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Thursday, 12 February 2009

Henry Moore

SkyArts recently screened a program entitled The Art of Henry Moore which I recorded and, a few nights ago, watched. Something that I had not realised when recording, was that the commentary was by Henry Moore himself. It was, he said, an introduction to some of the problems that have fascinated him in the course of producing his art. What struck me was that wrapped up in a fascinating reflection on his craft were a number of points, any one of which would have made an excellent discussion point. By which I do not mean that I found them controversial, merely that they might have had much more to give as such. As such I give them here - or teat them merely as thinking points.

  • The Mother and Child is one of my inexhaustible subjects. It is eternal. But how does religious art differ from the everyday? Artistically speaking, what is the difference between a Mother and Child and a Madonna and Child? (I give Moore's answer to that question at the bottom of the post.)

  • A straight line, a pure curve, solid geometric shapes, the perfect cube are considered to be beautiful, but they are best made by a machine. The artist's concern is with imperfection.

  • Sculpture should always have some initial obscurity, some mystery not apparent to the quick observer (actually, all art should), otherwise it is merely an empty immediacy, like a poster intended to be seen and read quickly from the top of a bus.

  • My little studio is an important habitat for me. I love its clutter and muddle. It throws up fortuitous associations and can send me off working in an unexpected direction.

  • The theory that an artist's work is directly attributable to his imagination is a romantic idea. An artist's gift is that he can reject his imagination.

  • Speaking of his air raid shelter drawings (which I had always thought he'd made in situ in the London tube stations), he said: Naturally, I could not draw in the shelters, I drew from memory later at home. It would have been like making sketches in the hold of a slave ship. One couldn't be as disinterested as that. (I thought how different from the present day photo-journalists, some of whom would have gone in close with their lenses.)

  • Speaking first of his early interest in primitive art, especially that of Mexico, and then of the revelation that was afforded him by a six month stay in Europe, he explained that it was a long while before he was free to use the lessons of Europe in his art. That was because of the violent way in which they clashed with his pre-existing interests. He then asked: Is this conflict what makes things happen?

  • Artists do not need religion. Art is religion. If one believes that all life is significant - and everyone who does not commit suicide has that belief - then one has religion in his art.

  • Beauty is a deeper concept than prettiness or niceness, deeper than an arrangement of shapes and colours. People expect perfect craftsmanship, lovely artefacts, but never did I want to produce a beautiful woman, though I do want beauty in my art. (And later) My work is mainly intuitive, not erotic, though I have no objection to others finding it erotic, to others finding in it what I had not realised was there.

  • Drawing, even for those who are not good at it, makes you look more intently at the subject. Just looking has no grit in it, no mental struggle or difficulty. That only happens when you are drawing.

Moore suggested that the difference between a Mother and Child and a Madonna and Child was that the latter should have austerity, nobility and grandeur.


Natalie said...

Love curves, love Henry Moore. Thanks Dave.xx

Jinksy said...

An interesting array of topics, as you said. I would dispute the last one; although I love to draw, I also enjoy the studying closely bit, before going away to write a poem. Does that count as having mental struggle and grit, I wonder?

Stephen Dell'Aria said...

Your posts are always interesting, Dave.
I am fascinated by how much a Moore sculpture says, important artist. Every major museum here in Washington (and probably most throughout the world) have a Henry Moore in front of them. This makes me wonder if cultural status doesn't erode an artist. As great an artist as Henry Moore is, culture seems to have cast him into that 'empty immediacy' he was trying to avoid. This isn’t Moore’s fault, it’s ours.

Bagman and Butler said...

I love Moore! And I like his comment that a Madonna and Child should have austerity, nobility, and grandeur. He might have added that a mother and child should have patience, ear plugs, and an adequate supply of diapers.

The Weaver of Grass said...

An interesting comment at the end Dave. I too love Henry Moore's work. Until fairly recently we had one of his pupils living in Middleham - they used to make models of all the sculptures Henry Moore undertook. This chap was himself a sculptor and had literally learned his "trade" with Moore.
Do you see that The Times is running a series on who is the favourite modern artist? Moore is one that is mentioned this week - I personally would have difficulty picking out any one favourite but Moore would definitely be up there amongst the greatest.

Unknown said...

Hi Dave,

Although I have never been a Moore fan, his comments are very interesting. Particularly concerning the air raid/slave ship and your own comment about photo-journalists.

While I would readily accept that modern journalism is sensationalist, I would also accept that the photographer is able to convey suffering/misery in a split second, totally different to that of an artist sketching the figures. It does not necessarily mean that the photographer is in any way less sympathetic, less involved in the experience of the subject. I might even suggest that he can convey horror, disgust, despair etc. far better than a painting or sketch ever could.

Just my thoughts!


Hi Dave, go to my blog,I have a surprise for you.Very good this article on Henry.

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

Wow, I love your blog and you have an amazing eye for art!!
My husband is from South London and we still have one daughter in London and one in Barry, Wales.
I hope that you won't mind if I follow your most intriging blog?

Steady On
Reggie Girl

Unknown said...

Much to meditate on here: the two that really stick in my mind:

"Sculpture should always have some initial obscurity, some mystery not apparent to the quick observer (actually, all art should)...."

& especially: "The theory that an artist's work is directly attributable to his imagination is a romantic idea...."

