AAH Oral Histories
Interview with Andrew Causey
Andrew Causey (b. 1940) was a junior member of the inaugural AAH Executive Committee from 1974-77, and edited the first series of the AAH Bulletin from 1975-76. Emeritus Professor of the History of Modern Art History at Manchester University, Professor Causey studied History of Art at Cambridge (1962), before working as an arts journalist from 1962-1966, writing principally for Illustrated London News and Financial Times. In the late 1960s he returned to the academic world to study at the Courtauld Institute of Art under Alan Bowness, obtaining a PhD in 1971. He taught Art History at St Martin’s School of Art from 1968-72, before taking a lectureship at Manchester University in 1972 where he rose to become Professor in 1997.
A widely published specialist on twentieth-century British and European art, he has curated exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, Hayward Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts; held Leverhulme and Paul Mellon Senior Fellowships; and has served as a Trustee of the Henry Moore Foundation and as a member of the Advisory Council of the Paul Mellon Centre, London. Key publications include: Paul Nash (1980), Sculpture Since 1945 (1998), Peter Lanyon: Modernism and the Land (2006) and The Drawings of Henry Moore (2010).
This interview was conducted by Liz Bruchet and was recorded on 11 February and 22 March 2011 at Andrew Causey’s home in London. Segments of the excerpts have been removed for continuity. © AAH
Excerpt 1. Art and Art History at Cambridge, '60s
Reflects on his exposure to art and art history at Cambridge as an undergraduate student in the early 1960s, with particular comments on influence of the Professor of Architecture, Leslie Martin, and his commitment to Modern and contemporary art. [4:17 mins]
What were the intellectual ideas that were circulating at that time at Cambridge – so I’m talking, 1961, ‘62?
Well, I’m sure there were a lot of ideas that I wasn’t involved in. I suppose the dynamic in a way, was probably in the English faculty, because it was still, the great moment of [Frank Raymond] Leavis and his – I didn’t go to his lectures, I wish I had, actually now. He was a very upright, very sort of puritanical-looking man, with a great open-necked shirt, which was not smart in those days [chuckles]. And it was just the beginnings of Leavis or not, if you know what I mean. There were the first hints, it seems to me, to … on the part of people wanting to open up, that very, clear and, vivid sense of textual analysis, onto a much wider front in a way, which leads on of course to structuralism and things, but I don’t think probably it had then. I’m not really sure. That was how I remember Cambridge trying to break its traditional moulds. I’m not sure, how much it did in History.
No, I would say, coming back to my own interest in subjects, that there was a certain kind of, a curious paradox in a way, in Art History at that stage, and the paradox really was that whereas the Art History I was doing was basically traditional. It was traditional, done at a very high level, whereas the Architecture school was led by [John] Leslie Martin, who really wanted to introduce new ideas within a framework of what he had understood and learnt from his collaboration in the 1930s with [Naum] Gabo, and Ben Nicholson, when they edited this book Circle together in 1937. Leslie Martin was actually technically my professor. Michael Jaffé and Francis Haskell were not professors at that stage. And the University had allowed the course, the Art History course, to be set up but only within Architecture. This made a very big difference, I think because, I learnt later that Michael Jaffé had thought he would be independent within Architecture, he quickly discovered he was wrong, and that Leslie Martin and his and his team, his assistant, his closest co-worker at that stage was Sandy [Sir Colin St John] Wilson – the architect of the British Library later on – the two of them, actually, pushed the thing ahead in a very modern way, and though I don’t think, by that stage Leslie Martin – who must have been sixty, or in his fifties, I can’t remember – was any longer himself – I mean he went for quality architecture rather than I think by that stage, true innovation. He got people like Buckminster Fuller to come and talk, that’s to say he was open to ideas, that were not his and I think I learnt a great deal. Or even if I didn’t learn, I at least learned that there were interesting new ideas, even if I didn’t quite understand what they were.
And then Leslie Martin invited us out to his home, which was a few miles outside, Cheveley, outside Cambridge where he’d got a converted mill, and we spent an evening there. He had Mondrians, which he’d bought from Mondrian and Nicholsons he’d got from Nicholson, and this, this was immensely exciting for me because I felt I felt in a sense it’s not that – because I wasn’t in a museum looking at something – I was actually there with somebody who had – of a previous generation obviously – but who had, at a time when very few people in this country, in Britain were interested in modern or contemporary art, had committed himself. It was the sense that one was standing next to somebody who had made that commitment that modernised one’s own sense of being.
