Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 10. 1963.
Letters to the Editor...
Letters to the Editor....
More On Evans And Read
Dear Sir.—Having paid some attention to the recent battle of words between your art critic Gary Evans and the esteemed Professor Munz. I find myself ready to agree almost literally with T. S. Eliot's description of the critic as a second-order mind.
Eliot, however, still attributes to the critic the useful functions of clarifying and objectivising thought about art and of providing some sort of working standards by which works of art may be judged. The sort of criticism indulged in by Mr. Evans, however, does neither of these things. It is not only almost entirely subjective, but petty, pedantic, and lacking any consistent basis of judgment.
Mr. Evans can certainly wield words. He uses his pen, however, almost as though he were stirring a glue-pot. One gets the impression that he fancies himself as some sort of latter-day Dr. Johnson. If he is indeed a frustrated artist, even if his talent be small, he would perhaps benefit if he were to take a brush and paint in hand, or attempt some creative writing. At least he might gain some comprehension of the artist's point of view, in which he is totally lacking at present.
As for the type of controversy in which Evans has engaged with Dr. Munz, this is of no service either to art or to criticism, and seems to serve only to gratify the egos of the participants.
Evans quotes Sir Herbert Read—"People's minds are like Pernod, they go cloudy when words are poured into them." It would seem that his own is somewhat clouded, indeed that the words have solidified and stultified his thinking to an advanced degree, and he is attempting to off-load some of them on to his readers.
Please, Mr. Evans, find some other outlet.
Dear Sir,—After ploughing through G.L.E.'s defence of his criticism of Sir Herbert Read, one point remains clear in my word-clouded mind. Argumentum ad hominem (last sentence) never "bolstered up the remarks" of any discerning art critic.
T. J. Waghorn,Science Student.
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."
Mr. Evans Replies
Dr. Munz's rejoinder is about as unconvincing as the literary meanderings of Read himself. I have neither the space nor the inclination to go through this letter clause by clause, and will therefore content myself with a comment on clause (8).
In his condescending manner. Munz accuses me once again of semantic ignorance. It is surely apparent to any reasonably intelligent person that the immunity of a "poet's conceit" from pejorative connotations is dependent upon its use in a poetic context. Does Munz, like the famous M. Jourdain, not know the difference between prose and poetry? To elaborate for his benefit, a "poet's conceit" when carried over into prose is divested of its poetic licence and, consequently, attracts its usual dictionary meaning.
"Disagreeable and irresponsible journalistic habits." I fear, are not the sole prerogative of the professional journalist.
[The Evans-Munz correspondence is now closed.—Editor]
Constipation Is Mental
Sir,—I have known Gary Evans for some years. He is mentally constipated.
Salient's Art page gives him relief; for the sake of his health do not take it away from him.
Sir—I have read the report "Scientists Need Air" in last weeks Salient and would be obliged if you would publish this additional Departmental comment.
The University is organised on a departmental basis and as needs appear in any department they are met by seeking additional resources. In the case discussed, the Physics Department some years ago bought a liquid air machine. Within the Chemistry Department a similar need subsequently developed and was met initially by a not uncommon arrangement wherby the Physics Department supplied liquid air. No question of payment arose, and the Physics Department was good enough to underwrite the expenditure of technician time involved. The use of liquid air in the Chemistry Department thereafter increased very rapidly and reached a point where it was hardly fair to expect another department to act as the source of supply and at this stage an application was lodged with the Research Grants Committee. This body, after examining the position fully, agreed to the request. This was early in 1961. During Term the machine is running three days weekly and I have no doubt it will be even more fully in use over the next two or three years.
The phrase "recent departmental squabble" appears inappropriate, and the suggestion in the last paragraph, that the destination of the first machine was ever in doubt, can hardly be taken seriously. I also find it impossible to make any logical sense of the sentence: "The Chemistry Department applied to buy a machine itself, but instead was granted one.
S. N. Slater.
Sir,—I am a British student of Geography and the structure and development of your country has always been of great interest to me. I would very much like, if possible, to get in touch with one of your students as I feel an interchange of ideas may prove fruitful to a study of our two closely linked countries and certainly, friendship is the surest way of understanding.
If you would pass on my request I would be most grateful.
Roger N. Taber.59 Wylie Road. Hoo. Rochester, Kent. England.
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