RUSSELL BINGHAM PHOTOGRAPHY
INTERVIEW: ANTHONY CARO
Considered by many to be the greatest sculptor of the second half of the Twentieth Century, Anthony Caro died in 1913. He was a frequent visitor to Edmonton where his art and generous spirit provided inspiration and encouragement to a small but vigorous community of abstract sculptors. His discussion with Russell Bingham took place in the Fall of 1996 in Edmonton.
Russell Bingham: Your early work was figurative. How did you become an abstract sculptor?
Anthony Caro: When I was a student, I was always certain that the one thing I never wanted to make was abstract sculpture. I disliked it so much, what I'd seen of it. What I had seen of it came over in a way that made me hate it. It looked empty, cold and meaningless. I was driven into abstraction. And funnily enough when I saw the Guggenheim show of abstract sculpture this last year, I said to myself "That's why I hated abstract art." I believe the person who put the Guggenheim show together didn't have the first idea about abstraction. There were really good sculptures there but they were displayed in a way that made them look bad. Clearly the curator was either too unsophisticated to know, or hated the stuff.
RB What changed your opinion about abstract art.
AC I found I couldn't say what I wanted to say with figurative sculpture. They began to get more abstract, less and less realistic, and then Clement Greenberg came for the first time to my studio. He talked to me for a long time about art, and some months later I went to America. I had been trying to make a different sort of sculpture, sculpture further away from the figure, and they were failures and I destroyed them. Then in America, Clem told me if I wanted to change my sculpture to change my habits. So back in London I took a sudden leap into the blue and made things in steel not quite knowing what I was doing. And it evolved from there. Often since then, when I've taken a chance and worked more or less blind, trusting what I didn't yet know, it's opened doors for me.
RB Your sculpture is often called pictorial—"drawing in space" is the term that's been used to describe it—but your earlier figurative work was involved with volume and mass. Did your interest in arrangement of line and plane come about as a result of your move from representation to abstraction or was it when you moved to different materials and methods...
AC I began to face the work, approach it in an entirely different way. When I was in America, I met Ken Noland and we talked about how he worked. He told me he painted flat on sawhorses and also with the canvas spread out flat on the floor. That was the first time I'd come across anyone who didn't make their paintings on an easel. He told me why he did it; so he could paint without making aesthetic judgements while he was painting.
I started to try doing the same sort of thing in sculpture. First, I tried making some sculptures with the pieces lying down: David Smith did that. But I found that when I made sculptures in my tiny studio, a one-car garage at my home, it affected the way they came out. When you were in the process of making them they were simply too big to see in the round. You could really only view them flat on, up close. Also, I was being more influenced by painting than by sculpture. Rather than looking at a sculpture as a thing that you look at totally in the round, I began to see it mainly from the principal view, frontally. Actually, many of Donatello's sculptures are like this. And I don't think it's surprising that the first of those that came off was like one of Ken's targets.
The first of those sculptures were steel only. There was that one, "Twenty-four Hours," and a sculpture "Sculpture 2," or "Second Sculpture," really like a Morris Louis.
As that was what was turning me on, I was saying to myself, why not try making a sculpture that doesn't look like a sculpture. I don't think the word "pictorial" describes those things at all. It's more like saying there's another sort of sculpture; if you want to call it pictorial, you can.
The word "pictorial" suggests it's non-sculptural. I've never seen the word "sculptural" properly defined. Does it mean blocky and massive, or airless? Or what? What works as sculpture can be flat, even very thin. I've seen quite a lot of sculptures that are quite thin, like paintings, or linear like a drawing, but they're sculptures, the good ones.
RB You mentioned that you were more influenced by the painters than by the sculptors. Is that because at the time sculpture hadn't yet started to go through the same kind of radical changes? There weren't any sculptural examples...
AC Sculpture at that time, the fifties, was static and complacent. The changes happened in the sixties when we started to question the assumptions of our predecessors. No, in the fifties in the main the artists who were exciting were painters.
