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Changing perceptions of sculpture


Happy on the shelf
Anthony Caro Artist
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[Q] Do you feel that as an artist with a public profile who has a position now within the establishment when... you're knighted, your Order of Merit – do you think there are certain responsibilities that go with that territory? Do you feel that's sometimes overbearing, that you have to be a role model, a figure of the establishment?

I don't think I even behave like a role model. No, Tim, I don't think any of that but I think... I think it's... as a human being and a sculptor, it... it behoves me to try and make good sculpture. That's all, that's all. Give me an example of what you're talking about.

[Q] Well, you have to spend a lot of time as trustee, for example. You have done of museums or institutions. You have to give... make public appearances. You have to give interviews, you have to give a lot of your time in... in that kind of respect, and it seems to me that the more of that you do, the more of that... the more of that, more of your time is taken away from the studio. Now, I wonder whether you resent that or whether that's just part of the territory. As you become more senior, more famous, more celebrated, there are certain things that one has to do. But it was more of that that I was getting at than actually a way of behaving, but obviously a way of behaving is –

When you're over eighty they don't want you anymore and it's lovely; it's lovely. Now I can get on with my own work. Why am I doing this? Well, because she was persuasive and I thought, is it worth doing?’ I thought, well, this is an opportunity to do another one with you, which is fun and, and you're asking me... asking me questions I have to think about. But I don't feel it's a responsibility at all, not at all. And I think, you know, the stage of that is a stage, you know, that younger sculptors are at now, not me...not me, you know. I'm quite happy on the shelf.

[Q] On the shelf!

It's true; you'd be surprised. How much of what I can say really has any resonance for students. It's... it's a different world that I belong to, and what could I say that could really catch them? Very, very little. Very, very little.

[Q] Do you think that's inevitable though? Do you think that your own teachers when you were at the Academy had no... very few of them had a sense of connectiveness with you? Is it a generational thing or is it just the way the world has changed?

Well, I wonder about that. I mean I think, in fact, the world has enormously changed in the last ten, fifteen years. It's been a... a terrific leap of change recently. Old Richard Garbe, who used to teach... I don't know how old he was. I thought he was incredibly old; he might have been sixty. He might have been very old, he might have been eighty – I have no idea. He used to work in ivory and he used to chat about his experiences and stuff and I said to myself, ‘I'm like that sometimes now’. It's... it is totally different and I said one time... I mean I have young people working for me now and I like them very much, but it is a very different language. I said to one of them... I was talking about idealism and I said, ‘I don't think that the...that the student of today is... has the same idealism as we had’. I said, ‘Are you idealistic?’ So he said, ‘Well, yes, you've got to have your dreams, haven't you?’ And I said, ‘What are your dreams?’ And he said, ‘Well, I'd like to travel and I'd like to, you know, have a good life’. And... and when I went away afterwards, I thought, ‘He doesn't know what I mean by idealistic; he doesn't know what I'm talking about because that's... if I had said that when I was teaching, you know, I would have heard a lot of stuff about doing good in the world, about helping the poor, about all sorts of things’. That isn't in his world and I do think there's a big difference, you know? I'm kind of sorry but I... but it... but life's got to go on; it's got to change. A lot of things are going to change and the angle you come from is going to change. That's all right. I don't happen to think this is a particularly good time to live, actually, but then I don't think the Roman Empire was a particularly good time to live after Greece. And I think I belong to... to a purer generation. I mean I think we were not about applied; we were about the pure science or the pure art. We were talking about the subject, you know, and I always thought, in a way, that science, knowledge should be about the subject and... but it isn't now; it's about... it's about how it applies to human beings, and that's quite important too, but it's different; it is really different.

[Q] Did you actually believe, at any time in your working life, that art could change the world or make a significant difference?

No, I don't think I thought any... it would be any different from what it is now. But art does have an important part to play in... in enriching people's lives and that's... that's quite a big thing. I don't think it changes the world, I don't think it changes... it doesn't make people good, but I think it does have a very important part to play in... in sort of... well, like... it's like eating good food. That has an important part to play, you know? It's... it's food for the soul.

British sculptor Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013) came to prominence in 1963 after a show at the Whitechapel Gallery. Keen to create a more direct interaction with the viewer he placed pieces directly on the ground, rather than on plinths, a technique now widely used. He held many honorary degrees and was knighted in 1987.

Listeners: Tim Marlow

Tim Marlow is a writer, broadcaster and art historian. He founded "Tate: The Art Magazine" in 1993 and was presenter of Radio 4 arts programme "Kaleidoscope" from 1991 to 1998, for which he won a Sony Award. He has presented art programme's on BBC 1, Channel 4 and Channel 5, including a documentary about JMW Turner, and written about art and culture for various British newspapers and magazines including "The Guardian", "The Times" and "Blueprint" He is Director of Exhibitions at the White Cube gallery in London as well as a visiting lecturer at Winchester School of Art, an examiner on the Sculpture MA there and former creative director of Sculpture at Goodwood

Tags: Order of Merit, Ivory, Richard Garbe

Duration: 7 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008