Old Crossleyans Association
2016 - A tribute to Sir Herbert Read (Alison Saldana)

The impact of teaching and learning at the grammar schools of Crossley and Porter and Heath and, latterly, the Crossley Heath School, over the past 150 years, has enabled numerous successful careers both in the Arts and Sciences.  One of our most notable alumni is Sir Herbert Edward Read.  Herbert Edward Read was born on 4 December 1893 in Yorkshire.  He also died in Yorkshire in 1968.  The contributions he made in those seventy years to literature, art, education, culture and political philosophy were immeasurable.  He was the chief interpreter of modern art movements in Great Britain for much of the 20th century. Such artists, writers and sculptors as T.S. Eliot, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson were greatly influenced by his work and were all counted as close friends.  He founded the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and worked tirelessly for peace throughout the world with UNESCO.


Read entered the school as an orphan with his older brother Charles when his mother went into service.  He left at the earliest opportunity to work as a bank clerk, putting himself through evening classes to study at Leeds University. He went straight from the university to fight in World War I, emerging in 1918 as a decorated hero for gallantry with the Military Cross and Distinguished Service Order.  He was counted alongside the greats as an eminent war poet. His brother Charles sadly did not survive and was killed in October 1918.  His memory is commemorated on the roll of honour in the Crossley Heath entrance hall.


Herbert Read was unquestionably the greatest art critic of the 20th century, a writer of over 60 books on art. This should have been achievement enough.  It was his book ‘The Meaning of Art’ (1949) that was the ‘bible’ that inspired a generation of artists.  His ‘Education Through Art’ (1943) has become a classic for the theory and practice of art education.  He introduced the avant-garde to a conservative British public.  Because of him generations of artists are as familiar with the concept of abstract art as our students today are with ICT.


In the later part of the 20th century there was a revival of interest in Herbert, following a major exhibition in 1993 at Leeds City Art Gallery and the publication of a collection of his anarchist writings, ‘A One-Man Manifesto’ and other writings for Freedom Press. Since then, more of his work has been republished and there was a Herbert Read Conference at Tate Britain in June 2004.  The library at the Cyprus College of Art is named after him, as is the art gallery at the University for the Creative Arts at Canterbury.  Until recently the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London staged an annual Herbert Read Lecture, which included well-known speakers, such as Salman Rushdie.


Twice decorated for bravery in the First World War, like many of the anti-war poets, Herbert Read subsequently became a pacifist and theoretical anarchist.  His unconventional politics did not prevent his being honoured with a knighthood by Winston Churchill or his belonging to the British cultural establishment, as signified in honorary professorships and prestigious lectureships. But, in spite of this diversity of achievement, he is best remembered as a critic of, and apologist for, the avant-garde art of his lifetime, particularly English and European Modernism and as a profound explicator and defender of children’s creativity.


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