exercising the visual skills required in the creative manipulation of form, colour and texture. Regrettably, however, it was to extend beyond the confines of ‘Foundation’ ‑studies and become, for many artists, an ‘end’ in itself. “Abstract Sculpture” causes one to wonder, what would have been the outcome, if the contribution of Klee and Kandinsky had not been deleted from the British scenario of the Bauhaus philosophy.
The National Diploma in Design changed its name again and became the ‘Diploma in Art and Design’ thus accepting Fine Art as a scholarly pursuit. As the Polytechnic institutions became Universities, a Bachelor or Master of Arts could be offered to Artist or Designer. The 800 Colleges of art were redundant and have become embarrassing real estate for Local Authorities. Thus for the British sculptor, the illusion of state Art Education comes to an end.
This complex history of the last hundred years has been included because it is necessary for the aspiring sculptor to understand and perhaps dismiss the educational environment into which he or she has been born. We are, understandably, ‘programmed’ by the attitudes we were brought up with and therefore find it difficult to put aside our habits of thought. However, even the most conservative would‑be sculptor must feel uncertain in the face of so many contemporary idioms. I was once asked by a student, who spoke with simple, frank sincerity, “How do I learn how to be a modem sculptor?” A seemingly naive question, yet, in fact, reasonable. He was faced with the choice of Neoclassicism, Social Realism, Abstraction or Sensationalism, none of which are appropriate to the description of the ‘spirit of sculpture’ as I have previously defined it. It is not to our world, our social world as it is now, that we should look for direction, but to the future. The seeds of new growth have already been sown and their development can be promoted if we weed out the misunderstandings of Art Education. The cycle of social evolution shows us to be at a ‘decadent’ phase and at the beginning of the next ‘primitive’ phase. The awareness of ourselves in the full context of the natural world, our natural responses, indeed our natural selves is the future of Sculpture. To discover, without the idiomatic dictates of the decadent phase, the images of humanity and life as they exist behind the screen of ‘civilisation’. This ‘magic’ of the sculptor’s images can and should be the inspiration for the future.
Stories about Sculpture, Painting, and the Primitive
The story is often a history and history becomes legend. Whether we seek proven history or stimulating legend is a choice which identifies the state of our social evolution. The choice indicates the difference between the antique collector who labels and catalogues with synthetic retrospection and the creative artist who tastes and smells the fresh awakening growths of the future whilst searching into the past. As a student in the fifties, I acquired from those of the older generation who guided me, a profound love of the paintings of Samuel Palmer. I was to discover that amongst the fraternity of artists, my admiration was extensively shared, although, unlike his contemporary, William Blake, he was not to the general public, well known. The “Dark satanic mills” of the ‘industrial revolution’ have, despite the “Chariots of fire” become the ‘high‑tech’ of the twentieth century, but many artist still seek an antidote to the disease of materialism. My first ‘story’ may give grounds for thought.
During the early years of ‘The Crusades’ heavy horses and armour drove the Arabs off the southern plains of France and into Spain. Here the conflict became sporadic and castles were taken and retaken many times before an advance could be confirmed. Such was the haste which attended retreat that the departing occupants often had to abandon their belongings. The ‘log’ of an Abbot and his community who attended the Knights, soldiers and their families after they had taken possession of one such castle, records an incident, the significance of which I leave to the reader.
In his newly acquired ‘ billet’ a monk discovered a collection of brass mechanisms and glass lenses. Being a monk of inquisitive as well as resourceful character, he passed what leisure time he had, not only in solving the puzzle of the instrument use but also in becoming adept in its application. He used the ‘microscope’, which is what we may now call it, to examine the amazing variety of living creatures in apparently clear water. He even got as far as comparing the water from different streams and wells. This diversion and the indulgence of his curiosity were, however, to be violently suspended. An epidemic of typhoid fever broke out amongst the new inhabitants of the castle. Like all his community, he was fully occupied nursing and ‘bleeding’ the sick. He did, it would appear, find some time to put blood from one of his leeches under his microscope and was thereby able to identify one creature which he recognised as similar to one to found in the water of a particular well in the castle. His authority, as a monk, was sufficient for him to order the filling in of this well before returning to the hectic burden of the sick and dying.
The epidemic diminished and the life of the Abbot became less demanding. The Abbot was able to reconstruct and record the events which led to the reduction and eventual end to the number of sick and dying. His enquiries disclosed the filling in of the well and furthermore, from that time, the rapid decline of the epidemic. He demanded from his monk, the nature of the ‘vision’ or the name of the Saint which had inspired the monk’s action. The monk told the Abbot the whole truth as it had happened. After some deliberation, the Abbot ordered the microscope to be publicly destroyed and the monk to do a penance that he might learn to curb his curiosity about those matters in God’s creation which humankind had not the wisdom to investigate.
