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Henry Moore on Art : 'Of Sculpture I've Learnt More From the British Museum Than Anywhere Else'

November 16, 1986

The following resulted from a 1978 interview with Henry Moore, conducted by Edwin Mullins, that was rebroadcast on the Birmingham, Ala., public radio station after Moore's death Aug. 31 at the age of 88 . Reprinted with permission.

Moore recalled how, when he first talked about wanting to be a sculptor, people said, "What? There hasn't been an English sculpture since Saxon times."

He pointed out that in his student days, "People thought that unless a sculpture was an imitation or as near a copy of life as you could make it, then the sculptors were incompetent and they were doing it because they couldn't do a realistic imitation." As for how much influence Paris and surrealism had on him when he left art school: "It didn't dominate the scene when I first went there in 1921-22. My main objective was to see Cezanne. It wasn't anything to do with surrealism, but I did see things. . . .' "

Moore discussed how important drawing was for him. "As a boy, I loved the drawing lesson in elementary school. It was only half an hour every Friday afternoon, but one looked forward to that as much as the teachers looked forward to the weekend.

"In my early stages I imagined the sculpture I wanted to do, and made drawings of it first, before making the sculpture. I'm surprised now how close the drawings are to the sculpture that eventually was made from them. I've now gone away from that thinking because I believe that if you make sculpture from drawings, the drawing becomes too much a key view that you refer to. And I think the one big advantage that sculpture has over painting is that it can have millions of views: the worm's-eye view, the bird's-eye view. But you can't draw 100 points of view all at once. So now, instead of working from drawings, I work with a maquette that I can turn.

"I gave up drawing for 15 or 20 years in the middle of my career. My ambition is to do good sculpture. If I do a good sculpture, I think it's a bigger achievement than if I do a good drawing, because with drawing you can be on form or something can go right for an hour or two, and it will happen. But a thing can't go right just for an hour or two with sculpture. It has to go right for three or six months. So a sculpture that I'm satisfied with, or think has its points, I am more pleased about than I am about drawings. Yet I love drawing just as much. Now that I don't use drawing for my sculpture, I actually get more pleasure out of it because it can exist on its own. I can draw not with sculptures as an ulterior motive, but for its own sake."

Later, Moore discussed the influence of the past on his work. "I've learnt much more from the British Museum and from the sculpture of the past--beginning with the Paleolithic through to neolithic and Egyptian. I may have learnt as a draftsman more from other draftsmen, but of sculpture I've learnt more from the British Museum than anywhere else.

"But you have to be interested not in past art alone: You must also be interested in nature. You don't see nature alone without past art. People's eyes have been taught to see things through the artists that have appeared before. I'm told that before Turner nobody painted sunsets--Turner taught people to see them, even though they were so obvious. Artists are the eyes for other people who don't have the time to spend looking at and finding out about nature. It's nature that you must be taught to see. Past art has its influence, but nature must be the thing."

Moore had firm views about the difference between art and science. "Art is about individuals. If Shakespeare didn't write 'Hamlet,' there wouldn't be anybody else to come along and write it. If Michelangelo hadn't painted the Sistine Chapel, nobody else could come along and do it. But if Einstein hadn't discovered the slight difference in Newton's theory, somebody else would have done it. Art for me is more a miracle of life than science. If the whole of Rembrandt's work disappeared, it could be a greater loss than any scientific knowledge. We could find that again, but we won't find the great works of art again if they go."

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