Jul 252011

An edited excerpt from something I wrote in 1971 (Leonardo vol.4)

I have clung to the figure because I find in it a model of great complexity with a wide variety of jointing, scale and mass, and one with which we are all familiar. We not only know what it looks like from the outside: we know what it feels like from the inside. The slightest deviation form the expected norm is noted and questioned. Every human eye is attuned to the figure more precisely than even the educated eye is attuned to mathematical proportions. When one adds to this the geometric, architectural and rhythmic associations that have accumulated around the figure during its long evolution, it become clear that there is a widely available basis for understanding the purely formal meaning of figurative sculpture, which I find lacking in non figurative work. Figurative art is capable of dealing with human emotions in a simple and direct way.

One of the tragic side affects of non figurative art, in my view, has fallen upon art education. We are producing art students who have little or no interest in the art of the past, thus destroying the communion of artists: that sense of partaking in a timeless communion certainly gives me a sense of well being. Indeed, it seem to me to be the only certain reward for the serious study of art. Moreover, I am convinced that the sense of belonging to a privileged circle with access to inner meanings is an important ingredient of the aesthetic experience. If my view is right, estrangement form the past is surely too greater price to pay for the understandable dissatisfaction with the old academies of art.

Communication in art, as in everything else, must be based on a collection of symbols that are commonly understood. I realise that new forms sometimes have to be invented to express genuinely new experiences. However, the huge transformations in art that have taken place in the last fifty years have all but disintegrated the slowly evolving complex of commonly understood visual symbols. More important, does not the effort of making language describe our experiences force us to re-examine and refine the experiences ourselves? Surely only when the present language proves inadequate for our expression can we allow ourselves the indulgence of linguistic invention. To me a newly invented ‘form’ is simply a novelty. Originality must contain a new insight which may or may not need a new ‘form’ for its expression.

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