RB Clement Greenberg suggested that genuine innovation in art usually comes out of necessity. His example was the Impressionists and he said that with the Impressionists "their hand was forced." When you switched from modelling and figuration to assemblage and abstraction, was there a similar sense of necessity, a feeling that this was the way you had to go in order to make the best sculpture?
AC Absolutely. Every change that I made, and indeed make, is to try and make my sculpture more real. I've said that before, and when you've said something before in interviews you wonder if it's just a repeat performance. But no, it's true. I didn't want to go into abstraction, I didn't want to be avant garde. I simply wanted to make sculpture that hit the solar plexus, sculpture that really expressed my feelings. Yes, I wanted a surprise from it, a charge from it. But I simply couldn't see a way of doing that in a figurative way. I had tried. After I left Henry Moore I had looked at De Kooning and Dubuffet and Bacon. For several years, I felt I had to go in an expressionist direction. After a few years, it wore thin.
RB It's been said that your art and much of the art of that time was classical in feeling and conception. It's as if there was a reaction in the air to expressionism which manifested itself in this classical idea of balance and symmetry in Noland's work and in that of a lot of other artists.
AC In those days we were wanting to get it right, make sure the art worked in its own right—I don't know if I'm expressing this properly—to explore and extend the grammar, to get the thing right. It was a wonderful aim, right outside of ourselves. The art was what it was about. It was not about ourselves. Yes, I think it was classical. It was classical.
RB In recent years, writers have looked back at that period of high modernism and described it as a period of optimism and hope. An they've suggested that this attitude of optimism affected the appearance and conception of the art that was made. Do you agree with this?
AC Our art did express optimism, yes; there's no question of it. Ken Noland’s, Jules Olitski's, mine. And Morris Louis, even though some of "the veils" are so somber. And Helen Frankenthaler, back to the abstract expressionists. The sixties were a time of hope and we were affirmative about both life and art. At that time, there was almost a kind of religious feeling about our art. We believed life is immensely worthwhile and our contributions were worthwhile and this belief showed in our art. So making art was like an act of witness. And personally, I still think that is true.
RB I'm wondering what effect these attitudes have on the art of a particular time. You look at Peter Hide's art, for example. It has a different kind of... a connection to emotion, I guess, that expresses a different impulse.
AC It's a different time. Peter's art is about the nineties. But it's not cynical. The art here in Edmonton expresses a belief that it's worthwhile making it, and not just for material reasons. I saw this film in London called “Hanging About,” an art film by Damian Hirst. It wasn't that it was a bad film, but the attitude behind it was bad. The message was that you hang about till you die. That's not the way I live my life. I think that attitude is pretty sad. It's negative and it leads to cynicism. Those artists among my contemporaries who I respect don't think that way. Nor did the old masters, Manet, Courbet, even Goya, Matisse, even Picasso—they were not cynical. Look at their paintings if you want the evidence. Duchamp and John Cage are the cynics—unfortunately they bred like flies.
RB Well, that period, the sixties, was a period of optimism, I guess. Politically and socially. The world we live in is not quite so optimistic. But do you think that manifests itself in any important way in the art that's made now? And does it make any difference, really? Is there a different kind of expression now in art?
AC Well pessimism or self-pity often expresses itself in the bad art that we see. Maybe the sixties were unrealistic. Sure, there were astronauts going to the moon, but everything wasn't that great. The focus wasn't about the nitty gritty of people's lives. Now we've come to grips with some of these problems. We don't have the same "let's lift off to the stars" attitude, but on the other hand there is more realism. Personally, I believe you have to find a way through to making transcendental or essentially hopeful art.
RB A way through...?
AC Through the recognition that the problems are there without giving up the belief that solutions can be reached. Unfortunately, at present the pursuit of wealth is at the top of most people's agenda, but there is poverty and misery. Even the lessons of World War II and the Holocaust appear to have to be relearned—witness the growth of new fascism and of genocide in Bosnia and in Africa.
