‘A stimulation to greater effort of living’: The Importance of Henry Moore’s ‘credible compromise’ to Herbert Read’s Aesthetics and Politics
Arguably, this a-criticality did Moore a disservice – it smoothed the struggles, failures, tensions in the work, into something almost too perfectly synthesised. This is the great contradiction of Read’s contribution to Moore’s legacy; he did more than any other critic to promote, push and secure Moore’s unassailable reputation as Britain’s most important modern artist, but, in so doing, he left Moore as a monument to modernism, smoothed of imperfection, in a state of almost classical idealism that was, in fact, inimical to all that Read practiced within his work and admired in Moore’s, namely texture, organic development and vitality.
First encounter: a return to the material
It is noteworthy that it was not the particular subjects of Moore’s sculpture, not his ‘archetypal’ themes that appealed to Read at this point. In this first flush of enthusiasm, it was Moore’s Nietzschean will to power, with an un-Nietzschean emphasis on physical force and domination – language more at home in a futurist manifesto than in an exhibition review for the Listener – that singled out Moore for attention.30 Here the dynamic for Read’s engagement with Moore as a model artist was set between the artistic ego exerting its will and the artist as medium for other forces, natural, unconscious, proto-social and material.
Moore’s uncompromising compromise and Read’s aesthetic axis
The problem of sculpture: Moore’s pragmatic process
As the example of Time-Life Screen demonstrates, Read admired Moore for his ability to overcome the formal issues of a situation in order to effect a radical compromise that was, in fact, a new synthesis. It was his ability to synthesise from such polarities that made Moore’s position as participant to the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition and as contributor (as was Read) to Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art in 1937 not contradictory but reconciliatory. Although Read saw the classical/romantic duality as critically moribund and the abstract/surreal divide as resolved through the triumph of the surreal, he never saw resolution in the push and pull of Worringer’s abstraction and empathy. Within Moore’s work he perceived an ability to respond with the right measure of each, not as opposing tendencies, but as combining forces. In fact, following Worringer, Read began to see that the tension was not in abstraction versus (sur)realism, but within abstraction itself, the interplay of ‘vital and dead type[s] of abstraction.’65 The former, with its basis in the organic, pulls one in, whereas, for Worringer, quoted by Read, the abstraction of the Egyptian pyramid for example ‘calls a halt to our empathy impulse and presents itself to us as a purely crystalline, abstract construct.’66
The individual and the group: Moore’s role in Read’s anarchism
The unreconciled image
How to cite
Ben Cranfield, ‘‘A stimulation to greater effort of living’: The Importance of Henry Moore’s ‘credible compromise’ to Herbert Read’s Aesthetics and Politics’, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www