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If you like Vincent Scully's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Frank Gehry,
Philip Johnson,
Maya Lin,
Norman Mailer,
David McCullough
and Tom Wolfe

Vincent Scully's recommended reading: A Farewell to Arms

Related Links:
Scully Prize
NEA
The Patriarch

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Vincent Scully
 
Vincent Scully
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Vincent Scully Interview

Architectural Historian

June 25, 1993
Glacier Park, Montana

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  Vincent Scully

When you were young, did you already have a vision of what field you wanted to go in?

Vincent Scully: No, no, no. It was like most things in human life. It was pure chance, pure luck, I suppose, if that's the right word.


I always wanted to write and I always wanted to be an English major. But I used to run my dog down a beautiful avenue -- actually by Olmsted, the great landscape architect -- in New Haven. And I used to try to figure out the plans of the houses, what room was where, and where the dining room was, where the living was, stuff like that. So I began to feel for those things. But they were just ordinary common houses in New Haven, like the one I lived in. And then when I went to Yale, it never occurred to me to do anything with architecture or with history of art. I majored in English. I had wonderful teachers. But my very last year, I took one art history course. And just by chance after the war, five years later, when I went back to graduate school, instead of going into English I wanted to do something fresh and I went into the history of art. And everything opened up for me. All of a sudden, those common houses in New Haven became actually the subject of my dissertation. And I began to write on American domestic architecture and American vernacular architecture of the 19th century. And out of that, my students began to work in that field. And Bob Venturi began to design in connection with it. And Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk came up from Princeton to the Yale Architecture School and began to study the urbanism of those houses along Edgewood Avenue as they related to each other. And out of this came what they're now calling the New Urbanism, which is really a revival of the principles of traditional urbanism. And you know, we needed to revive them because the modern movement and redevelopment and so on has pretty much destroyed -- along with other things -- has pretty much destroyed the idea of community in the United States, the structure of community in most of our cities. It's the most pressing need that we have in terms of a revival. So it's really in a way all chance. It's all because I used to run my dog up and down Edgewood Avenue.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


You once said that when you finally turned to art history, you felt liberated because it wasn't words.

Vincent Scully: Yeah.


I've never been able to write fiction because I can't make up plots. And the American habit of writing autobiographical fiction disturbs me, so I don't do that. And I got tired of English criticism. When I was in college -- and I had wonderful teachers -- but the New Critics were just coming in. And that whole development of the preoccupation with theory over -- Over what? Over experience maybe is what I mean -- was beginning, and it put me off. I didn't want to use words that way. I wasn't interested in writing about works of art, literature, that way. So I think, actually, the reason that I did go into art history after the war was I wanted to apply words to something else. I wanted a verbal experience applied to a visual experience. And history of art, if it's anything in human aesthetics, really is the study of that interface between visual experience and literary experience. And there is an interface and they do affect each other. And that's what interested me actually all my life, is the working along that fault of movement and perception and change: where the literary and the visual, the physical and the verbal interact.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


When you were growing up, were there people or a person that particularly inspired you?


Vincent Scully: Well, I suppose at Yale, the teachers I had there. Especially Henri Peyre in the French Department. I was fortunate enough to take a course in French every year. And Henri Peyre, a great critic and literary historian of 20th century French literature, had just come from Paris, and I was fortunate to take his courses when he was just fresh from the boulevards. And he inspired me enormously. He opened up a whole way of seeing, a whole French stance of criticism and thought that has been wonderful for me my whole life. Also Chauncey Brewster Tinker in "The Age of Johnson" and in the Romantic poets -- a man with an extraordinarily histrionic lecturing style, but a wonderful one -- moved me and gave me a sense that it might be possible to move people with ideas. So those two are the ones that I think of, and in a basic and not very mysterious way, as great teachers who affected me.


What about your parents? Were they supportive of your career path?


Vincent Scully: Oh, they were terribly sweet to me. They were in very moderate economic circumstances. But every night when I was a child they would read to me at great length. And my father, after a long hard day would start to doze off, and I'd push him, make him pick up and start to read. And he would read everything to me from the Bible to the Uncle Wiggly column in the local newspaper. And there was a story about Uncle Wiggly -- I guess a spinoff of Bre'er Rabbit -- in the New Haven Register, and I can remember that. I can remember those word for word. And I got so I knew if he made a mistake, if he dropped a word or if he used an untrue epithet about Uncle Wiggly. So I was reading by the time I was conscious really.


At what age would that have been?

Vincent Scully: Maybe three-ish, three-and-a-half, somewhere in there. Long before I went to kindergarten. So that I always had a sense of absolute support from them and absolute confidence. They did it for me. They gave it to me.

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