RB What do you say to people who say that abstract art ignores all of those things. That it turns its back on that reality.
AC I don't believe it has to. But that's a tough question. So far, it really does seem to turn its back on them. But in any event why should we be expecting the answers from art? To look to art to give solutions to life's problems seems to me to be making far too much of art, sort of trying to squeeze too much out of it. Have you thought about it?
RB Well I agree with you that that's not the purpose of art, to do those things. I don't think art does that effectively. I don't think that art can solve world problems and maybe it's arrogant for artists to suggest that their art can do that. The best thing they can do is make great art and that has its own worth in my opinion.
AC That's right, yes. The subject is art, not life. However, when I say in the sixties we were devoted to the "onward of art," it was a high thing. It had a kind of purity. It's to do with this subject called painting, or this subject called sculpture. And to devote yourself to that is enough.
RB In our conversation last night you mentioned something about classicism and romanticism and their relation to ideas of quality and taste and also to innovation. I think you were saying something about romanticism having to do with a break with the past. It was an interesting way of looking at things. That romanticism offered a way for an artist to disconnect himself from questions of quality and taste so he could make a leap into a new way of doing things.
AC I think the romantic mode that we're in now does break the mould and that's interesting. Historically, we keep going from classicism to romanticism and back again. It's really hard to sustain classicism because it is so removed. One of the advantages of romanticism is that it leaves a lot of room, it leaves holes, places to go. Compare Vermeer's very organized paintings with Rembrandt's looseness. Classicism ties things up fairly tightly. It gets to be right and right and then there's nowhere to go. And it can get sanitized. Analytic Cubism was too tough, even Picasso had to relax the pressure. Yes, I think that there's something to be got from a romantic time, the open-endedness.
RB As an artist, how important are these ideas of quality and taste? Do you worry about them when you make art?
AC No, I don't. Of course they're of the greatest importance. But I don't think about them in the studio. Artists have to test themselves against themselves or their peers. Anyhow, when you get older you really only follow your own path.
You have to keep pressing your path as far out as you can, as far forward as you can. And you're not making judgements. It's got to be as good as you can make it, you can't be soft on yourself. You are trying to express the idea you have, you're not thinking "is this work a good one? Did I make a good one?" Or even "Is this idea a valid one?" You simply can't think like that. You do what has to be done, and you think "can I keep pushing on from there?"
I believe that we need to keep pressing into the unknown. Like making something which may not even be art—because the like of it has never been seen before. And then you can't talk about quality. As a critic, you can talk about quality, because you judge art which has already been made. Artists can't. They can't talk in these terms because they don't know what the hell it is, they don't know where the hell they are. If they do know these things, they're only setting the seal on the past. Artists have to use their intelligence and have the conviction that their intent makes sense, then they're forced to keep going that way. All those interesting questions you've asked are questions that come from the critic's standpoint but the artist comes from somewhere else. Clem had it right when he said the Impressionists had no alternative, they had to go that way. The only thing open to any of us is to follow where our art is leading. The art is stronger than the artist. I think it's pretentious to make art and say "how does that stand up to Donatello, or Michelangelo," or you name it, Cycladic art... You can do that, if you wish, because you're a critic, but I don't think that we can or should do it.
RB So it becomes this thing that propels itself.
RB It seems that you were more affected by American painting and sculpture in the late fifties and early sixties than you were by the art of your native Britain. Was this because America was where the most innovative and challenging art was being made?
AC Absolutely. In the fifties, some of the artists in England were so poetical about their art, or were so intellectual about it. They were able to spin a good yarn about what they were doing. It had absolutely nothing to do with the art. It was a lot of bullshit actually. I didn't like it; anyhow, I couldn't do it even if I wanted to.
