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Thursday, 24 September 2015

Eric Newton - artist, art historian and critic

Eric Newton was an artist, art historian and critic. 'He became the full-time art critic for the Manchester Guardian, and after a spell at theSunday Times (1947-1951), he returned to the Guardian in 1956 and remained there until his death. He promoted the work of among others Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore, whom he counted a personal friend. His European Painting and Sculpture (1941) remained a standard text into the 60s, as did War through Artists' Eyes (1945). He was actively engaged in the renaissance in the arts that characterised the post-war years in Britain. He became a household name in Britain in the 1950s, largely through BBC radio talks and The Critics.' 

'He produced several books in addition to his newspaper and radio work and created mosaics for Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, mostly on a religious theme.' These include: St John the Baptist, RochdaleSacred Heart Church, Hillsborough; Our Lady and St Edward, RC Church, Chiswick; Honan Chapel, Cork; Royal Hospital School Chapel, Holbrook; and Saint Colmcille's Church, East Belfast. 

'He was a man of profound religious convictions' whose 'last work before his sudden death in 1965' was The Christian Faith in Art, a history of religious art and its impact on the spiritual development of Western civilisation. In this book, co-written with William Neil, he explores the centuries-long interaction between Christianity and all forms of art: “For Christian faith, unlike a jug, has no visual existence…For the artist, in such a world, only symbolism will serve.” As a result, he viewed Expressionism - 'the art of discovering a visual equivalent for the emotions' -  as the necessary term for Christian art to exist at all. In the twentieth century, it was only through Expressionism that it became possible for the artist, if he or she wished to do so, 'to tackle the unseeen or the supernatural, to work by symbol instead of description, to return, in fact, to the point where Blake had closed his eyes to the world of phenomena and drawn on his imagination to fill the gap, or where the early Pre-Raphaelites had used their eyes in order to select from what they saw only what would intensify the picture's meaning.'   

Here is an excerpt from his Meaning of Beauty, in which he explores our struggle to capture the essence of beauty:

'Beauty, let us say, is a recognisable quality; yet each person would draw up a different list of beautiful objects and give them different ├Žsthetic indices. All that can be agreed upon is the nature of each man's reaction to his own list. In each case the sensation is not merely pleasurable, but pleasurable in the same way, and the sensation produced by objects at the top of the list is an intense one. A's list may be headed by the Sistine Madonna, while B's starts with the Blue Danube waltz - objects so dissimilar that no scientific method could possibly isolate, still less describe, the common factor which A and B would agree to call 'beauty'. And yet the sensations inspired by them have at least the common factors of pleasure and intensity. What kind of pleasure? And why so intense? Reasonable questions surely, yet the philosopher who attempts to answer them is playing a game of chess against desperate odds. Let him screw up his courage to move a single pawn, and he finds himself committed to a battle from which no one has yet emerged victorious. He is engaged - poor soul - in a struggle with his Creator, and his only weapons are words.'

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Tribe of Judah - No One.

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