Holes in Moore

Henry Moore: A Study of His Life and Work

by Herbert Read
Praeger, 284 pp., $7.50

Henry Moore: The Life and Work of a Great Sculptor

by Donald Hall
Harper & Row, 181 pp., $7.50

To have somehow become the favorite sculptor of the Philistines is not the worst fate that can befall a modern artist. Among its many benefits, it permits a sculptor, who is likely to face immoderate expenses if he works steadily on an ambitious scale, to go on making sculpture. Yet it is a fate guaranteed to induce a certain discomfort—if not in the artist himself, then in those who have followed his accomplishments with more than routine attention and respect. However much we may have disabused ourselves of the cant about the great artist being the least appreciated in his lifetime, no matter how distant we may feel from the old avant-garde pieties that once lent a certain credence to this cant, the suspicion persists that an artist whose name is always first on the lips of every dim-witted cultural entrepreneur and civic benefactor lusting after a monumental object to reflect a little glory on an otherwise dubious enterprise must, in one way or another, have sacrificed a measure of quality, integrity, or artistic conscience to merit such conspicuous and unsavory patronage.

In the case of Henry Moore, the suspicion is reinforced by the decline of his influence on the most interesting younger sculptors on both sides of the Atlantic. In England today, no less than in America, sculptors are in active revolt against everything Moore represents, or is alleged to represent, when they are not simply bypassing him altogether. All Moore seems to have contributed to this younger generation is the myth that the English are a race endowed by nature with a rare genius for making sculpture. This myth is energetically rekindled every four or five years by the ritual cheers of the London art critics, who, upon finding that they can no longer even look at the products of the last “renaissance” they proclaimed, several seasons back, without acute pain, laughter, or exasperation, press yet a younger group of newly fledged art students into service in order to brighten community spirits. Until recently, it was Moore’s influence on the young that was adduced as evidence of this national genius for sculptural form; now it is their independence from, or indifference to, Moore that is cited. But whether as a positive or a negative factor, Moore’s achievement and his great success remain indispensable to the myth itself.

BUT A MYTH of this sort cannot disguise the fact that Moore’s achievement, as distinct from his success, is no longer what it once was: an important source of ideas for serious sculptors. Whereas Matisse, Miró, and Mondrian have retained their hold on the young—and not only the young—Moore, like Lipchitz and even Picasso in this respect, has not. This means, among other things, that though the artist continues to be copious in his production, he looks more and more like a figure of history. No longer in active aesthetic commerce with the future, he offers himself as a candidate for the glorious past. And …

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Letters

Too Perfect February 9, 1967