Navigation – Plan du site

Educability and Art: D. H. Lawrence, Paul Cézanne, Herbert Read

Jeff Wallace

Texte intégral

1“But I do think we ought to begin to paint good pictures, now that we know pretty well all there is to know about how a picture should be made. You do agree, don’t you, that technically we know almost all there is to know about painting?” (LEA 215). D.H. Lawrence claims this to be a proposition made to him by a “young English painter, an intelligent and really modest young man,”at some time prior to the drafting (between late December 1928 and early February 1929) of the essay, “Introduction to These Paintings," which was to accompany the first print edition of Lawrence’s paintings. It becomes the pretext in the essay for a sustained satirical display on Lawrence’s part, a kind of tour-de-force of archly comedic prose. We learn that the young man knows everything about the formal or abstract geometry of the picture-plane: “the value of planes, the value of the angle in planes, the different values of the same colour on different planes”; also “which is the aesthetic centre of the canvas, the dynamic centre, the effulgent centre, the kinetic centre, the mathematical centre, and the Chinese centre.” This extends to a technical knowledge of materials and the “chemistry of colours”, in other words “when to use Winsor and Newton and when not, […] whether cadmium will really stand the march of ages, whether viridian will go black, blue or merely greasy, and the effect on our great-great-grandsons of the flake white and zinc white and white lead we have so lavishly used,” all the way through to “the vice of linseed oil, the treachery of turps, the meanness of gums, the innocence or the unspeakable crime of varnish.” Such technical know-how is completed, however, by a further grasp of the cultural and intellectual contexts crucial to the young contemporary artist: “literary interest and how to hide it successfully from the policeman," “the sex-appeal of a picture, and when you can be arrested for solicitation, when for indecency," the “psychology of a picture, which section of the mind it appeals to, which mental state it is intended to represent," and finally it seems the subtle interaction of the cultural and material: “on the atmosphere of London, on the atmosphere of Glasgow, on the atmosphere of Rome, on the atmosphere of Paris, and the peculiar action of them all upon vermilion, cinnabar, pale cadmium yellow, mid-chrome, emerald green, veronese green, linseed oil, turps, and Lyalls’ perfect medium” (LEA 215-6).

2The incantatory rhythms of the passage and its riffing on certain key terms – “plane,” “centre,” “white” – inevitably associate it with that familiar critique, in Lawrence, of intellectual jargons and the vertiginously self-replicating quality they can possess. If it is, as David Ellis suggests, a “pyrotechnic display," then language is the incendiary material; this, as the essay notes elsewhere of modern cosmology, is the mind “revelling in words” (LEA 208). What the display is meant to demonstrate, of course, is that in proportion as the young man, and by implication the English as a whole, carefully assemble their knowledge and language of painting, so they know less and less about pictures: in fact, “as far as paint goes,” he and the English are “tiny children: babes: nay, babes unborn” (LEA 217). They are then, it seems, at the point at which their artistic education might actually begin.

3But what kind of education might this be? What alternative kinds of language might embody or be appropriate to it? Overtly, “Introduction to These Paintings” raises questions about the knowledge of art in two main ways: first, in terms of how paintings get made, in the context of the essay’s overarching concern for the parlous state of English painting since the Renaissance; and second, in terms of how we assess and evaluate painting, and of the adequacy of our current languages of art criticism for this task, where the specific context in question is the writing of Roger Fry and Clive Bell, which Lawrence notoriously takes issue with in the essay. My interest here, however, is in an additional emphasis which, though perhaps less explicit, is everywhere implicit in the characteristic rhetorical thrust and urgency of Lawrence’s fine and provocative essay, and in the two essays on “pictures” that closely followed its composition. Who can learn about art, and how? Can the techniques both of creation and critique, of the making of art by the artist and the analysis and understanding of art by the observer, be taught, within a society dedicated to widening democratic access to education? “Introduction” is a call for radical change, and the agent of that change is the painting of Paul Cézanne. As is now well-established, for example by Anne Fernihough and David Ellis, Lawrence certainly did not diverge from Fry and Bell in identifying Cézanne as the decisively transformative figure in the history of modern painting; and Fry can effectively pinpoint the concern of my discussion here. In his 1917 review of Ambroise Vollard’s monograph on Cézanne, Fry presents Cézanne as the purest embodiment of the modern artistic individual, combining “outrageous egotism” with “superb devotion to an idea”, and as such constituting the source of the deepest envy and yearning on the part of “every honest bourgeois”: “in a world where everyone else is being perpetually educated,” writes Fry, “the artist remains ineducable – where others are shaped, he grows” (Fry 179).