The American approach was straightforward, it was about the art. Take a look at the art, how does it grab you, is it good? The literary bullshit is a very European thing, you know. The idea that the artist's myth and magic carry as much importance and weight as the artwork we see in front of us. It was a pleasure for me to meet Ken Noland in 1959 because he was so obviously like me in that way. He just wanted the art. So did I.
Anyway, even though I am British there was something in me that responded to 1960s New York: the innocence. The version of New York that we got in London was completely false. People had been taken in by the movies, by the styling. I remember a hip English photographer about to go to New York for the first time saying "I'm going to America. They're going to plane me smooth as a board." Plane him smooth as a board! When I went to New York I found it rough as a plank, square. The British avant-garde crowd were foisting a stylish look onto it and that put the emphasis completely askew. I loved America because it was direct and genuine.
But at some point, maybe the late seventies, early eighties, New York became self-conscious; and that was the beginning of the end. It also signalled a downturn in American art. I've always thought that the Trump Tower block on 5th Avenue was the visible marker of the decadence. It is sheer Hollywood America, America seeing itself in the looking glass—a distorted mirror, anyway.
RB In the late seventies, a movement developed among a group of artists in England to return mass and volume to sculpture, elements that were seen as being "proper to sculpture," to use their term. And it seemed apparent at the time that the movement evolved in no small part in reaction to the Caro style of open attachment and pictorial arrangement that had really begun to dominate abstract modern sculpture. People like Tim Scott and Peter Hide for a period began to make sculptures that were densely packed and monolithic, and often very heavy. Do you think that these sculptural experiments had any important effect on the development of sculpture? Did they have any effect on your own?
AC Not really. Anyway, I wouldn't put the development down to Tim, or Peter. Maybe more to Richard Serra. It's like radio waves in the air. Maybe they come as a reaction to what's gone before or even possibly economic or social reasons. The way an artist thinks is “the thin thing is not really confronting my problems today. I'm going to have to do something about that, allow in more weight, more thickness.”
For example, now at this present time I'm not so interested in making sculpture for galleries. It doesn't feel like what I want to do now. What may take its place, I don't know yet. At the same time, I'm also getting interested in something that has to do with figuration or whatever. I don't know what the reasons are and I wonder at myself. Then I come to the conclusion that it's just that time has moved on. Yesterday's particular problem has been taken care of and we've moved on. So I think those people who were seeing that need to get heavier were responding subconsciously.
RB You worked with Henry Moore for a while...
AC I was one of his slaves!
RB Moore and many of his contemporaries had moved toward abstraction fairly early on, although they certainly didn't give up figuration. But they didn't go into abstraction in the same way that you did. That is, they continued to create works in which the volumes fused into each other and in which the contours were continuous and uninterrupted, much like traditional figurative sculpture. Recently, artists like the Englishman Tony Cragg and Clay Ellis here in Edmonton have started exploring simple volumetric abstract shapes in a way that seems again to be a reaction to the direction in which your sculpture has evolved. Do you have any opinion on this direction, and do you draw any nourishment for your own art from it?'
AC Sculpture's open now. Now we can bring the world in. Volumes, vessels, even faces. It's going to thicken the soup.
Did you see the catalogue of the Trojan War group of sculptures that I made about two years ago? They were figurative, narrative. I shocked myself by it. It wasn't intentional; it happened. Clem saw the catalogue and contrary to people's present-day idea of Clem, he didn't only respond to formal work, not at all. Anyway, he liked them. That delighted and surprised me. I'd gone against everything that I thought I would do.
And at the other end of the scale, architecturally... Maybe a sculpture looking more like a house or something you can walk through. We can't point a direction where sculpture's going now —there are new materials opening up, avenues that just haven't been explored. It's a good and a chancy time for sculpture.