We may consider that the Abbot’s action deprived the world of medical science for many hundreds of years and that many lives might have been saved. However, by the same token, we may consider the loss of life if the Atomic bomb had been available to Napoleon. The ethics are, by the way, my purpose is to illustrate the lost value of ‘faith’ in a more natural or perhaps less materialistic age. It may be argued that ‘faith’ was the product of wisdom, born of primitive imagery and that ‘science’ was the result of irresponsible indulgence in curiosity. There is no doubt in my mind that when the cards are down and humankind faces extreme trauma, it is to images of faith which can inspire that we look. The ‘Colours’ throughout the history of warfare, have been the image which could make men defy reason and the natural instinct of self‑preservation. For the incurable sick and disabled the many religious sites of Europe are the cause of willing but distressing pilgrimage. The Isenheim Altarpiece by Grunewald, with its terrifying Crucifixion, was created and successfully used to cure the ulcers and skin disorders which were prolific in the psychological insecurity of cities in 16th century Europe. The indulgence of scientific rationalism is only viable in a world which believes itself to be secure, in which the material benefits are so compounded that the awareness is anaesthetised. The image-maker has a serious responsibility, in such a case, to dispel the anaesthetic.
However another ‘story’ this one covering a considerable passage of time and events yet bringing us, full circle, back to where the story began.
The imagery of the ‘bronze-age’ included the adaptation of the earlier stone cup forms into shields and bosses. These metal reliefs were enhanced with vitreous enamels, colours having a history of significance dating back to the most ancient Celtic culture. During the early middle ages, the meaning of these colours was still understood by the illiterate inhabitants of villages and hamlets in the forests of the ‘Cheshire gap’. Rising out of the forested plane, on a craggy lateral moraine was the castle of the warrior-monk, John the Scot, who in pursuit of scholarship, recorded and edited the significance of each colour as understood by the people of the plane around his castle. John the Scot’s manuscript became part of the library of the Lindisfarne monastic community which, at this time, was the spiritual citadel of Christianity in Britain. Following ‘The Synod of Whitby’ whereby Rome became the centre of administration for all Christianity in Europe, the library of Lindisfarne was transferred to the monastery of St. Denis, north-east of Paris. The character of the manuscripts which came from Lindisfarne also had its origin in the same ‘bronze-age’ culture. The meaning of the colours was the commentary of John the Scot and the illumination, the elaboration of imagery of the Latin script, was a graphic version of earlier stone-carvings, being lucid imagery to those who could not read the Latin and furthermore, conveying thought not included in the text.
At the time of the first crusade, the King of France was to leave his kingdom in the capable hands of the Abbot Suger, Bishop of western France. Suger was of humble origin but his talents, even as a child, had resulted in his acceptance at the Abbey School of St. Denis where the nobility of France were educated. His subsequent promotion in the realm was no doubt due to his childhood friendship with Louis the First, but Suger had a brilliance of intellect and creativity which more than justified his status. Under his guidance, the economy of the nation prospered, yet he still found time to conceive an architectural innovation which was to be a milestone in the development of European Architecture. His initial inspiration sprang from the evocative quality which he discovered in the illuminated Capitals of the Lindisfarne books. He conceived a building where the vertical strokes of the pen would be translated into transcendental columns of stone, where the curves and circles could become vaulting and the whole be a gigantic monument to the sacred script. The skeleton of monumental stone calligraphy, he supported with ‘flying buttresses and filled the open areas with a screen of stone or glass. The glass became the coloured illumination of the letter forms and was the result of Suger’s understanding of John the Scot’s writings and Suger’s impresario-like direction of the craftsmen who made the glass. The Church of St. Denis still stands and is the prototype for the Gothic Cathedrals which were to follow.
That which had started as ‘Celtic’ stone carving, had become graphic only to return as stone sculpture in the cascades of rounded imagery which adorn the frontages of the Gothic Cathedrals. We may think that we are looking at the end of a cycle which started with bronze age ‘cup forms’ but the story and the cycle are by no means completed. The ‘primitive’ imagery is to weave its way through many more centuries.