4Is art, then, educable? Or, what might be the consequences of its in-educability? Is it possible to learn, from Cézanne’s example, how to make the necessary changes, both in the making of pictures and in thinking and writing about them? In what follows, I want to draw out some of the tensions in Lawrence’s approach to art and educability, and to place these in the context – of which Lawrence himself was all too conscious – of the public understanding of the visual arts, and therefore of the position of the arts within education. This will lead me to conclude by pointing towards the significant alternative presented by a comparable commentator on the educational possibilities of art and the place of modernist painting within them.

5“Introduction to These Paintings” divides neatly into three sections. The first is Lawrence’s perhaps notorious excursus on the fear of the body which entered English, and later American, consciousness, at the Renaissance, and which is galvanised by the emergence of the “great shock” of syphilis and its impact during the C16 (LEA 186). The second speculates on the consequences of this profound change for the development of painting in England, although in this section Lawrence also allows himself a parallel, extended analysis of French visual culture. In a rather unconvincing phrase, France, Lawrence asserts, had been “not quite so deeply” affected by the post-Renaissance malaise, thanks to its “basically hygienic” approach to sex, but is still left with the general problematic of how to evade the body (LEA 196). After surveying the realists, impressionists and post-impressionists, a shift towards what Lawrence calls the “Primitive Methodists of art criticism” suggests that we are back on English territory, with Fry and Bell and the idea of the abstract purity of “Significant Form” (LEA 199). The third section then announces Cézanne as the first painter in centuries to rupture the established pattern of fear and evasion of the body; the claim is not only that Cézanne helped modern French art make its “first tiny step back to real substance,” but that this was the first sign since “the mythological ‘Fall’” of a human willingness to admit that “matter actually exists” (LEA 201). Lawrence’s account of Cézanne places an emphasis on the heroic struggle with this legacy of fear, and the optical habits it had engendered, invariably characterised by a failure to overcome the cliché, and in which triumph is confined to a very few paintings of apples, and of a jug or two.

6What can the reader learn, or what propositions are made in the essay, about painting itself? Art, Lawrence writes, consists in “images of magic awareness," and depends entirely not just on the “representation of substantial bodies," but also on “the intuitional perception of the reality of substantial bodies” (LEA 190, 193). True art can only emerge then from a pre-Cartesian, instinctive-intuitive state of bodily imagination, which is precisely that which has been dealt a death-blow by the fear of the body and of syphilis. Art is therefore subsumed within, and becomes an expression of, a general cultural condition that makes us “ideal beings” rather than “flesh-and-blood kin” to each other (LEA 190).

7Appropriately, then, even before the essay deals with the English painterly tradition, it has asserted that modern people do not know how to look at or respond to paintings. While the central diagnosis of the essay concerns the formation of “modern bourgeois consciousness,” no-one in the English class-structure, it seems, escapes this bourgeois fate; no-one, that is, knows how to look at a Botticelli Venus, from the “English Tommy” – “’Eh, Jack! come an’ look at this girl standin’ wi’ no clothes on, an’ two blokes spittin’ at ‘er’” – to the “high-brow” who gazes in “a sort of ecstasy” whilst seeking the “correct mental thrill” (LEA 192, 191). If imaginative vision is dead in all of us, “poor things," then there is some work to be done. But what kind of work would this be? Educational work? Lawrence at times seems to strike an unforgiving note, not so much in the identification of the problem, but in asserting the poignant self-awareness of the English viewer’s own helplessness before the canvas: “The modern Englishman has a few borrowed ideas, simply doesn’t know what to feel, and makes a silly mess of it [… ] We know we ought to feel something, but what? – oh tell us what!” (LEA 192).