RB There's a question I want to ask, and it's related to the last one. Looking back, volumetric sculpture was pretty much the rule for most of sculpture's history—things were cast or carved or modelled up until this century when the Picasso/Smith/Caro revolution sent sculpture off on a different trajectory. Coincidental with this was the trend away from representation to pure abstraction (actually, I think construction/assemblage facilitated it). Now people want to go the other way, but the problem seems to be: how do you give a sense of inner structure to a sculpture that is all outer skin without going back to representation? Tony Cragg creates these large primary objects that are like bowler hats and teacups that have a kind of implicit structural rigidity because they look like real everyday objects that we know have skeletons or architecture of some sort. Rachel Whiteread takes on the structure of architecture for her sculptures by literally using buildings as moulds into which she pours the concrete to cast her works. Can you combine pure abstraction and enclosed volume without eventually falling back into representation? I'm thinking about the amoeba-like forms of Henry Moore's abstracted reclining figures. And Jean Arp. And those formless ballooning shapes that William Tucker was creating a while back. Is this all a bit of a contrived attempt to create an alternative to abstract constructed sculpture? A reaction to something rather than genuine innovation born of true inner necessity?
AC Well, I think that genuine innovation can legitimately have its source in reaction. Whether it's contrived or not depends only on the sculpture itself, what you see in front of you.
As for abstraction and enclosed volumes, it doesn't necessarily result in figuration. Just look at buildings, or trains, cars, aeroplanes. You might as well ask does it result in enclosure? And how solid is "solid." But to ask what will happen 'eventually' is not our problem, one step at a time and we have to take risks to get anywhere.
RB What effect do you think someone's artistic personality has on the type of art they make. Is that part of becoming an artist? Coming to terms with your own personality. Or is that an unconscious thing...?
TC I don't think you can be a grown-up artist until you've found out who you are.
RB Well, it's not an exaggeration, I think, to say that your own artistic personality has had a very strong effect on the conception and "look" of much contemporary sculpture...
TC Thank you.
RB But I wonder if this confuses young sculptors. They look to you as an example and they see your style rather than the content of your sculpture.
TC No. I've taught a lot and I've always tried to encourage people to use their heads and above all to be themselves and not copy any style.
Mind you, I wasn't taught like that. Often, I was taught by idiots. I remember an old Royal Academy sculptor saying to me "You should look at the Greeks. Very useful when you are wanting to get a style." What an extraordinary remark: "wanting to get a style," like buying a suit. I believe that by and large sculptors are not stupid now; though talking about style is very much in vogue right now.
RB You sound pretty optimistic about the state of sculpture. Are you really? When you look at all of the art that is being made... Some people would say we're living in a terrible time for art.
TC I am optimistic about sculpture. But I do have reservations about the state of art in general. A while back, Tim Scott and I had some correspondence about this. The truth of it is that there is some really good sculpture happening now. And there is some terrible sculpture, absolute crap, and that is taking the spotlight, sucking up the interest. That is a bad lookout for the young who are attracted to what's in vogue. In his letters Tim Scott said, you know, we're living in a terrible time, and so on. And I said, let's look and try and see what we can get out of this. What can we derive from these artists whose attitudes are so different from ours? Maybe there's not nothing good going on. Maybe there is something that we can learn.
Sculpture is in a confident state at present and sculptors are riding the wave. It wasn't always that way. Twenty or thirty years ago sculpture was the poor relation of painting. It's not anymore. But people are so hungry for the new that sculptors are tempted to make crap and call it sculpture—and at the moment, they get away with it. Photographs of the inside of a human being strike me as not sculpture.
RB What about the state of the public museums?
TC Almost in every instance, they're doing exactly what the fashion is. In fact, often they are responsible for the rot.
RB What is behind that, do you think?
TC Fear. Art connoisseurs are frightened of not being "with it." I'm dismayed. People are uncertain about their values. So they value what is fashionable.
Do I worry about it? Yes, of course. It's the scene. You're lucky because it hit you last in Edmonton. But it's like the measles. It gets everybody, but in the end one recovers.
RB In conversation the other night, you referred to the Dark Ages and talked about how there seemed to be an almost deliberate turning away from quality and what was good in art during that period. A deliberate decision to destroy the tradition...
