International Journal of Art & Design Education

Herbert Read: a Critical Appreciation at the Centenary of his Birth

Volume 12.2   1993



One of a number of papers in the Volume 12, 2 of the Journal that celebrate the centenary of the birth of Herbert Read who served the Society for Education in Art (SEA), an antecedent of NSEAD, as Chair and President for twenty-two years. It is also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his book ‘Education through Art’.

Thistlewood suggests that the essence of Read's educational philosophy came from his palpable experience of direct involvement with the avant-garde of creativity. He had intimate knowledge of the modern art of his day and was substantially responsible for bringing it to the attention of an English audience. He detected principles in contemporary art that were both fundamentally optimistic for social change and at the same time rooted in cultural stability, corresponding with a dynamic tension evident in the emergent percipience of young children. It is typical of the way he worked that he offered each of two equally unpromising arguments-about social stability depending on nurturing the creativity of the young and of the avant-garde – as paradigms for the other. In the heady postwar climate it must have seemed that the justness of the progressives' cause would never again be questioned. However, today such idealism is countered as something unaffordable. So far as general education is concerned (again, it is easily overlooked that Read's was a theory of general education conducted through the medium of art) Read's vanguard has sadly become the new rearguard resistance to an authoritarian regime dedicated to deliberalising the curriculum.