8Undoubtedly “Introduction to These Paintings” is a way of telling people “what.” In what ways, however, does this instruction enable or empower the reader? Amongst the things the essay tells us are that “an artist can only create what he religiously feels is truth, religious truth really felt, in the blood and the bones," and that this is necessarily a condition of the “whole consciousness” (LEA 196, 207). We learn that Cézanne’s example, embodied in “appleyness,” is strictly inimitable, because “Every man must create it new and different out of himself: new and different. The moment it looks ‘like’ Cézanne, it is nothing” (LEA 212, 213), entailing the evaluation of “followers” of Cézanne such as Matisse, Vlaminck and Friesz as “just tricksters, even if clever ones” (LEA 204). Chiding Roger Fry for the assertion that the “gift” of accurate drawing can be learnt in an art school, Lawrence responds that a gift is surely given, by whatever higher power we deem responsible, and that Cézanne definitely did possess this gift. But the “failure” of his early compositions is down to how Cézanne disposed of this gift, and here the reader is ominously put to the task: “And why?”, Lawrence asks. “Why did Cézanne fail in his early pictures? Answer that, and you’ll know a little better what art is” (LEA 206). The correct answer depends upon the reader/interlocutor being able to discriminate those rare successes from the paintings in which Cézanne was “trying with his mental consciousness to do something which his living provençal body didn’t want to do, or couldn’t do” (LEA 206).

9“Introduction to These Paintings” is an interesting exercise in brinkmanship. We know that Lawrence had procured, from Samuel Koteliansky, Roger Fry’s recent Cézanne monograph and Clive Bell’s book Art, in order to write a "good peppery foreword against all that significant form piffle," and boasted in a letter of 11 January of having "slain" Clive Bell (Ellis 463). It is difficult to avoid the diagnosis of a kind of class war, fought around the ownership of, and access to, the languages of art criticism and art education. The joke about Primitive Methodists – “Purify yourselves of all base hankering for a tale that is told, and of all low lust for likenesses” – is about abstraction seeming to imply elitism, an “aesthetic ecstasy” granted “only to the chosen few, the elect, among whom said critics were, of course, the arch-elect” (LEA 199). Sure enough, Roger Fry’s version of the revolution inaugurated by Cézanne, given in lecture form to the Fabian Society in 1917, was the “re-establishment of purely aesthetic criteria” in painting, and one of its consequences, that “In proportion as art becomes purer the number of people to whom it appeals gets less” (Fry 8, 10). In “Introduction to These Paintings,” then, Lawrence contests this version of abstraction by reapplying the concept not to Cézanne’s painting but to the critical gesture that Fry and Bell enact. Cézanne’s apple had “made people shout with pain,” and in part this is a rupture within the scholarly discourse of art criticism: it was therefore, Lawrence writes, “not till his followers had turned him again into an abstraction” – in other words, the abstraction of the concept of Significant Form – that Cézanne was recuperated for official art history and “Saved”, both for democracy, and from the resurrection of the body (LEA 203).

10The phrase “Saved for democracy” affords a glimpse into Lawrence’s concern for the politics of art education. We hear in it, of course, a scepticism both around the possibilities of an educated, democratic culture, and around those who claim to speak in the name of democracy. What, then, are Lawrence’s interests here, democratic or otherwise? The suggestion towards which I have been tending is that there is a dauntingly closed aspect to art-critical lessons and protocols recommended by Lawrence to his reader in the essay: “Answer that, and you’ll know a little better what art is.” For the relatively uninitiated reader, answering the question might well be likened to crossing a minefield: you must be able to discern in which few paintings Cézanne might be winning the battle with the optical cliché; whether any artist is at any moment painting with their whole consciousness, and at the maximum of their religious imagination, or only a part of it; and whether any such painter is being truly original or imitable, or simply being derivative of others.

11Are these questions to be addressed by education, any more than the artistic gift is educable? Do they promise a feasible alternative to the established languages of art, or simply propose to replace them, as I have speculated elsewhere regarding Lawrence’s theory of the pristine self, with what in Theodor Adorno’s terms might be a jargon of authenticity (Wallace 110-112)? From around the time, at the age of forty, that the mature Lawrence began to make his own pictures, he also began to write essays about the work of the “true artist” and the relationship between aesthetics and morality, with a series of forays into the art of Cézanne and Van Gogh, for instance, which culminate in the “Introduction” and the two essays which closely follow it. At this point it is still the novel that is, for Lawrence, “the highest complex of subtle inter-relatedness that man has discovered," but this principle of relatedness is extended to visual art through a concept of fourth-dimensionality which already places it seemingly beyond the bounds of art-critical explicability (STH 172). So, in “Morality and the Novel," Van Gogh’s sunflower is “a third thing, utterly tangible and inexplicable, the offspring of the sunflower itself and Van Gogh himself," a “vision on the canvas” which can be neither weighed, measured or described, existing only in “the much-debated fourth dimension,” while (in “Art and Morality”), “Design, in art, is a recognition of the relation between various things, various elements in the creative flux. You can’t invent a design. You recognize it, in the fourth dimension” -- that is, as Lawrence puts it, with your body as well as your eyes (STH 171, 167). In this context, and in another little dry run for “Introduction to these Paintings,” “It’s all very well taking about decoration and illustration, significant form, or tactile values, or plastique, or movement, or space-composition or colour-mass relations, afterwards. You might as well force your guest to eat the menu card, at the end of the dinner” (STH 166).