TC What I said was that I felt that at the end of the Roman empire it was not just luck that the classical tradition was lost. I'm not a historian, but I had never been able to understand why the Romans stopped making those classical heads which are strong and full of character as well as their classical art which came out of the Greek. The whole thing stopped, they seemed to deliberately turn their back on the classical traditions; their sculpture became child-like, primitive. Recently, I realized it was to do with the new religion, Christianity. Belief—what you believed—became far more important than making it good. The classical idea of good—art what you call quality—went out the window.
I guess this might go some way to be an explanation of the way that artists are thinking—are talking or writing—now. It seems they don't really care anymore about making it good. They care about the message and whether the message is getting across. It's a kind of propaganda, a missionary thing. And you're not looking for high level, you're looking for numbers, converts. That's a different attitude altogether.
Despite sculpture's rebirth, by and large it's a dumb time for art. We are in a trough. The trough at the end of the Roman Empire lasted for a thousand years, till the end of the Middle Ages, till Giotto. Of course there was medieval art, Romanesque churches, some of them very beautiful, and the sculptures on them, and Gothic art. But isn't the sculpture only a kind of peasant art? Doubtless superior, but peasant art nonetheless. It seems to come from people who knew nothing.
The artists had to struggle through and find a way out from under sheer emotion, into an intelligent and felt art which was within sculpture, not using sculpture as the means. That took a long time. At the end, people like Pisano found a way through, and of course Donatello and the great painters of the early Renaissance like Giotto and Masaccio and Bellini. Is it possible that a drop in the level of art could happen again and endure? What was current twenty years ago has gone overboard so fast.
I don't want to think like that. And so, I look for signs of hope in the new art. And I'm not altogether pessimistic. If I were a young artist I would be looking at the new stuff, not clinging to the old.
RB Modernism is generally characterized as having to do with the separation of disciplines into their own areas, but your art has very often combined things. For example, putting colour together with sculptural form.
TC I'm interested in the edges of art. I'm interested in where things go over from sculpture to architecture, from sculpture to painting. These things interest me. It's exciting to push the limits of the balloon, so to speak, to push it out. Can we make a painting that comes into the room? Can we make a sculpture that is nearly a painting? Can we make a sculpture which is almost architecture? One of the important questions at the root of sculpture seems to me: how do we look at it? Where are we standing, physically, in relation to it? Do we see it on a plinth, do we walk around it, do we turn it on a revolving stand? Do we look down on it or up at it or focus on the front of it—or pay less attention to the back? Do we walk through it, have it surrounding us, walk into or onto it? How graspable is it? Is it an object?
RB Do you get anything out of post-modernist
AC Despite myself I'm a modernist.
RB Why do you say despite yourself?
AC For two reasons. Because I don't wish to belong to the past and because I don't want to be labelled—put in any sort of "bag." And I don't want to feel that I've stopped. Anyway, I don't like this "bag" business. I look at shows of painting and sculpture and if I find myself saying "that's good," well nowadays usually its because I already know about it. It doesn't challenge me. I want art that makes me look again and hold my breath and say "I didn't know, I didn't imagine..." I love to be challenged. But if we are talking about "best," I still find that the best architecture around is modernist architecture, the best painting around is modernist painting.
RB When you borrow, when you look for inspiration, do you ever look at post-modernist art?
AC I don't borrow. Sometimes I find inspiration in art of the past. There's a story going around that I am a borrower and that I pinch people's ideas. It was Ken Noland calling it my "little spy camera." I don't think I've ever truly got an idea in any direct way from another contemporary artist, except when I've borrowed off a painting like "24 Hours" or the Louis "veils" or Olitski's simple spray pictures. But the fact is, I eat art, I eat art. I consume. I look in books of art, the old masters, architecture books, books of ancient sculpture—whatever —every night, every day of my life. I go to exhibitions all the time. If something isn't going in, then I must be a bloody fool!
