An Interview with Frederick Hart (1943-1999) by Glenn Terry

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An Interview with Frederick Hart (1943-1999)

by Glenn Terry

Published on 1 January, 2001

Presence of Light: An Interview with Frederick Hart

Excerpt from "Presence of Light: An Interview with Frederick Hart", by Glenn Terry, from The Classical Realism Journal, Vol. III, Issue 1. Copyright 1996 by the Classical Realism Journal. Reproduced courtesy of The American Society of Classical Realism and The Classical Realism Journal.

Editor's note: In this 1996 interview, the late Frederick Hart expressed some of his views on modern aesthetics, the role of tradition in art, and the role of artists, especially artists creating public art, in culture. This excerpt features those remarks.

CRJ: In your 1990 interview with CRQ [Classical Realism Quarterly], you seemed to be in the vanguard of a movement to overturn the tyranny of the National Endowment for the Arts and the "modern art" establishment. How has that battle progressed for you?

Hart: We are still on the outside looking in. They still occupy the castle and they're still in there, but there are more angry peasants around the castle walls. I think there has been a tremendous linking up of a lot of different people from different fields. I've dealt with a lot of poets, writers and musicians lately who are on the same wavelength. I think there has been a tremendous amount of really intelligent, committed people, who have been very much alone and working on intuition, who are beginning to attract a lot of attention. I don't know what kind of success will come with it, but I don't worry too much about it. It's one of those tides of history that will take place when it takes place.

CRJ: Do you think that it's enough to lead by example and not get too worried about getting politically involved, or do you think that's necessary too?

Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington D.C.
Bronze, 1984
Ex Nihilo
Stone, 1990
Washington National Cathedral

Hart: I believe that it's important to move away from your work momentarily and into some kind of public frame. I think it's important for people to speak out. The whole phenomena of Western art is a good example of both the artist and the buying public just deciding to do what they wanted to do, buy what they enjoy buying, and the hell with New York. It's been a phenomenally successful event, this sort of sudden growth of all this Western art. It's got a tremendous following, and that's a good indication that the art world as it is in New York is losing its grip of authority over the intellectual and cultural landscape.

CRJ: You believe that art is an instrument to greater self-understanding. What do you say to those who demand and receive a public forum to display works that examine in graphic detail the artist's worst and lowest aspects?

Hart: I think that their rationale is cockeyed. It is a self-serving excuse to indulge in things which are sensationalized and draw attention from an audience that will reward them for doing things which are different in their degree of decadence.

CRJ: Why do you think there is such a big market, in certain quarters, for that type of thing?

Hart: It's part of the whole tidal wave and part of the modernist vocabulary that came to be in large measure a destructive thing, in the social upheaval in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the destruction of the old order and the search for utopian visions, art was deliberately destructive, or deconstructive, as they like to think of it. It was a sister to a political phenomena; the collapse of the old order in Europe and the rise of Marxist-Leninism.

CRJ: You mention Marxist-Leninism. Is the core behind it that is anti-God and anti-life?

Hart: Well, there's certainly a core that's violently anti-establishment religion and certainly anti-Christian to a large extent, in that they refuse Christianity. But mostly it is just simply self-indulgence in the sense that it values self-centered experiences as being somehow distinctive and unique expressions of the highest order of art. What is really funny about this is that people think they have arrived at something that is essentially superior to all that has passed before, and they see it as the cutting edge of an evolution in culture. I'm saying that it is really a more self-deluded utopianist mentality that is very similar to a Marxist-Leninist, or a vision of a new race of man and a new universe.

CRJ: You and your work show that you can do something that hasn't been done before without having to descend into decadence and resort to the shocking. You're working in a medium in a way that has not been done before, that harkens back on tradition while exploring something new. I think that is what sets you apart from a lot of other figurative sculptors.

Clear acrylic resin, 1999
24 inches (60.96 cms)
Illuminata III
Clear acrylic resin, 1999
16 1/2 inches (41.91 cms)
The Cross of the Millennium
Clear acrylic resin, 1992
30 3/4 inches (78.74 cms)
Clear acrylic resin

Hart: I don't see myself as a revivalist. I'm not trying to go back to anything; I am trying to use what is in the past. When you do something and you don't seem to be getting it right, whether it is a new century in art or it's a building or a bridge, you go back to try to find out who's done it before, and how they were successful and how you can learn from them in order to go forward.

CRJ: The three things that impress me most about your work are your devotion to beauty, the exaltation of human spiritual qualities, and your commitment to good craftsmanship in executing your work. And they are all related to each other, in that they all require a special quality of heart (excuse the pun). Could you comment on this?

Hart: I can explain how I feel about that by quoting what someone else once said about creativity and creators. They said that the talk of creativity and creators as being sort of a kind of semi-devised vehicle is just so much hooey. There really is only one creator and artists are people who are reflecting upon creation and compose our reflections into a statement.

We really aren't creators in the Wizard of Oz kind of way, which is how artists like to masquerade. We are really composing our reflections of the great beauty and the majesty of creation itself. And as such, it's only natural that your craft and the honing of your craft is something that you do to the single purpose of trying to be as faithful to that reflection and as honest in your response to that reflection as you are humanly capable.

CRJ: How does the future look through your eyes regarding figurative sculpture in America in general, and the ideas that your works embrace specifically?

Hart: I am grateful that there is going to be a shift in the whole philosophy of the practice of art, and it's going to have a lot to do with the consumer. Some things mean something to him and some things don't, and he will be drawn to support and embrace the things that do ...

I think society is becoming educated and affluent enough in the late twentieth century and hopefully will remain in a peaceful enough state that they can turn attention to those things that mean something to them, that is to say, artwork that reflects meaning and value in public places. The central metaphor for all of that in art is, and always has been, and always will be, the human figure. It's the metaphor, the language of expression of visual art, that means the most to the greater public. It doesn't mean you can't have abstract elements, it doesn't mean you can't have animals, it doesn't mean you can't have things that are non-human, but the figure will always remain the dominant element, especially within a public art form such as sculpture, where you're always dealing with the monuments meaning in terms of cultural history and the future.

CRJ: What about your inclination, which I think is akin to my own, in trying to focus on the highest human spiritual aspects, not often seen by the general public?

Hart: The reason I came around to being in the area I am, which you are referring to as spiritual, is simply because I believe, as Tolstoy did, that the highest purpose of art is to essentially address man's religious perception of himself and his relation to the universe. I think that those are the things that are the highest calling of art. And I think all of the greatest in art, especially in public art, has been in that realm of dialogue. I went there because I think that is where art belongs.

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