12Yet towards the end of his life, and with the first, Mandrake Press edition of his own pictures in the offing, it is clear that Lawrence was trying to think more about the politics of art education. Alongside the “Introduction” itself, and though they pale in comparison in terms of scale and composition, even more revealing are the two essays “Making Pictures” and “Pictures on the Wall.” Let us say that the opening sentence of “Making Pictures” – “One has to eat one’s own words” – is more richly ironic than Lawrence is able to admit (LEA 227). What he means overtly is that the excitement of starting his own paintings in 1926, prompted by the fortuitous arrival of Maria Huxley at the Lawrences’ villa in Florence with four stretched canvases, obliged Lawrence to reassess his written proclamations concerning the exhaustion and death of contemporary visual art. The further irony concerns a deep contradiction around learning. Lawrence explains that he never went to art school, and had had “only one real lesson in painting in all my life," added to which a thorough drilling in drawing had decisively persuaded him that he (consciously highlighting the dismissive phrase) “’couldn’t draw’” (LEA 228). As a consequence, he observes, from early days he had pursued his delight in making pictures through copying – “I learnt to paint from copying other pictures” – and gained an enormous, twofold profit from this: not only a “considerable technical skill," but also “my visionary awareness” (LEA 230).

13Might we not learn about art, then, from the groundwork of others? The context of the “Introduction’s” composition reminds us of the extent to which Lawrence was a borrower. Supplementing Fernihough’s suggestion that his deployment of Roger Fry on Cézanne resembles plagiarism, we know that he retrospectively fretted over the historical accuracy of the information he had picked up about the role of syphillis in English history, while Ellis even infers that the “pyrotechnic display” of the young man’s knowledge about painting could have been supplied by Frieda’s daughter Barby (Fernihough 117, Ellis 704). The contradiction to which I refer in the “Making Pictures” is further complicated by Lawrence’s insistence that no act of copying is any good unless you put “life” into it (LEA 229). In what feels like a breathtaking transition, Lawrence then proclaims a “certain spirit of purity” to be essential for an artist “of any sort,” “a sloughing of vulgar sensation and vulgar interest, and above all, vulgar contact, that few people know how to perform” (LEA 229, 230). It isn’t only that this invites inevitable comparison with the claims to purity of the Bloomsbury priestly abstractionists, but that it also commits Lawrence to a heavily-compromised class discourse on aesthetic taste. “Oh, if art-schools only taught that!" he laments; “If, instead of saying: This drawing is wrong, incorrect, badly drawn, etc. -- they would say: Isn’t this in bad taste? isn’t it insensitive? isn’t that an insentient curve with none of the delicate awareness of life in it?” (LEA 230). Unsurprisingly perhaps, this is accompanied by a warning against art-historical as well as technical knowledge: “ The modern theories of art make real pictures impossible… when you start to paint, shut your theoretic eyes and go for it with instinct and intuition” (LEA 228).