Handel was constantly accused of being a plagiarist; Shakespeare comes right out of the stories of his time. One of the stupidest things I heard was from a painter in England who said "I did 'the veils' or 'the unfurleds'"—I can't remember which he was claiming—"before Morris Louis." I don't know where Morris Louis got the idea for 'the veils' and 'the unfurleds,' but it was what he made of it that counted, the power, the emotion, the painting of them. Not where they came from. The sculptors who make this accusation of me are the ones who have borrowed most from me. Doug Haynes told me that he'd been to a show of mine at Acquavella in New York, and three different sculptors came up to him and said "I made that sculpture first." And they all three said it about the same work!
RB Is there anyone in particular who really affected you as a sculptor?
AC Moore, of course and David Smith. And Clem, of course. Clem changed all of our lives. He put our heads where they are. Other people too. I've been close to some terrific artists. Sheila, too, who is my constant critic and who I talk to about art every day of my life. She sees every sculpture I make.
Clem Greenberg was a touchstone. Noland in the sixties. And Olitski at Bennington and after. Michael Fried. I love it when Michael comes to London. I'll say, "Michael, put Wednesday aside to come to the studio," and we'll have a day tearing into the work. Michael has a totally different eye in the studio than did Clem. And that tradition of the critic in the studio, which doesn't exist in England, probably not in Europe, has continued here; witness Terry Fenton and Karen Wilkin.
There are times I want to be absolutely uninterrupted but also there are times when I love these people in my studio. I'm prepared to take their input, to try it out. I'm greedy. For example, at a workshop like here in Edmonton. I found myself today saying "Bianca,"—she's a graduate student—"look at this, Bianca." I had twigged that Bianca was interested, was getting on my sculptural wavelength. I'm always glad of another eye. It's like ping pong. You can't send the ball over the net if there's nobody there to send it back.
This is what I'm getting when these people visit. And Pat Cunningham, my studio assistant. There was a crane driver in Toronto, a totally uncultured workman but he looked afresh at what I was doing. I am good at finding out what the people who work for me are good at. You ask them about something because you know that's where their interest is and then they'll address it.
Not everyone: one or two people who have worked for me simply couldn't see things except through their own personal spectacles. Even their welds were wrong! I found that architects, good architects, often use their assistants in just this way. They're using them like an orchestra. Its fine if it results in good art.
No, I listen. I may miss a lot of other things, but not when it comes to sculpture. I'm paying attention.
RB Have you ever been discouraged?
AC Not permanently. No. And when I look back, I don't agonize. You have to make good and bad, and as I say I'm not in the business of judging. But discouraged? I don't think I have been.
My parents did not want me to become an artist. Dad wanted me to have a “proper job.” He was a dear man, but art was the last thing he wanted me to do. When I was seriously considering the possibility, he took me to see a sculptor who funnily enough taught at St. Martins. I was in the Navy at the time and I had made a portrait bust; my father took the sculptor and me along to take a look at it. We got in the taxi and went to where it was and my father paid him a fee of five pounds. This sculptor looked at my sculpture and said "tell your son not to be a professional sculptor. He'll never be any good." My father was delighted. He said "Very wise. See? This chap's a real live sculptor and he says don't do it. Go into my firm instead, make a proper living and you can always be an amateur and afford to have your work cast in bronze." I said, "yes dad." But I didn't pay any attention.
I think that was the last major discouragement I had. Later my father was very helpful, even though it was against his better judgement. But that opposition to my father's wishes, who I loved, did make me determined I must not be a dilettante. If I wasn't a good sculptor, then I had no justification whatever for flying in the face of his wishes. My father wanted the best for me; only he was sure that it was best not to be a sculptor. In those days, the idea that a son of his should end up as a kind of ... well, a dilettante was an awful thing. Even now I'm inclined to think that sculpture is a dreadful occupation for those who are dilettantes.