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  Art and Anarchy

Sir Herbert Edward Read


Born: December 4, 1893
Died: June 12, 1968

"The laws of Nature are physical laws: they can be grouped under such general terms as rhythm, proportion, balance, precision, economy, etc."

- Sir Herbert Edward Read

From Francis Berry, "Herbert Read," Writers and their Work, No. 45, London: Longmans, Green & Co. for The British Council and the National Book League, 1953, p. 10:

"Herbert Read was born near Kirby-Moorside, Yorkshire, in 1893. He was the son of a farmer. He was educated at Crossley's School, Halifax, and the University of Leeds. For three years he fought in the First World War as an Infantry Officer, won the Military Cross in 1917, and membership of the Distinguished Service Order in 1918. After the war he entered the Civil Service, first in the employ of the Treasury, and then that of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was as an Assistant Keeper at the Museum that he acquired his professional knowledge of ceramics and stained glass. He left the service of the Museum in 1931, in order to occupy, two years, the Chair of Fine Art in the University of Edinburgh. Thereafter he became the editor of the Burlington Magazine, from 1933-1939. Since then he has been successively literary adviser and director of a famous publishing firm [Routledge]. In recent years he has come to undertake a good deal of committee work for such bodies as the British Council and the Arts Council. He was instrumental in founding the Institute of Contemporary Arts, of which he has been president. In 1932, he received the honorary degree of Litt.D. from the University of Leeds. He was horoured with a knighthood in 1953."

Editor: William W. Leedom, Pitzer student

Sir Herbert Edward Read was born December 4th, 1893 in Yorkshire England. He also died in Yorkshire England in 1968, but the contributions he made in those seventy years to literature, art, and political philosophy were immeasurable. He was the chief interpreter of modern art movements in Great Britain for much of the 20th century and his influence reached into many fields. He is best described as a philosophic anarchist. Read became disenchanted with the world around him after an idyllic childhood growing up on a farm in Yorkshire. His early life is described in later works such as The Innocent Eye and an autobiographical work The Contrary Experiences . This disenchantment was brought about by his three years of service as a infantry officer during World War I. The contrast between the horrors of war and his childhood appear in many of his later books such as Naked Warriors and Collected Poems . He was a great influence in a new group of poets which arose in the 1940s known as the "new apocalypse," poets who reacted to the poltical and quiet poetry of the decade before. Read had attended the University of Leeds before the war and after it went to work first at a museum in London and then at the University of Edinburgh. In the late 1930s he became the the editor of the Burlington Magazine . Such artists and sculptors as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Ben Nicholson were greatly influenced by Read during this period. He helped them establish their work while at the same time continuing writing, teaching, and work in publishing while living in London. He was rewarded in 1953 when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Read contributed a great many ideas to the field of art and poetry. He was the first to make the distinction between organic and abstract form. He was a firm believer in the organic, which took shape to meet the needs of a certain form instead of abstract which was imposed on something. More on Read's theories are explained in the commentary section, but suffice it to say that Read's influence in art and political philosophy were significant.


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