14Yet it seems that the essay cannot help but pull, however briefly, in an alternative direction: “I believe many people have, in their consciousness, living images that it would give them the greatest joy to bring out. But they don’t know how to go about it. And teaching only hinders them” (LEA 231-2). While it sidesteps any overt discourse on class, for example of “English Tommies” or “highbrows," we inevitably hear in the context of “many people” an appeal to the educational struggle that Lawrence himself had experienced. How exactly is access to, or even acquisition of, art – technique, knowledge, critique, even possession itself – enabled within a widening democratic society which is nevertheless still founded on concepts of private or state property? Within this context too, it is evident that the seemingly counter-intuitive invocation of the discourse of “taste” is simultaneously a moment of potential reappropriation: uncoupled from polite culture or conventional morality, Lawrence reassigns “taste” to a delicate sensitivity to “life,” however problematic this might remain for the purposes of instruction or pedagogy. In “Pictures on the Walls," written almost concurrently with “Making Pictures," the pragmatic emphasis comes to the fore. Here, the “people” become “the public,” as Lawrence reflects upon the pictures they like to put into their homes, and proposes the idea of a lending “pictuary” of modern works of art: “The public,” he acknowledges, “wants and needs badly all the real aesthetic stimulus it can get,” and the only way to “keep the public in touch with art is to let it get hold of works of art” (LEA 262). Lawrence eventually comes round in the essay to the proposition of an Artists’ Co-Operative Society, having seemed to recognise that the initial espousal of Harrods’ Circulating Picture scheme was perhaps not his finest moment of radical democratic protest.

15Alongside Fernihough’s insistence that organicist notions of art, and art as an experience of the "integrated self," are a context that Lawrence shared with a range of “Bloomsbury” interlocutors and apparent adversaries in the field of visual art, I have sought to emphasize that another key aspect of this shared context is the question of the educability or otherwise of the aesthetic – the question of its social and political relevance, and of its translatability into practice, whether in painting itself, or in the extension of critical and historical knowledge about art. In Lawrence’s intellectual field and formation, such questions often took the form of speculation upon the nature of the encounter between the ordinary/common/average “man” and the work of art, and upon the possibilities of a wider visual literacy, and often in the context of debates around the revolutionary transformation of capitalist society and its artistic institutions. So in his 1912 essay “Art and Socialism," Roger Fry had balefully predicted that in any overly bureaucratic state socialism, art would founder on the constitutional inability of the “average man” to identify genuine quality unless firmly guided by the “voice of authority," his responses characterised by a complete absence of reaction until guided by the said authority, and then an “awe-struck admiration” of the works subsequently recommended: “Then, and not till then, he sees, or swears he sees, those adorable Emperor’s clothes that he is always agape for” (Fry 46). We think inevitably of the question-and-answer mode of Lawrence’s “Introduction," and of the necessity to approach a little closer to what art is, combined with a seeming impatience with any educational methodology that might promise to facilitate this.

16Let me conclude, then, with the comparable sentiments of a figure who, at the same time, allows us a subtly-realigned framing of these debates around art and educability. Herbert Read was, as Fernihough notes, a great admirer of Lawrence’s work, and a contributor to the 1964 edition of Lawrence’s paintings (Fernihough 90). From the early 1920s, when he began to contribute regularly to The New Age, through to the mid-1960s, Read built a sustained and remarkable body of writing dedicated to the democratic and emancipatory potential of arts education. To survey Read’s anarchist-orientated work is, in a sense, to find the same task perpetually reapproached and started anew. How and why should art be central to the educational systems of a progressive society, and how do developments in modern art help to demonstrate and explain this (PMA 67)? A special place within his oeuvre was occupied by the explication of abstraction in the domain of the visual and plastic arts. As we have seen, Lawrence was inclined to associate the concept of abstraction in general with the excesses of intellectualisation and idealism, and to associate it with the elitist, bodiless “Significant Form” of Bell and Fry’s “Primitive Methodism.” For Read, however, abstraction was the art of the “new classless society,” cutting through the closed academicism of artistic tradition by supplying a newly-open and transparent, practical language typified by the field of modern architecture – yet, at the same time, keeping “inviolate, until such time as society will once more be ready to make use of them, the universal qualities of art” (WRA? 505-6). These propositions are avowedly polemical, delivered as they were at an artists’ symposium on “Revolutionary Art” under the auspices of the Communist International in London in 1935. Following the closure of the Bauhaus in 1933, and the turn against artistic experimentation within Soviet Communism, Read was writing here to counter the view that abstract art was amongst other things “incomprehensible to the proletariat” (WRA 503). In the more general tendency of his writing, however, where the educative function is clearly uppermost, Read returned again and again to the principle that the emergence of abstraction in modern painting required careful and patient explanation for a thoughtful if uninitiated readership hungry for ideas and understanding. What made it possible for Read to extricate abstraction from the discourse of class conspiracy that characterizes Lawrence’s account was its evolved place within a theory of art as “an organic phenomenon, a biological process [,…] a product of the life-force itself” (PMA 68).

