Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 10. 1963.
More On Evans And Read [letter to the editor by Peter Munz]
Sir,—I admit that Gary Evans has read Read. But it is obvious that he has not understood him Read is not a difficult writer, and there would be no need to say much about him if it were not for the nonsense that Evans has written on him.
Evans is not much of a controversialist. I did not say that Evans dismisses the views of artists. I said that Read uses these views and that there is no ground for Evans's accusation that Read uses the crutches of ratiocinative reasoning. If Evans will look carefully, this statement does not imply that Evans dismisses the views of artists. It means that Evans dismisses Read's use of these views.
Evans completely misrepresents Read's views on surrealism. Perhaps he should reread the relevant passages in "A Concise History of Modern Painting." Surrealism was a very exciting phase in modern art and poetry, which derived directly from the French Symbolists, and though the movement as such is dead, it has made a number of very illuminating contributions. Evans's description of Read as flirting with "modish Marxism" is about as illuminating as the statement that in his youth Einstein flirted with modish arithmetic. Read is a romantic anarchist, and Evans ought to reread the essays in "To Hell With Culture." Since Read is an intelligent man, he has found it necessary at times to change his opinion on all sorts of things.
Evans alleges a contradiction in Read's argument that reason is all important, and the NZBC talk in which Read said that only through the arts fear and despair can be combated. Since the NZBC talk is an exercise of reason, I cannot detect the slightest contradiction there. Read uses reason in order to explore the limitations of reason. As far as art is concerned, Read argues, in my opinion correctly, that the cognitive content of a work of art transcends its conceptual definition. This is a rational argument which explores the limits of reason.
Evans quotes several statements by Read about the capacity in which Read says he is writing. All these alleged contradictions prove is that at various times Read is writing in various capacities. It is foolish to nail him down to any one and reminds one strongly of the late Senator Macarthy's method of convicting people of Communism. On the whole. Evans displays a number of most disagreeable and irresponsible journalistic habits, not the least disagreeable of which is his insinuation that anything cerebral is bad.
Evans displays an unbelievable confusion of mind in his argument about the jugs. The fact that the Greeks used an inverted pear does not contradict Read's argument. And the fact that Leach does not favour the unduloid form is irrelevant to it. For Read was speaking only of the form that predominates.
When Read insisted that the pear-shape of jugs is not derived from the fruit, he wanted to suggest that the pear-shaped jugs, though shaped like natural objects, are not imitations of nature. Evans wonders who but Read would have thought so. He is apparently not acquainted with the naturalistic theory of art.
Evans says that Read is out of touch with reality since the pear shape of the jug is functionally, not aesthetically, conditioned. If Evans had ever read Read carefully, he would have noticed how strongly Read stresses that in good art, function and aesthetic value coincide. Read has some fascinating things to say about Henry Moore's functional dependence on his materials—to mention only one example.
Evans ridicules Read's insistence that the potter in shaping the pot has instinctively given it the tense form of a liquid drop, as a "poet's conceit." Evans apparently does not know that in poetry the word "conceit" has no pejorative meaning! But I am prepared to overlook this matter because I realise that a professional "art critic" like Mr. Evans cannot be expected to be familiar with the technicalities of literary criticisms as well. Instead let me say that Read's argument in this matter points to a profound truth: In good artistic creation, the artist follows a reason deeper than any conscious design and expresses, almost unconsciously, an organic truth: in this case, the natural shape assumed by a liquid drop.
The artist does not consciously imitate nature: but nature's shapes make an indelible impression on him (Picasso). Alternatively. Read might have wished to indicate with this argument that a good artist's hands are guided by the same universal natural forces that cause a liquid drop to have the shape it has. "The life which the great artist reveals," wrote Ruskin, "is organic life, the life which is identical throughout the universe, which is God in natural phenomena and God in animals and men."