Rereading Read: New Views on Herbert Read

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9781904491088: Rereading Read: New Views on Herbert Read
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From poverty and a Yorkshire orphanage, Herbert Read went on to become the most significant cultural critic to come out of England in the twentieth century.


Between 1940 and 1960 he was the most well-respected writer on modernist art in the English language, effectively defining the movement during that period. He was a major art theorist and writer on literature, and a key figure in anarchist politics.

He was a leading figure in many Eureopan art movements, including Constructivism and Surrealism, and was one of the first English writers to embrace the Existentialist theories of Jean-Paul Sartre. Remarkably Read was once accused by the leading English modernist, Percy Wyndham Lewis, of being too radical in his artistic tastes.

Read was also a notable poet of the First World War, and in later years helped to found numerous art organisations, including the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. And yet, after his death in 1968, he became an almost forgotten figure in art and cultural studies, eclipsed by later figures such as Clement Greenberg and Raymond Williams.

In this book sixteen of the world's leading writers on modernist cultural history look at Read's work again, focusing on his anarchist political beliefs, his work on art and literature, and his own creative writings. They place him in the context of twentieth century cultural life, and offer startling explanations for his neglect by later writers on modernism.

The book is very well illustrated in full colour, with images of works by many of the artists Read championed.

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In London he met up again with Frank Rutter and they began forming a plan to establish a new literary magazine called Art and Letters. Through Rutter, Read met many of the leading cultural figures of the time, including Ezra Pound, Percy Wyndham Lewis, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, the art critic G. Konody, the feminist Dora Marsden and the painters Nina Hamnett, Charles Ginner and Harold Gilman. It was through Rutter too that Read was introduced in 1917 to T.S. Eliot, who was to become one of his closest friends. Another Leeds Arts Club connection in London was Orage who had been editing since 1907 a weekly cultural newspaper called The New Age. Orage had turned The New Age from a failing mouthpiece of the Christian Socialist movement into what was probably the most influential English cultural newspaper of the time, and in 1920 he invited Read to write the paper's weekly column on literature. It was Orage, too, who in 1921 recommended that Read take on the job of editing the papers of the late philosopher T.E. Hulme for publication. Hulme had been at the heart of the English avant-garde before the Great War, and had given movements such as the Vorticists and Imagists philosophical justification for their actions. Consequently the task of editing his papers was thought by many survivors of the pre-war English avant-garde to be one of the most important of the day, and it helped secure Read's reputation as a cultural commentator.

The 1920s were a transitional period in Read's life, when he moved from being uncertain of his critical beliefs to developing his mature theories. Although he was moving in the avant-garde circles associated with Eliot and the magazine Eliot had founded, The Criterion, Read was writing very little on the visual arts. What there was tended to be restricted to discussion on the historic decorative art objects Read encountered in his work as an assistant curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). The rest was literary criticism. Nonetheless, his time at the V&A was of crucial importance. It was whilst he was at the V&A too that he was introduced to the sculptor with whom he was to be most closely associated for the rest of his life - Henry Moore.15 This meeting was the start of a remarkable reorientation of Read's interests, away from the classicism of Eliot towards the romanticism of Moore. Unfortunately, such labels do not adequately capture the momentous nature of this intellectual shift, but it was profound. Although Read's early introduction to culture in the 1910s had been in the `romantic' (or expressionist) environment of the Leeds Arts Club, in the 1920s the dominant atmosphere of London was decidedly classicist. To go against the prevailing trend set by Eliot at this time was a brave act that did not offer a guarantee of success. Indeed, in his growing friendship with Moore, and a simultaneous offer in 1929 to become a regular writer on the visual arts for the BBC's new magazine The Listener, Read found himself looking at art forms in which the 'Eliot circle' had almost no interest, and to make matters worse he was increasingly doing so from a perspective that Eliot found dubious. If ever there was an example to prove that Read did not pander to fashion this is it, and the experience was one he found liberating. To use Read's own metaphor his time spent working as a literary critic with Eliot was rather like a small plant trying to grow in the shadow of a great tree. Only when Read moved to the new light of visual art criticism was he able to develop his own ideas about culture in ways very different to those advocated by Eliot.

This shift from an Eliot-like classicism to a more self-asserted romanticism has led some commentators to suggest that Read was inconsistent, but this was not the case. Read's mature theory of art and culture developed very quickly, after which it remained consistent for the rest of his life, with Moore not only acting as his personal friend, but as proof of his theory in ways that other friends, such as Eliot and Hepworth, could not. For Read, Moore's work was not a simple statement of romanticism that could be contrasted with classicism, but a synthesis of classical order with romantic intuition. This was the basis for all great art, and could even be used to establish a definition of artistic quality. It was also the basis for much else in human life, from political relations to the origin and function of human consciousness. There were three main sources for Read as he developed his theory. Early on he had been influenced by the work of the great nineteenth-century art critic John Ruskin, who had also contrasted what he called mimesis with poesis. Yet Ruskin too had argued that the greatest art combined the two in equal measure, becoming what Ruskin called, vitalistic, a phrase Read readily adopted. The second source was Orage who had modified Nietzsche's contrast of the classical Apollonian and the romantic Dionysian human spirits into a synthetic combination in which one could not exist without the other. The third source lay in Read's early interest in psychoanalysis. This predated the Great War, and may have stemmed from lectures at the Leeds Arts Club, but it was undoubtedly present in 1918 when he wrote a series of letters to Jacob Kramer in which he claimed that art was not either a reflection of reality or a projection of emotion, it was the dialectical synthesis of both. It is likely Read was already thinking of the work of the psychologist C.G. Jung when he wrote to Kramer, and certainly by 1925 he was discussing Jung by name as someone who also showed that human existence was based on a series of antithetical positions.

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Book Description Freedom Press, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From poverty and a Yorkshire orphanage, Herbert Read went on to become the most significant cultural critic to come out of England in the twentieth century. Between 1940 and 1960 he was the most well-respected writer on modernist art in the English language, effectively defining the movement during that period. He was a major art theorist and writer on literature, and a key figure in anarchist politics. He was a leading figure in many Eureopan art movements, including Constructivism and Surrealism, and was one of the first English writers to embrace the Existentialist theories of Jean-Paul Sartre. Remarkably Read was once accused by the leading English modernist, Percy Wyndham Lewis, of being too radical in his artistic tastes. Read was also a notable poet of the First World War, and in later years helped to found numerous art organisations, including the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. And yet, after his death in 1968, he became an almost forgotten figure in art and cultural studies, eclipsed by later figures such as Clement Greenberg and Raymond Williams. In this book sixteen of the world s leading writers on modernist cultural history look at Read s work again, focusing on his anarchist political beliefs, his work on art and literature, and his own creative writings. They place him in the context of twentieth century cultural life, and offer startling explanations for his neglect by later writers on modernism. The book is very well illustrated in full colour, with images of works by many of the artists Read championed. Seller Inventory # AAO9781904491088

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