As the term implies, The Italian Renaissance was to be the ‘glory that was Rome’ The starting point, however, had but an antiquarian connection with ancient Rome. The Emperor, Frederick II promoted a scheme for the restoration of ancient Roman architecture and sculpture with which a sculptor, Nicola Pisano, was involved. It was the son of Nicola, Giovanni Pisano, who was to combine his father’s enthusiasm for Roman Sculpture with the rounded figurative forms being produced for Gothic Cathedrals in the workshops of Paris. In the 13th century, Paris was the haven to which all aspiring sculptors gravitated and to which Nicola had sent his son. On his return to Italy, Giovanni took every opportunity to make manifest in stone, the character of sculptural form which, although the accepted idiom of northern Europe, was unique in Italy. The churches of Italy were based on the architecture of the Roman Law Court, the Basilica, having blank plaster interior walls and only a few small windows near the barrel vaulted ceiling. From the moment in time when the painter, Giotto, took upon himself to recreate in Fresco the illusion of sculpture, there followed a development of Italian art which gave precedence to painting and the novelty of the illusion. The illusion, however, ceased to be of the gothic primitives but, as the social world of the renaissance became more materialistic , the illusion of reality became the artist prime concern. Not so much the spiritual but more the material world might suggest that the imagery of the bronze‑age had finally dissolved. It was not, however, to disappear or become material for the collectors of antique. In Spain and northern Europe it appeared in the art of El Greco, Goya, Grunwald, Palmer and Blake where the theatrical element often disguised an inner need to express more than appearances. The remarkable occurred, when in 1888, Paul Gauguin was to meet Emile Bernard. Emile was an expert enthusiast of medieval art. The findings of John the Scot, the innovations of Suger, were all placed in the hands of Gauguin. A much travelled man, Gauguin was already knowledgeable about primitive sculpture and the people in many parts of the world where it was made and used. He was to set in motion the turn of the cycle into the 20th century. ‘Synthetic symbolism’ was the term Gauguin used to describe his use of colour and form. The intention was to evoke archetypical sensations rather than the representation of what the eye or camera saw. From this starting point the important sculptors of the 20th century were to take off. Epstein looked to Polynesia; Picasso to Africa and with Giacometti, Manzu, Marini, Moore and many others, to the archaic cultures of the Mediterranean. Are there now grounds for the sculptor to look at the archaic cultures of the British Isles, for after all that is where this story began?
My last story is included to demonstrate the cultural gap which can exist between peoples with differing chronology in their social evolution. It was told to me that I might recognise the importance of ‘seeing’ through different eyes than those of a 20th century European. The story comes from the recollections of Maurice de Sausmarez, a teacher of extraordinary ability and a very considerable scholar, under whom I was privileged to study many years ago. As one who travelled off the beaten track a great deal, Maurice had chosen to stay with a ‘bush’ tribe in Africa. This was before the days of tourist, organised safari. Despite having little knowledge of their language, he found he could enter into the life-style of the tribe and found them to be generous, kind and most hospitable. He was particularly interested in their cattle, the beasts sweeping horns, slim waists and athletic bodies were reminiscent of the cattle depicted in the art of ancient Egypt. He made many drawing of these cattle, much to the interest of the tribe’s people. What Maurice did not, at the time, comprehend, was the very different way in which the tribes people ‘saw’ the drawings and the way in which he or any contemporary European would ‘see’ them. This was not to come to light until much later when Maurice was packed and ready to leave. Much to his surprise and alarm, he found himself barred from departure by a circle of spears held in a most aggressive manner. The hitherto friendly atmosphere had unexpectedly turned hostile. The reason took him some time to discover. It turned out that it was the drawings he had made of their cattle and more to the point, his intention to take them away with him which had caused the hostility. To Maurice, the drawings were a visual record of appearances, produced in accordance with the established ‘Art’ of Europe at that time with, perhaps a hint of an academic interest in the cattle’s resemblance to Egyptian prototypes. To the bush people, however, the drawings were virtually ‘iconographic, being the embodiment of the spirit of the cattle. To the European mind, the drawings were about the animals; to the African, they were the most significant part of the cattle. In no way could the tribe permit such precious images to leave the safety of the tribal guardians. After Maurice had been made to hand over his drawings, they carefully wrapped and placed at the bottom of a deep hole in the Chiefs’ hut. The hole was filled up and a mat spread over to disguise where the hole had been made. After all this, Maurice was allowed to leave with good wishes and demonstrations of affection.
The attitude of the tribes people, whilst disconcerting to Maurice at the time, might well be welcomed by many contemporary artists. Our society offers no such deference to the product of the image maker. We barter and invest in works of Art, we value them as merchandise with a rarity element; on one occasion I was even asked by a potential buyer, my age, whilst he calculated the profit on his purchase after I was dead. We display our Art in galleries and shops, for sale; our only concern for their safety is represented by the cost of insurance. It is therefore not surprising that our culture is prolific in ‘Art’ but lacking in ‘Icons’. It is to be noted, however, that there are changes afoot; Sculpture is appearing, gratis, on country walks, the sculpture park is becoming a part of our way of life, the artist and the people are becoming increasingly aware of the image as a relationship between themselves and the natural world.
Harry Everington 1999
Digitised from a photocopy; some typographical corrections by Jon Edgar 2006