17It is arresting, therefore, to find a more familiar emphasis when Read turned to speculate, as so many others did, on the encounter of the “common man” with the work of art. In a lecture in Paris to UNESCO, published in 1952 as “The Fate of Modern Painting,” Read reflected sceptically on the extension of State sponsorship of the Arts recommended by the Dartington Hall-sponsored report on the Visual Arts in England. Suppose, Read writes, that we have persuaded the “ordinary citizen of a paternal State," to undertake the “pilgrimage of art," and find him in a public art gallery, along with those other “dim, bored figures gingerly skating over waxed floors, drifting like chilled bees from one fading flower to another”: “can we believe," Read asks, “that anything important is happening to them?” (PMA 63). As usual the response for the common man is supplied: provided he has undergone a normal education, that man is “already deaf” to the art around him; he may have acquired a language, the “patter of appreciation, the accent of understanding,” but “his aesthetic sensibility has been killed at school, probably before the age of twelve”; “do not let us deceive ourselves: the common man, such as we produce in our civilization, is aesthetically a dead man” (PMA 63).

18Despite or perhaps because of this, Read’s oeuvre reads as a testament of faith in the educability of art. His UNESCO lecture calls for “a complete social reorientation towards art," putting it “right in the heart of things”: “Let us begin,” he writes, “with the primary schools” (PMA 67). But Read had already begun with the schools, with the publication in 1943 of the pioneering Education Through Art, a study of the biological and psychological development of art in the life and experience of schoolchildren which became immensely influential in the public and private sectors of British education until only quite recently. Lawrence’s relation to Read in the domain of educational thinking is therefore worth further reflection. In the 1952 lecture, Read had not been afraid to echo or even mimic the Lawrence of the closely-connected educational essays written between 1918 and 1921, “Education of the People” or Fantasia of the Unconscious, in calling for “some native aesthetic sensibility” to be preserved in children, not to have them “brutalized and anaesthetized by the bludgeoning process of ‘learning’ – that is to say, hammering conceptual knowledge into their innocent minds […]. You can’t make the silk purses of art out of the sow’s ears of school certificates” (PMA 67). These sentiments are strongly reminiscent of Lawrence’s critique of a system of education whose alleged barbarism lay in the premature stimulation of mental consciousness, the proposed solution being for no school education to take place before the age of ten, and no conceptual education (“children should be taught only to move, to act, to do”) before fourteen (PU\FU 124).

19At the same time, however, the whole drift of Read’s work somehow exemplifies the fact that this approach to the cultivation of bodily sensitivity is nowhere incompatible with a full and considered deployment of the carefully nurtured languages of art history and critique, and hence with the steady accumulation of knowledge about art. So, the centrality of Cézanne to Read’s thinking is also an apposite comparison. As the 1949 essay “The Modern Epoch in Art” demonstrates, Lawrence’s Cézanne was also, in certain key respects, Read’s. The painter’s landscapes are similarly a rupture, dispensing with all preconceptions just as Lawrence’s Cézanne broke with the cliché, including the architectonic composition of the picture-space, and engaging “nothing but the direct contact of eye and nature” (PMA 32). Because Read locates the principle of composition in a Cézanne painting in an interaction between eye and object-world which strives for what contemporary psychology was calling the “good Gestalt,” he is able to characterize the previous organisation of picture-space in ways reminiscent of Lawrence’s critique of “mental” picture-making: “A landscape by Claude or Turner is as artificial as a garden, and as much the result of intellectual preconceptions” (PMA 32). However, Lawrence’s configuration of the Cézanne revolution in terms of negations, seeking something “neither optical nor mechanical nor intellectual," bespeaks a resistance to the idea that a language might be found to describe this revolution – at the risk, no doubt, of descending into “jargon” (LEA 211). Read, instead, highlights language primarily as struggle rather than, in Lawrence’s terms, the dangers of reification. This is pursued in the terms of the painstakingly recursive project of his own educative writing, and in the willingness to draw on a range of discourses – formalism (“architectonics”), Gestalt psychology, Marxist economic theory or Whiteheadian aesthetics, for example. However, in the particular treatment of Cézanne, this is tellingly effected by Read’s concentrated quotation, in the relevant section of “The Modern Epoch in Art,” of long passages from the painter’s own letters. Here, Read demonstrates that the patient struggle with language and conceptualisation was not incidental to Cézanne’s art, and in so doing holds together two key emphases. On the one hand, the recognition identified by Lawrence that matter actually exists is presented, by Read, as a method of serious scientific experimentalism and research which links Cézanne to a tradition of great modern pioneer artists from Millet through to Van Gogh, all searching to establish “a philosophy of reality, a phenomenalism that owes nothing to divine revelation or universal truths, but brings to the analysis of human existence the same faculties that the artist brings to the analysis of nature”; on the other hand, as Read puts it: “Cézanne was an extremely intelligent but simple man, and his efforts to explain his intuitive processes are not very clear” (PMA 28-9, 31). Taken together, it emerges that the “simple man” is simultaneously an intellectual, and that we uncouple art from its educability at our peril.

