Salient. Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 8. Monday, July 1, 1963
Art Critic G.L.E. Rubbished
Art Critic G.L.E. Rubbished
I am writing in reply to G.L.E.'s columns in your last issue—not because G.L.E. is worth arguing with or because Read needs to be defended against him. But among your readers there are bound to be students who know as little of art and art criticism as G.L.E. and who may therefore attribute a weight to G.L.E.'s statements, which they do not possess.
I cannot imagine where G.L.E. gets his knowledge of Read from. Certainly not from Read's lectures or books. It is quite clear that Read quotes, almost exclusively, from the painters and artists he talks about. There can therefore be no question of his relying 'upon the crutches of ratiocinative reasoning and psychology'. G.L.E. thinks that reasoning and psychology 'bear about as much relationship to art as logic to law'.
I will let the curious remark about logic and law pass. But as to the other matter, I would like to explain that there can be no aesthetic judgment of any kind unless it incorporates social and psychological and related factors. Art is not something that happens in a vacuum; and every artist has more or less explicit thoughts as to what he is doing. Moreover. Read does not force modern art into a Procrustes bed of ready made theories. He relies almost exclusively upon the writings and views of the artists themselves and treats us merely to a sustained commentary on them. It is Klee and Kandinsky and Picasso themselves that speak to us through him—with, it is only fair to admit a certain amount of theory thrown in from June;. Fiedler, and Worringer. It is quite amazing to see how G.L.E. can get himself to dismiss, in a high-handed fashion, the relevance of what the artists themselves have said.
When one peruses the columns on art which appear in our daily papers from time to time under the initials of G.L.E., one cannot help thinking that that writer would benefit enormously from a little bit of real knowledge and information. Instead he treats us monotonously to a very homespun 'theory' of art and keeps recommending to the attention of a very uninformed, and therefore long suffering public a number of painters who may not be lacking in sincerity but who are completely out of touch with the modern idiom. If he finds the 'polymath' Read too difficult, perhaps he could consult an essay by Sir Kenneth Clarke in a recent number of Encounter. (No. 112).
There was nothing 'patronising' in Read's comments on Tomory; they were merely appreciative. Read is, of course, a prudent man and was not anxious to rush into print with opinions about New Zealand painters. So it is perhaps inevitable that G.L.E. should think that Read was unsure and stalled, except for a comment upon the undisputable value of Frances Hodgkins. In private Read was much less discrete and showed considerably interest in painters who have never attracted G.L.E.'s attention.
In his contribution to your paper, G.L.E. assumes that in modern art nobody can tell what is what and that Read simply] muddled through for years, guessing and often regretting his mistakes. It is the true mark of all uninformed people that they exaggerate the differences of opinion among experts and quote these differences as an excuse for their own lack of knowledge. For they say, if the experts disagree surely it does not matter if I stick to my own prejudices! Unfortunately for G.L.E., the disagreement among experts is by no means as great as he thinks: and there is, therefore really no excuse at all for prejudice and ignorance. We are badly in need of genuinely informed writings about contemporary art and of an art criticism that is not based upon "I know what I like," but upon the ancient Chinese canons of art.
G.L.E. describes himself well (and is obviously speaking for himself) when he writes of "us colonials" lacking old-world sophistication and veneer. But at least he has sufficient native wit to have thought of a sophism. He claims that there are people who consider Read a "saviour" and then points out that Read is in fact no such thing. The point, of course, is that nobody considers Read a "saviour."
Read is an extremely well educated and thoughtful man who has used his literary articulateness in order to help people to look upon contemporary art with a more appreciative and understanding eye. As a human being and as a poet he has in certain respects reached a bit beyond the average—and that fact, conveyed with forceful if unflamboyant eloquence, makes him inspiring. G.L.E. is simply trying to score a cheap point by stating that some people consider Read a saviour. He adds that Read's "bandwagon … has conveyed its unwitting English passengers down the garden-path to nowhere." To begin with, G.L.E. should not mix his metaphors. Secondly, he ought not to give the sillily impression that art criticism ought to "convey" people somewhere and that it proves its failure if it conveys people nowhere. Where, exactly, does G.L.E. imagine people ought to be conveyed to? And, finally why all those insulting remarks about the English? In the beginning of his article, G.L.E. remarks upon the English-man's attitude to the colonies and in the third paragraph he suggests that only the English] were taken in by Read's "thick fog of intellectualism."
These remarks teach us nothing about Read. But they do make one wonder about G.L.E., his feelings of inferiority and his resentments. The peculiar thing is that Read is not an ordinary art critic. He never writes in order to attack people or to proclaim that their art is not good. He spends all his efforts to snow that certain artists are making an important experiment in art and are revealing new horizons. It makes no sense, therefore, when G.L.E. writes that Read "no longer holds sway over critical opinion in England." Such a remark could only be sensible if Read had ever proclaimed the value of a movement which is now no longer appreciated. But since the heroes of Read's stories are people like Kandinsky and Klee, there is obviously no question of that. Like all great writers on art, Read is wisely silent on those he thinks are incompetent and employs his literary skills and his knowledge to help people to appreciate the competent. But G.L.E., alas!, is as ignorant of the value of silence as he unconversant with literary skill and knowledge.
I am, etc.,