As an aid to discussion, participants were invited to focus on a single text or set of texts, preferably unpublished or uncollected. Happily, the resulting selection covered almost the whole of Stokes’s writing career.
David Carrier considered Stokes’s problematic relation to the art historical tradition and his development as an art writer by comparing a passage on Giorgione’s Castelfranco Madonna from Stokes’s second book, Sunrise in the West 1926, with one on the lavabo attributed to Verrocchio in the Old Sacristy in San Lorenzo, Florence, from his first major work, The Quattro Cento 1932.
Richard Read also addressed the question of Stokes’s relation to art history and further discussed his reading of the lavabo, focusing in particular on the relevant chapter’s intertextual links with the work of other writers. He also referred to an important and somewhat puzzling document in the Tate Archive, which contains a version of the latter part of the published analysis of the lavabo. The manuscript of The Quattro Cento has not survived and this document is the only extant fragment of anything approaching a draft of the book. However, the lavabo material is here preceded by notes on the general principles and history of compositional design. Also, the entire manuscript is not in the hand of Stokes himself but of his friend (and in the late 1920s companion), the painter and art teacher Adrian Arnold Kent (1903–1977).
Kirsten Haywood explored the young Stokes’s distance from abstract formalism of the ‘Bloomsbury’ variety, as well as on the compositional history of The Quattro Cento 1932, through a close reading of ‘Jesi’, the book’s first chapter. She compared the published text with the extensive manuscript essay of around 1927 from which it was culled (an essay of particular importance for its detailed discussion of the ‘emblematic’, a key category in The Quattro Cento, but there unglossed).
Janet Sayers presented another crucially important archival document, containing Stokes’s notes on some of his psychoanalytical sessions with Melanie Klein in 1931. With the exception of one or two passing references in his personal correspondence, this represents the only surviving first-hand account of his analysis, but has not previously been cited or discussed by commentators. It confirms Richard Read’s claim (for example, in Art and its Discontents 2002/3) that the case-history of ‘Mr B’ included by Klein in The Psycho-Analysis of Children 1932 is that of Stokes himself. It corroborates and supplements Klein’s account of her patient and sheds light on the relation between Stokes’s psychical condition as analysed by Klein and the aesthetic elaborated in The Quattro Cento (also published in 1932), with its emphasis on the manifest outwardness and vital ‘efflorescent’ quality of a specific ‘school’ of fifteenth-century Italian architecture and relief carving. Further consideration of their intricate relation, in the light of this document, must go hand in hand with work in reconstructing the genesis of The Quattro Cento, assembled over five years between 1927 and 1932.
Oliver Soskice made use of rare passages in Stokes’s personal correspondence focusing on his own work as a painter, to discuss the way in which Stokes’s painting is illuminated by ideas such as that of the ‘carving’ aim or conception in visual art generally.
Paul Tucker discussed a brief unpublished essay, ‘In Short’ 1942, in connection with other writings of the war years, which Stokes spent in St Ives. The essay was conceived as a ‘summing up’ of Stokes’s personal philosophy, in the light of his analysis with Melanie Klein. It also offered an ‘epitome’ of a much longer manuscript, ‘The Outer and the Inner Life’, a sort of work-in-progress which occupied him for a substantial portion of the interval of eight years separating the publication of Colour and Form 1937 from that of his next book, Venice 1945. These unpublished texts reveal much about Stokes’s creative methods as a writer in the earlier part of his career, characterised by internal intertextuality, and about the drive to coherence and continuity that sustained his will to change.
Stephen Kite examined an important unpublished example of a genre to which Stokes came late in his career, the public lecture. ‘The Prime Influence of Buildings on the Graphic Arts’ was delivered at the ICA in 1956 and, as Kite writes in his abstract, presents a ‘lucid summary of Stokes’s views on the interrelation of architecture and the graphic arts’, which he discussed in reference to the work of the Independent Group in 1950s Britain.
Lastly, David Hulks compared unpublished letters from Stokes to the critic David Sylvester with the psychoanalytical paper ‘Form in Art’ and other writings, in an attempt to demonstrate the way in which what Stokes termed the ‘carving’ principle, understood in terms of ego-integration, may be seen to operate throughout his career as a writer and across different genres.