Excerpt 2. St Martins School of Art, '68-72
Comments on his time lecturing on art history at St Martins School of Art (1968-72), on his interest in the work of the St Martins artists, and on his decision to leave the art school environment for a post at the University of Manchester in 1972.
The New Art exhibition he refers to was held at the Hayward Gallery August 17-September 24, 1972. [3:41 mins]
So you told me a little bit about your time lecturing, at St Martins [School of Art]. Can you describe that again for me? Tell me little bit about the environment of the Art School at that time …
Yes, it is interesting because it was certainly the most go-ahead college that I taught in, and at one point I was doing three days a week there. There were real problems about it and in a way, considering what interesting people there were there, it was probably the job I’ve had that I didn’t particularly enjoy. I went there at a time when some of the most interesting artists were just graduating, people like Richard Long, and Gilbert & George, whom I may have met but I didn’t know them well because they were graduating and it was a time when St. Martin’s did mean sculpture. The painting department was very nice actually, and I got to know some of those artists, but the sculpture made the pace really, and they were just dividing really between the, what you might call the post-Caro abstractionist – and [Anthony] Caro was still doing some teaching there, graduate teaching there – and the new conceptualists, which, that course was run by Peter Atkins, who changed his name later to Peter Kardia, who was obviously a difficult man, but ambitious and rather successful one in getting together, interesting students, many of whom I met and taught. But the problem really was that the sculptors particularly didn’t like giving their students’ time over to Art History. They liked to use one as a kind of consultants, as it were, if there was – if a student had a sort of art historical problem, or some idea that they wanted to develop in terms of history, and that was enjoyable, tutorials were enjoyable, but classes, it was quite difficult to get students together. And the other terrible problem with St. Martin’s was it hadn’t got enough space, and Art History – it had a good library, but Art History was squeezed into tiny spaces. Getting a seminar room and getting enough teaching space – and it was a pretty squalid building actually, too – and this did make a difference. And I must say, I found non-attendance was a problem and though I didn’t do excessive hours of teaching, one did seem to spend a lot of time, doing not very interesting administration and one was dealing with very interesting but often quite difficult people, and I found in the end, it was – I was still there when that exhibition called [The] New Art was put on at the Hayward [Hayward Gallery 1972], with many St. Martin’s students in it, and I students either knew or more likely had met, and from the point of view of what I was looking at I was extremely excited by that show, which I think was really one of the most important shows of that moment.
And I think I was reluctant in a way to give that job up, but I knew that it was not very interesting work, the Art History section wasn’t particularly interesting. The students, some of them were marvellous. Some were very difficult, non-attendance was a real problem, and I found that could never be sure enough of my time and so I decided to – or we decided to go to Manchester, when that job came up and that was 1972.
Excerpt 3. Nikolaus Pevsner
Comments on the influence of the Pelican History of Art publications and being swept away by Nikolaus Pevsner’s lectures as an undergraduate student at Cambridge in the early 1960s. [4:21 mins]
Something else I’m trying to get a sense of is the Pelican History of Art and its influence on Art History.
I mean I think there were very well worthwhile, the Pelican histories, and it is interesting, which ones have been re-printed, you know, since Yale [University Press] took them over they’ve been re-thought. The best, like Frankl, have been thoroughly re-edited but not re-edited to the detriment of Frankl but to amplify the quality of his ideas. Whereas I think some probably are untouched. And some were never written, of course, you know, I mean Michael Kitson always said he was about to write, I don’t think he ever set pen to paper actually. And I think now what they’re doing, so far as I know, is commissioning in certain cases new authors, Chris Green at the Courtauld has done one on French art in the 20th century, [Art in France 1900-1940, 2001] which are not re-writings of previous ones, they just are new books. And I think that’s the way forward. I have great doubts actually, about re-issuing old books and particularly I have doubts about updates and that’s not to say that somebody who seriously takes like, in the case of Frankl’s Gothic book [The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries, 1960] and as it were adds – with the same care that Frankl had in the first place – adds new material, I’m not against that. I’m particularly opposed to people re-editing and re-issuing their own books by adding another chapter or something because I think, it’s a sort of break that, on the development of Art History as a subject, and that you, as an author you commit your work to the public and you take the consequences, that’s that as it were, and then you do something else. That certainly is my view.