20“The Necessary Revolution," the very moving final chapter of Education Through Art, begins on the first of June, 1942, as Read contemplated the allied bombers’ annihilation of the city of Cologne. Citing E.M. Forster, from his Rede Lecture on Virginia Woolf of the same year, on “the importance of sensation in an age which practices brutalities and recommends ideals,” Read unashamedly posits education through art as a means of locating and addressing the origins of war and poverty in human insensibility. States might rise and fall, religions become transformed beyond recognition, but art, Read writes, remains, “permanent and indestructible, accumulative but ever free – ever, on its immediate fringes, active and expansive” (ETA 302). From the outset of the text, Read is unashamed in his Platonism: if he is an idealist, then, he insists, this is an idealism naturally secreted by humans in the vividness of the life of sensations and in the artistic impulses and sympathies that might arise from this condition, if carefully and continously cultivated. Hence, Read argues, “Idealism would then no longer be an escape from reality: it would be a simple human response to reality” (ETA 302). The writings of Lawrence and Read on Cézanne's may be read as complementary in their endorsements of the transformative potential of art – the one, indeed, cavalier and provocative, contradictory and counter-intuitive; the other calmly explanatory and patient, methodical and even, at times, rather dull. Nevertheless, one can’t help wishing that Lawrence might have been able to entertain a little more of Read’s version of idealism, and to acknowledge the primary democratic role of an educable intellectual life and passion, without which it is perhaps unlikely that he would have arrived at his own theories of knowing “how not to know.”

Haut de page


ELLIS, David. D.H. Lawrence: Dying Game, 1922-1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

FERNIHOUGH, Anne. D.H. Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

FRY, Roger. Vision and Design. J.B. Bullen, ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1981.

LAWRENCE, D.H. “Art and Morality," in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Bruce Steele, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

LAWRENCE, D.H. “Introduction to These Paintings,” in Late Essays and Articles. James T. Boulton, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

LAWRENCE, D.H. “Making Pictures,” in Late Essays and Articles. James T. Boulton, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

LAWRENCE, D.H. “Morality and the Novel," in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Bruce Steele, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

LAWRENCE, D.H. “Pictures on the Wall," in Late Essays and Articles. James T. Boulton, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

LAWRENCE, D.H. Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious. Bruce Steele, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

READ, Herbert. Education Through Art. London: Faber and Faber, 1970.

READ, Herbert. The Philosophy of Modern Art. London: Faber and Faber, 1952.

READ, Herbert. “What is Revolutionary Art?” (extact), in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995. 502-6.

WALLACE, Jeff. “51/49: Democracy, Abstraction and the Machine in Lawrence, Deleuze and their readings of Whitman,” in New D.H. Lawrence. Howard Booth, ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009. 98-116.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Jeff Wallace, « Educability and Art: D. H. Lawrence, Paul Cézanne, Herbert Read », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 47 | 2016, mis en ligne le 22 novembre 2016, consulté le 21 janvier 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.252

Haut de page


Jeff Wallace

Cardiff Metropolitan University,UK

Jeff Wallace is Professor of English at Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK. He is the author of D.H. Lawrence, Science and the Posthuman (2005) and Beginning Modernism  (2011) and  the editor of D.H. Lawrence, The Virgin and the Gipsy and Other Stories (Wordsworth Classics, 2004) and D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love (Wordsworth Classics, 2000)

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses universitaires de Paris Ouest
  • Logo Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense
  • OpenEdition Journals