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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Tom Bass

In their own words

Recorded 1965

Tom Bass
Audio: 2 minutes

I looked at sculpture of all the ages and all the periods, and I tried to find something that was common to all sculpture. What was some essential thing about sculpture that made it important at every period? I decided it was this: that sculpture is the most social of all the arts, it is something in the open air, it’s associated with the sort of town square, with the great buildings that have a symbolic significance for communities, or with religion, or if you go further back to the most primitive situation, there was a sort of tribal fetish that was associated with sculpture. And every phase of it that I looked at, I found this totemic emblematic quality and significance in sculpture, so that all the time it was the sculptor making a significant symbol, totem or emblem for his community; he was the seer or the spokesman, the man who synthesised for his community. And suddenly I realised this was what I wanted to do.

It is for the artist to deeply probe and sense the essential spirit of a community so that he comes to know more than the individual members of that community know about themselves as individuals, or as the community that they form into a totality. The Greeks gave me the perfect prescription for this when they spoke about their artists. They said, ‘There are those that look into the eyes of the gods and there are those that look into the eyes of those that look into the eyes of the gods’. And suddenly, with this, I saw what the job was.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Tom Bass is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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Tom Bass

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency