Grown but Not Made: British Modernist Sculpture and the New Biology

By Stratton, Rachel | The Sculpture Journal, September 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Grown but Not Made: British Modernist Sculpture and the New Biology


Stratton, Rachel, The Sculpture Journal


Edward Juler, Grown But Not Made: British Modernist Sculpture and the New Biology Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2015, ?75. ISBN 978-0-7190-90324

The sinuous organic forms in the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and others are often tied to vague conceptions of Biology; however, few have embarked on the subject with the level of scientific specificity that Edward Juler does in his book Grown But Not Made. Juler's intervention into the study of organic modernism - a subject previously discussed by scholars including Oliver Botar, Isabel Wünsche and David Thistlewood - is to historicize the trend in 'bio-centricity' as both a British phenomenon and a wider European endeavour, and to situate modern British sculpture within this context.1 Through the author's confident explanations of the scientific factions at play - something of a rarity in art historical accounts of bio -centricity - he weaves a comprehensive picture of the biological foundations that underpin the conceptual frameworks of artists and critics in the interwar period.

While the author employs the term 'bio-centricity' as an overarching description, he immediately begins teasing out different strands of inquiry that came under this broad term, constructing a web of interlinked and overlapping ideas in science that, he argues, played a fundamental role in art and art criticism in the 1920s and 1930s. He conveys the wider social and political implications brought about by what he calls the 'New Biology', a school of thought that consciously challenged the predominant mechanistic and positivist ideas that continued to linger from the nineteenth century and included theories such as 'neo-lamarckism' and 'neo-vitalism'.

Juler first traces the relationship between science and art in the interwar period, challenging Charles Percy Snow's summation in 1959 that the two disciplines had developed separate languages. He considers the widespread interest in the biological sciences that came about thanks to publications such as Karl Blossfeldt's Art Forms in Nature (1928) and D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's On Growth and Form (1942), and emphasizes the profound importance of BBC radio broadcasting which disseminated scientific knowledge to much broader audiences than would have accessed it otherwise. The artists and critics who circulated around the journals Axis and Circle are among those to have responded most fervently to the expansion of popular science, and these go on to form Juler's principal case studies.

Juler follows this overview with a thematic analysis of the relationship between the New Biology and modern sculpture, examining the biological sciences and the art of the interwar period through the concepts of 'metamorphosis', 'organicism' and 'morphology'. His discussion of metamorphosis focuses on the revival of neo-Darwinist evolution in the New Biology, which became a paradigm for the creative process among artists and critics. Next, he investigates the stylistic manifestations of bio-centricity in the tendency towards 'organismal composition', forging a connection between the process of creating multi-part sculptures and prevalent studies of organic arrangement. A discussion about morphology and the discourses surrounding inorganic and organic form follows on from this. Crystal structures are particularly significant for Juler's argument since technically they are inorganic but have the capacity to grow. …

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