Thanks for posting these thought-provoking observations

Tess Kincaid said...

Glorious, thought provoking post, Dave. I collect Madonna and Child, as well as mother and child artwork. I like Moore's explanation of the difference.

Maggie May said...

the perspective on drawing from an air raid shelter is interesting. i wonder if Vonnegut would have written from Dresden if he could.

Tumblewords: said...

Thanks for an interesting post! I've always enjoyed Moore's work and have found it to be sophisicatedly primitive. Each piece calls for more delving, more deciphering of the mystery within.

Linda Sue said...

Excellent post, gives me at least a lifetime of thought. Art (poetry) is everything to me, religion, food, sex, pleasure, challenge, the cosmos. How can one have a tidy studio! I am printing this post and hanging it in my studio, the most inspiration I have had!
Can never thank you enough for just being who you are, Dave.

Rosaria Williams said...

I dropped in from Renee's blog, Circling my Head. Poetry and Art are a great combination to explore.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Henry Moore is maybe the sculptor I like most Dave, some of his work was brought to Venice in the past for some time....
I really enjoyed your previous post on nature poetry, I totally aree with your thought.
Yes, Seamus Heaney, my favourite poet, is by all means a nature poet and some of his work confirms poetically the thesis in your post:
as in the super poem "The Gravel Walks" from the collection "The Spirit Level" 1996.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

What beautiful, inspiring art! I didn't see the last one as erotic. Hmm...

Michelle said...


Imperfection is to be striven for....

Luckily for me....:0)

Love your posts Dave, they make me think.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Interesting post, specially the points about obscurity and imperfections. I'm not sure I agree in practice with the closing quote though, there is a Mother and child sculpture in Edinburgh that is full of austerity, nobility and grandeur.

Cloudia said...

This post was better than many college level art classes.
Thank you for this wonderful interlude. Just wonderful! Aloha

Barry said...

The Art Gallery of Ontario has an excellent collection of Moore's works.

Next time I go, I'm taking a copy of this post along with me.

Dominic Rivron said...

A really absorbing post - one to print out and stick on the notice board here, I think.

Dave King said...

Thank you!

I think that most definitely counts as menatl struggle and grit.

Yes, I think I get your drift: there is a point at which status takes over and aesthetic considerations seem to be marginalised.

Butler and Bagman
Take your point! Though I think his Mother and Child works do have a sort of patience. But there are none that I know of with ear plugs or diapers.

Weaver of Grass
Lucky chap to have studied with Moore.
Yes, I did see The Times's favourite modern artist piece. I couldn't begin to choose one - a short list of a hundred might be difficult.

Yes I take your point, I don't think I made mine very clearly. I was not doubting the photographer's ability to convey the pain and suffering, but his more "in your face" attitude towards the victim/s. He might be as feeling, but he appears less so and that must have an effect upon the victim. I probably should have said something like paparazzi rather than photo-journalist, though even that, I supoose, might unfairly malign some.

Thanks for that. Will do.

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff...
Many thanks for you comment and welcome. I shall be delighted to have you following.

Thanks for visiting and stopping to comment. Much appreciated.

As always, good to have your comments. Thanks.

You know, I think he might have...

I like the phrase sophisticatedly primitive. Sums it up a treat.

Linda Sue
Thanks for a really overwhelmingly generous comment. Much appreciated.

Welcome indeed and thanks for visiting and for commenting.

I couldn't agree with you more about Gravel Walks. Superb.

Lady Glamis
Welcome and thanks for the comment.

Luckily for all of us, I think! Welcome and many thanks

Crafty Green Poet
Yes, I take that point, absolutely. Does that mean there is no difference, I wonder?

Thanks again, the feedback is much appreciated.

Hope it helps!

Kind words. Thanks very much.

Noelle Dunn.... A Poet in Progress said...

a lot to think about....I really liked those initial thoughts on beauty being a deeper concept thatn prettiness or niceness...

Janette Kearns Wilson said...

O.K. I do think that you love a little provocation, as always it is great to read your blog.
What worries me is the "guru" mentality that we attribute to successful people.
He was without doubt a great artist, but why does he say the line about artists concern being about imperfection I am sure that he searched continually for the "perfect" line or the "perfect" shape.
I feel sad at the need to "reject his imagination" at what point of the process does he reject it? Certainly not in the formulating stages, if so why do any art?
I would challenge the line about the alternative to "life being significant"..... and suicide.
Why does religion and art be either/or. In the Mathew Fox philosophy they are synonimous and indeed Moore appears to believe so otherwise why is there a need to have religion in his art.....?
I am not sure if any of this makes sense but thanks for the blog .

Leslie Avon Miller said...

I enjoyed this post. One perspective, which may have changed over time....I know mine does.


Very interesting, thank you!

Dave King said...

Welcome and many thanks for stopping by to comment.

You are correct in guessing that I chose these particular pronouncements of his for their controversial nature - though I have to say that I did not immediately disagree with many, which is to say that I thought I could see what he was driving at in the majority of cases - and did not wildly disagree. Maybe many should have had more elucidation.

I am not sure in what sense he was suggesting we should be concerned with imperfection or should reject the imagination. I do also totally agree with you that the duru thing is something of a trial.

Your points do make sense and I thank you for them.

I, too, can vouch for a changed perspective!

Many thanks.

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