RA Magazine Summer 2012
Issue Number: 115
Secret Knowledge: Sir Alan Moses
Sarah Greenberg meets the Lord Justice and Honorary Professor of Law at the RA, who is this year’s speaker at the RA’s Annual Dinner.
What does a Lord Justice in the Court of Appeal do?
I hear appeals from lower courts, in both criminal and civil jurisdictions. Most peoples’ idea of the law is crime but a vast amount of the work is civil work: tax appeals, a lot of appeals where government decisions are challenged, so I deal with every type of law but only on appeal. There are no trials, no witnesses – it’s reading the decisions that have already been made and deciding if they are wrong by law.
So you’re reviewing other judges’ decisions?
All the time – that’s what it’s all about.
This role must be delicate as you are, in a sense, criticising your peers
Yes, but a good judge doesn’t mind his decision being overturned.
Sir Alan Moses in his chambers, with paintings by Peter Griffin on the wall behind. Photo © Bill Burlington.
You’ve been described as a ‘cultured iconoclast’
It’s important for judges to be interested in other things because you can make yourself clear by referencing things very remote from the law. But I hate the word ‘cultured’.
But we don’t usually think of judges as iconoclasts
The most important thing you have as a judge is your independence – you must never decide anything because you think that’s the way other people want you to decide – you’ve got to decide what you think is right. That’s why you must not be afraid of being reversed on appeal.
That independence of mind must give you some degree of empathy with artists
Absolutely, that’s what I find so interesting about the RA. It’s this incredibly long-standing institution that is composed of those whose greatest pleasure when they get together is to dispute things hotly. Yet conflict between the artists is central to their creativity.
Art often involves breaking the rules while law seems to be about upholding them
Well, Picasso said the enemy of creativity was common sense. It is very difficult to think that there are rules in art, it’s almost a category error. The law is in a way about upholding rules, but also about solving disputes, which may be its better function. A lot of art, and certainly architecture, is also about resolving problems.
Do you consider any art to be criminal?
Absolutely not. There’s nothing you can’t paint or create. There’s bad art, of course. And lazy art is criminal. But in a different sense. Fake art is criminal. And I don’t just mean ‘a fake’. I am talking about people who don’t mean it.
You are an external member of the RA Council: what role does a judge play there?
Nicholas Grimshaw, the previous PRA, created this role so that there would be outsiders sitting on Council for up to six years to provide a sense of continuity. Sometimes I just try to help the artists articulate a problem or a solution or an issue. As a lawyer, you learn to be able to reduce things to an understandable issue. It brings focus.
Did you become involved in the RA through your marriage to Dinah Casson, the daughter of Sir Hugh Casson, a previous PRA?
That made it much more immediate but I have come to the RA since I was a child, when my parents brought me to exhibitions.
Have you learned anything from your experiences at the RA?
I wish I could learn to draw. But you have to do it in a room full of other people and I feel inhibited. The great thing about drawing, though, is that it teaches you to look.
What art is on your walls?
On the walls of my office are paintings by Peter Griffin, who came from a coal-mining family. There are also prints by Brigitte Williams, whose work was chosen for the 2007 Summer Exhibition. I have lots of drawings and paintings by Timothy Hyman RA.
And the inflatable crocodile?
A salt-water crocodile, the least tolerant of the species, a gift from my clerk, Elizabeth.
Which works of art have inspired or uplifted you?
Piero’s Baptism of Christ in the National Gallery. But my earliest favourite was the Tissot portrait of Frederick Gustavus Burnaby in the National Portrait Gallery. At the recent exhibition of the Stein Collection at the Grand Palais in Paris, in one of the earlier rooms was a Bonnard nude… heart-stopping.
Which figure in a famous painting would you be?
I’d be one of the gallants in a Carpaccio with striped tights, pointed shoes, Renaissance elbow.
What is your greatest fear?
What keeps you awake at night?
Worrying about my colleagues.
What do you do to relax?
I going for walks and I sing in a choir.
What recent art events have you enjoyed?
We just returned from Berlin, and David Chipperfield RA’s Neues Museum is remarkable. Anthony McCall’s exhibition of vertical and horizontal light sculptures at the Hamburger Bahnhof was incredible. He was at art school with Dinah and is a friend. The Zoffany exhibition at the RA is interesting – the way it has been hung, with the pictures very close, has changed the Sackler Wing into eighteenth-century style rooms. I thought the Hockney created real emotion and joy.
Is there a book on art that you can’t live without?
Deanna Petherbridge’s The Primacy of Drawing. I like the way she has categorised and sought to order the elements of drawing. And Ozenfant’s Foundations of Modern Art.
What is the art world’s best kept secret?
Being able to go the British Museum’s Prints and Drawings Room, with your passport of course, and ask to look at any print from its extraordinary collection.
© RA Magazine
Editorial enquiries: 020 7300 5820
Advertising rates and enquiries: 0207 300 5661
Magazine subscriptions: 0800 634 6341 (9.30am-5.00pm Mon-Fri)
Press office (for syndication of articles only): 0207 300 5615