Image credit: 'The Arrows Mean Death' from Klee's wartime paintings news.artnet.com
SIR HERBERT READ - WWI battalion leader and survivor - turned anarchist philosopher against all totalitarianism. Friend of Jung and Orwell.
His profound interest in natural law and art is worth looking at today, in our increasingly totalitarian environments. As many do today, he advocated for decentralization of power, leading to the people organising themselves. As an anti-industrialist, he has commonality with William Blake who observed the changing society of a nation covered in 'dark satanic mills' resulting from the 'full steam ahead' progress of the machine and profit.
Its easy to imagine how the experience of war, and especially the brutality of WWI, would cause a thinking man to consider how life should be lived that all may have meaning rather than survival within the rat race of industrialism and its associated bureaucrats.
Film about Read. Interviewed 1956
A gentle spoken man with a great belief in art as a necessity for human wellbeing, but not as a means of lucrative competitiveness .
Read was tired of the old "gigantic boredom" of fine art, therefore an advocate for new, modern art and set up the ICA with Roland Penrose. he believed a better world might come from a wider interest in developing art ideas. (He would not be pleased with the self obsessed, decadent and gender analysing 'art' of today.). Art does indeed tend to reflect the culture of any social engineering which has been financed.
"There is only one plan — the plan of nature. We must live according to natural laws, and by virtue of the power which comes from concentrating upon their manifestation in the individual human mind". ~ Read
In Coats of Many Colours, Read writes of Eric Gill's thoughts against industrial capitalist society. Gill, like Blake, resolved to earn a living by humble means, as a letter-setter rather than architect.
My socialism was from the beginning [Gill wrote] a revolt against the intellectual degradation of the factory hands and the damned ugliness of all that capitalist- industrialism produced, and it was not primarily a revolt against the cruelty and injustice of the possessing classes or against the misery of the poor. It was not so much the working class that concerned me as the working man— not so much what he got from working as what he did by working.
Gill considered the place of artists in the machine age: "What the machine cannot do is the " thinking " part, and what distinguishes the artist from the workman is the ability to " think ", a certain faculty which the Germans call Gestaltungsfaehigkei." ~ Gill
William Blake would agree with that. This is the crux of Read's philosophy; that life should be about the quality of what you do, and in some way part of a natural law; all things good and true; the thinking which bring activities into form, and from thence developed his interest in philosophy of art. Art is from within, thoughts reflective of culture, which humans bring into being by form. Art activities bring the inside out and are as such a reflection of culture from an era in anthropological perspective.
'.....life must be so ordered that the individual can live a natural life, attending to what is within " ~ Read
HERBERT READ ON PAUL KLEE - Swiss artist and director of the Bauhaus
"He escaped by way of nature, and there is a whole phase of his work—round about 1908-12—which might be described as impressionistic. But he knew the truth of that saying of Meister Eckhart : " I you seek the kernel, then you must break the shell. And likewise if you would know the reality of Nature, you must destroy the appearance, and the farther you go beyond the appearance, the nearer you will be to the essence." Thereafter every painting by Klee becomes an attempt to express this inner essence.
But it is just at this point that he miraculously avoids the pitfall of almost all artists who seek to express the metaphysical. He does not for a moment surrender his artistic integrity—his sensibility."
Read explains abstraction from the artist's internality:
"That does not mean that his art had no relation to the world about him—that he was, as we inelegantly say, an " escapist ". It is only an unintelligent and superficial realism that demands of the artist a mechanical reflection of the objects which lie in his field of vision. Nor is it much more intelligent to restrict the artist to what is called an interpretation of those objects—the running commentary of the impressionistic journalist. What history demands in its long run, is the object itself—the work of art which is itself a created reality, an addition to the sum of real objects in the world. Such objects can only come from the artist's own world, the unique world of his own subjective existence. That, of course, is not a vacuum—it is the most crowded receptacle in the universe, and psychology has never plumbed its depths."
"The whole of Klee's life-work was a white energy against the dark background of modern Germany"
TO BE CONTINUED...