But yes, it was a very important series. And one has to say, I think that [Nikolaus] Pevsner really did in a sense reconceptualise, not Art History, but the communication of Art History. I think The Buildings of England [series, Harmondsworth: Penguin] actually, too. I actually spoke at a Pevsner conference a few years ago, and it is interesting how ambivalent the speakers were about his contribution, including I think myself in a way. I was talking about the Englishness of English art and questioning in a sense the whole concept on which it’s based, really. I’m nevertheless enormously impressed by him. I never met him personally but I used to go, I would say religiously, to his Cambridge lectures. He came up to Cambridge every Monday to lecture, give a big public lecture at five o’clock in the afternoon, and he was, I can’t tell you … I can’t kind of repeat, the theatre of his lectures. He was actually like an automaton in a way. I suspect he’s always given the same ones, they didn’t change very much, but he would roll out this enormous amount of knowledge, without any notes. He’d get his dates right and he’d start – he had so much sort of pressure behind him in wanting to express what he was saying, that he’d start talking in shorthand, that’s to say, he’d forget to give people’s full names or he’d abbreviate so much the title of a picture or something, you weren’t absolutely sure that he any longer knew what he was talking about. He looked as if he was going to get complete take-off, you know, from reality. He didn’t, he got stuck down there. I just found him compulsive, actually, other people found him pretty boring I think. No, I was a great Pevsner admirer, but his reputation I would say now is up and down. I don’t think people, scholars, are sure now. I think they think, rather like The Oxford History of English Art, which I’ve got several volumes of, that that format now is over really and it would be best to shed it.
Excerpt 4. 'Being at the beginning of something'
On the characteristic of the University of Manchester’s Art History department, on the scope and range of art history in the early '70s and charting new territory with the study of the modern period – a subject on which little had previously been published. [4:37 mins]
Can you describe for me what the University of Manchester’s Art History department was like when you arrived?
It was very strongly oriented to the mediaeval because Reg Dodwell had been the Trinity College Librarian in Cambridge and then the Lambeth [Palace] Librarian of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s collection so he was a manuscript specialist really, and the first thing he did was to tend to gather mediaevalists around him, some very distinguished people who’ve gone on to have Chairs – Paul Crossley at the Courtauld, Jonathan Alexander, New York University. He did it, as I say – he was a difficult man, but he did the academic thing, the academic development thing within Manchester University rather well. But it was becoming clear I think, that the great expansion of interest in the ‘60s was going to be in the modern field. It had been, I think in impressionism and post-impressionism, the generation of John Rewald in America, and … well people like Alan Bowness himself who’s initial training had been late nineteenth century. I think a lot of people realised that modern art itself was regenerating very fast, and the publications that were beginning to come in on … like John Golding’s book on Cubism and that this is where student interest was going to direct itself. Of course, the problem, it was a serious problem, when one was doing a year of post-graduate work at the Courtauld, is that publications were still pretty slim, actually, and I remember one was being steered around subjects in seminars, where there was plenty to read and there weren’t all that many subjects at that stage. Picasso was fine. Matisse was okay, but it didn’t go very deep down and it did give one a rather nice feeling, I think of being a sort of pioneer, you know that one was one knew, I think, that one was in at the beginning of something.
To what degree were students asking about politics and class?
I think not very much. A few students were. I think the problem which actually has never gone away really, is that Art History was a subject where the seeds of interest in it either grew at home, on the part of students whose families had art connections, or collected works of art, or at school – but I think one means here, very largely private schools and not the public sector, and therefore in a sense Art History, and maybe I’m only speaking for Manchester here, had a slightly different social profile. Though I think the situation has changed, and it’s a much wider social profile than it was, I think one of the reasons why students for at least the first ten years and perhaps more that I was in Manchester, didn’t ask those questions about politics. I mean of course there were students who followed certain kinds of literature; it might be theory or it might be feminist literature or whatever, but no, there wasn’t a great deal of questioning I don’t think. And I think it continues to be a problem actually with Art History, that it has, not a narrow base but compared with some subjects, those subjects that are to do more directly with political and social history. I think it has still kept itself a little bit apart.
Do you think there’s a way that that can be changed or addressed?
