Dates: 1893-1968

Nationality: British

Sir Herbert Edward Read, DSO, MC, was an English anarchist poet, and critic of literature and art. He was one of the earliest English writers to take notice of existentialism, and was strongly influenced by proto-existentialist thinker Max Stirner.

However, Read was (and remains) better known as an art critic. He was a champion of modern British artists such as Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. He became associated with Nash’s contemporary arts group Unit One. Read was professor of fine arts at the University of Edinburgh (1931–33) and editor of the trend-setting Burlington Magazine (1933–38). He was one of the organizers of the London International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 and editor of the book Surrealism, published in 1936, which included contributions from André Breton, Hugh Sykes Davies, Paul Éluard, and Georges Hugnet. He also served as a trustee of the Tate Gallery and as a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum (1922–1939), as well as co-founding the Institute of Contemporary Arts with Roland Penrose in 1947.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Herbert Read’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 December 2010, 21:13 UTC, <en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Herbert_Read&oldid=400375088>

Quotes by Herbert Read:

Art is an indecent exposure of the consciousness.

Art in its widest sense is the extension of the personality: a host of artificial limbs.

Works of art must persist as objects of contemplation.

If we persist in our restless desire to know everything about the universe and ourselves, then we must not be afraid of what the artist brings back from his voyage of discovery.

Intellect begins with the observation of nature, proceeds to memorize and classify the facts thus observed, and by logical deduction builds up that edifice of knowledge properly called science… But admittedly we also know by feeling, and we can combine the two faculties, and present knowledge in the guise of art.

In general, modern art… has been inspired by a natural desire to chart the uncharted.

Art is not and never has been subordinate to moral values. Moral values are social values; aesthetic values are human values. Morality seeks to restrain the feelings; art seeks to define them by externalizing them, by giving them significant form. Morality has only one aim – the ideal good; art has quite another aim – the objective truth… art never changes.

The depths modern art has been exploring are mysterious depths, full of strange fish…

Art is pattern informed by sensibility.

The fundamental purpose of the artist is the same as that of a scientist: to state a fact.

Sensibility… is a direct and particular reaction to the separate and individual nature of things. It begins and ends with the sensuous apprehension of colour, texture and formal relations; and if we strive to organize these elements, it is not with the idea of increasing the knowledge of the mind, but rather in order to intensify the pleasure of the senses.

The peculiarity of sculpture is that it creates a three-dimensional object in space. Painting may strive to give on a two-dimensional plane, the illusion of space, but it is space itself as a perceived quantity that becomes the peculiar concern of the sculptor. We may say that for the painter space is a luxury; for the sculptor it is a necessity.

Spontaneity is not enough – or, to be more exact, spontaneity is not possible until there is an unconscious coordination of form, space and vision.

The classicist, and the naturalist who has much in common with him, refuse to see in the highest works of art anything but the exercise of judgement, sensibility, and skill. The romanticist cannot be satisfied with such a normal standard; for him art is essentially irrational – an experience beyond normality, sometimes destructive of normality, and at the very least evocative of that state of wonder which is the state of mind induced by the immediately inexplicable.

If modern art has produced symbols that are unfamiliar, that was only to be expected.


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