The Developing Process: The sculptor's education in drawings and photography
9 October – 2 May 2009
Exhibition in the Upper Sculpture Study Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery
The Developing Process explores the ways in which sculptors were taught to think three-dimensionally from the late nineteenth century through to the 1960s.
Although this exhibition highlights two very different archives, and with them the radically different ways in which students were taught art, it also reveals some underlying continuities in the basic tenets of art education.
The exhibition focuses on two particular moments in the history of art education by comparing the examination work of the sculptor Thomas Mewburn Crook who attended the Royal College of Art in the late 19th century, with that of students on the revolutionary Basic Design courses, pioneered by the artists Victor Pasmore, Harry Thubron and others, mostly at Northern art colleges, in the 1950s and 60s.
Using student drawings and sketchbooks, photographs and text books, the display looks in some detail at key areas of art education: form analysis, technical drawing, nature study, and life drawing. It reveals how the focus of art education shifted in the mid-20th century, in theory at least, from the teaching of skills, towards a more open-ended, experimental approach, which emphasised the learning process over the finished product.
Crook’s remarkable archive reveals just how a student was taught in the late 1890s and how strong was the emphasis on imitation. The display includes his highly finished anatomical studies, still life drawings and decorative arrangements, the products of the RCA’s South Kensington system, a laborious 23-stage programme. These rigid principles endured well into the 20th century.
In stark contrast, the later students’ swift and abstract drawings in pencil, charcoal and collage, reflect the alternative philosophy of the Basic Design programme, which was based loosely on that of the Bauhaus, and encouraged an exploration of form and structure from first principles, moving from point to line to plane and from two into three dimensions. The Developing Process draws substantially upon the Henry Moore Institute’s archive of sculptors’ papers, but also includes material from the archives of Birmingham and Sheffield Schools of Art, and the Basic Design collection, held at Bretton Hall, near Wakefield.