I don’t think there’s a great deal one can do to change that, except in a sense by employing certain kinds of staff, and I think that’s what people have done. Also I think to some extent merging, or allying at least Art History with other subjects, so that you get different students coming in to Art History and Art History students going out into other subjects. I think it is though, a process of change that gradually takes place, whether one likes it or not, as it were, I think it’s matter of time, and things have changed.
Excerpt 5. Joining the ranks
Recollections of the establishment of the AAH; of being asked by Alan Bowness to join its Steering Committee; comments on why such an organisation was needed and the place of polytechnics within the scheme of art history [5:43 mins]
The creation of new universities and polytechnics in the 1960s, along with the implementation of the Coldstream (1961) and Summerson (1963) Reports, led to unprecedented growth of art history teaching. Before the foundation of the AAH, the only regular meetings among professional art historians took place annually between senior university art historians and were known as the 'Heads of Departments meetings.'
In March 1973 a general meeting open to all art historians was called to discuss establishing a professional association of art historians. View the invitation to this meeting, the agenda and minutes here.
View the original 1974 press release announcing the formation of the Association of Art Historians and a response from Hamish Miles, a member of the 1973 AAH Steering Committee.
How did you become involved in the Association of Art Historians?
I … of course one doesn’t always know exactly, but it was certainly Alan Bowness who approached me to become a member of the – I think it was called the Steering Committee – before the Association itself actually existed. I think it was because Alan was working quite closely with John White, you know, and I think that what they seemed to have wanted was a small group of younger people to kind of supplement the leaders. It wasn’t that they made one feel less important except that one did feel [chuckles] slightly, slightly less important, and there two or three other people, I suppose, in a group of what, ten or twelve – who came into my category.
I remember going to what I think really was the kind of launch meeting for a much wider audience which was at the Barber Institute in Birmingham, and where there were a lot of people, because I can remember the lecture theatre, perhaps there were eighty people or something, and that was the moment I remember, when I first met Peter Lasko, for example, who I’d never met before, who was a very genial, friendly man, and I first met Hamish Miles, for example, who was then the Director there and Andrew McLaren Young. But these were the people one met whom, at least I hadn’t met, or certainly didn’t know before. But there was quite a rapid expansion in new contact with people who one wasn’t necessarily sharing academic things with and one became aware, perhaps for the first time, of Art History as a profession, rather than being an Art History student, as it were, even a graduate student. There was a sort of, a, a feeling that it was a part of a step up in one’s own involvement in Art History I think.
So what did you think of this idea to found an association of art historians?
Oh, I think I was completely carried along on it. The arguments that were made I know, were, first of all, that certain other countries and America – the College of Art Association were much mentioned – had already got such an association and that Britain needed to have it. There was also the sense that the international group of art historians was active and had been for a long time but in a way there was a sense that the study of Art History in Britain needed formalising I think, needed to be got onto not just a national basis, but one where there was a participation in an international grouping and that the Association would be aware of not doing that but helping it to happen, I think.
There was also – and this I think became very, very clear there was also a sense, that, that, certain departments in London, particularly at the Courtauld – because the Courtauld was the leader in this undoubtedly – were beginning to produce world-qualified art historians rather fast, what were they gonna do, you know. There was an interest in expanding the regional development of Art History teaching in the universities, and in polytechnics actually too, because all these very interesting people they were training needed to have jobs somewhere and of course museums and art galleries filled that bill up to a point but something much bigger was needed. My memory is that there already existed something called a Heads of [Art History] Departments meeting – but that was largely to do with practical issues but it did play some part I think in the basis of the development we’re talking about.
What about the question of polytechnics, that’s something that seems to have come up … ?
The polytechnic thing I think is interesting. There was always a slight sense that there were the leaders in the major universities, in fact was more than a slight sense actually it was a quite real sense, and the people who needed sort of bringing on, who were the polytechnics, and I think the reason for that of course, was that even then a lot of polytechnics were doing mainly service teaching really, to the major departments of painting and sculpture or whatever, and I think there was a feeling, there was a lot of encouragement – which must have actually pre-dated my going to Manchester – for polytechnics to set up honours degrees in Art History or often Design History – because in a sense they were, also involved with design departments, with interior design or fashion or whatever – but there was a sense in way, that of course, you know, there were representatives of polytechnics on the Art Historians committee – though I think probably only one or two members – but, I think there was a slight sense of first-class and second-class members, or something like that and it may have been partial, it may have been among some people, you know, the older more established art historians who weren’t absolutely sure about all this expansion at all I think.