The art of Painting is the decomposition of nature’s ready-made images into the distinctive properties of the common material found within them and the creation of different images by means of the interrelation of these properties; this interrelation is established by the Creator’s individual attitude. The artist determines these properties by his visual faculty. The world is a piece of raw material—for the unreceptive soul it is the back of a mirror, but for reflective souls it is a mirror of images appearing continually. How does the world reveal itself to us? How does our soul reflect the world? In order to reflect, it is necessary to perceive. In order to perceive, it is necessary to touch, to see. Only the Intuitive Principle introduces us to the World.
And only the Abstract Principle—Calculation—as the consequence of the active aspiration to express the world, can build a Picture.
This establishes the following order in the process of creation:
The fascination of the visible, the charm of the spectacle, arrests the eye, and the artist’s primary aspiration to create arises from this confrontation with nature. The desire to penetrate the World and, in reflecting it, to reflect oneself is an intuitive impulse that selects the Subject—this word being understood in its purely painterly meaning.
In this way, nature is a “Subject” as much as any subject set for painting in abstraction and is the point of departure, the seed, from which a Work of Art develops; the intuitive impulse in the process of creation is the first psychological stage in this development. How does the artist use the phenomena of nature, and how does he transform the visible World on the basis of his relationship with it?
But what can the artist express if he repeats them?
At best, an unconscious plagiarism of nature, for which the artist, not knowing his own objectives, could be forgiven; at worst, a plagiarism in the literal sense of the word, when people would refuse to reject it merely out of creative impotence.
—Because the artist must be not a passive imitator of nature, but an active spokesman of his relationship with her. Hence the question arises: to what extent and to what degree should nature’s influence on the artist be expressed?
A servile repetition of nature’s models can never express all her fullness. It is time, at long last, to acknowledge this and to declare frankly, once and for all, that other ways, other methods of expressing the World are needed.
The photographer and the servile artist, in depicting nature’s images, will repeat them.
The artist of artistic individuality, in depicting them, will reflect himself.
He will reveal the properties of the World and erect from them a New
World—the World of the Picture, and by renouncing repetition of the visible, he will inevitably create different images; in turning to their practical realization on the canvas, he will be forced to reckon with them.
The Intuitive Principle, as an extrinsic stimulus to creation, and individual transformation—the second stage in the creative process—have played their role in advancing the meaning of the abstract.
The abstract embraces the conception of creative Calculation, and of expedient relations to the painterly task. It has played an essential role in the New Art by indissolubly combining the conception of artistic means and the conception of artistic ends. Modern art is no longer a copy of concrete objects; it has set itself on a different plane, it has upturned completely the conception of Art that existed hitherto.
The artist of the Past, riveted to nature, forgot about the picture as an important phenomenon, and as a result, it became merely a pale reminder of what he saw, a boring assemblage of ready-made, indivisible images of nature, the fruit of logic with its immutable, non-aesthetic characteristics. Nature enslaved the artist.
And if in olden times, the individual transformation of nature found occasional expression when the artist changed it according to his individual conception (the works of archaic eras, of infant nations, the primitives), it was, nevertheless, an example of an unrealized property, attempts at free speech, and more often than not, the ready-made images triumphed as a result.
Only now does the artist create a Picture quite consciously not only by not copying nature, but also by subordinating the primitive conception of it to conceptions complicated by all the psychology of modern creative thought: what the artist sees + what he knows + what he remembers, etc. In putting paint onto canvas, he further subjects the result of this consciousness to a constructive processing that, strictly speaking, is the most important thing in Art—and the very conception of the Picture and of its self-sufficient value can arise only on this condition.
In an ideal state of affairs the artist passes spontaneously from one creative state to another, and the Principles—the Intuitive, the Individual, the Abstract—are united organically, not mechanically. I do not intend to analyze the individual trends of modern art but wish merely to determine the general character of the New creative World View. I shall touch on these trends only to the extent that they are the consequence of this New creative psychology and evoke this or that attitude in the public and critics nurtured on the psychology of the old conception of art. To begin with, the art of our time will be fatally incomprehensible to such people unless they make the effort to accept the required viewpoint.
For the majority of the public nurtured by pseudo artists on copies of nature, the conception of beauty rests on the terms “Familiar” and “Intelligible.” So when an art created on new principles forces the public to awaken from its stagnant, sleepy attitudes crystallized once and for all, the transition to a different state incites protest and hostility since the public is unprepared for it.
Only in this way can the enormity of the reproaches cast at the whole of the Young Art and its representatives be explained.
—Reproaches made from self-interest, self-advertisement, charlatanism, and every kind of mean trick.
The disgusting roars of laughter at exhibitions of the leading trends can be explained only by a reluctance to be educated. The bewilderment at pictures and titles expressed in technical language (directrix, color instrumentation, etc.) can be explained only by crass
Undoubtedly, if a person came to a musical evening, read in the program the titles of the pieces—"Fugue,” “Sonata,” “Symphony,” etc.—and suddenly
began to roar with laughter, indicating that these definitions were
amusing and pretentious, his neighbors would shrug their shoulders and
make him feel a fool.
In what way does the usual kind of visitor to current “Union of Youth”
exhibitions differ from this type as he creases up with laughter when confronted
with specific artistic terms in the catalogue and does not take the
trouble to ascertain their true meaning?
But if the attitude of a certain section of the public is tactless, then that of the critics and their confreres in art toward its Young representatives is, unfortunately,
not only no less tactless and ignorant, but is often even careless. Everyone who follows the art scene is familiar with A. Benois’s articles on cubism: “Cubism or Ridiculism?” is a shameful stain on Russian criticism. And if such a well-known art critic displays complete ignorance of questions of a specialized nature, then what can we expect from the newspaper judges who earn their bread and butter by looking for truths to please the mob’s bigoted opinions!
When there is no possibility of averting your opponent’s victory by disarming him, there is only one thing left—to depreciate his significance. The opponents of the New Art resort to this onslaught by rejecting its self-sufficient significance, declaring it to be “transient"; they do not even understand properly the conception of this Art and dump cubism, futurism, and other manifestations of art life onto the same heap. Hence they elucidate neither their essential difference, nor their common cohesive theses.
Let us turn to the concepts transient and self-sufficient. Do these words denote a qualitative or a quantitative difference? In all the manifestations of cultural life and hence in art as well, only an epoch of Senility and Imitation—a period of life’s mortification—can, according to the only correct definition, be called a “transient epoch.”
Every new epoch in art differs from the preceding one in that it introduces many new artistic theses into its previously cultivated experience, and in following the path of this development, it works out a new code of artistic formulas. But in the course of time, creative energy begins inevitably to slacken.
New formulas cannot be cultivated—on the contrary, those cultivated previously develop artistic technique to an extraordinary level of refinement and reduce it to prestidigitation of the paintbrush; the extreme expression of this is a crystallization into the conditioned repetition of ready-made forms. And in this soil the putrid flowers of imitation thrive. Without going into the depths of art history, we can cite examples of imitation from the not too distant past (it, too, has grown obsolete), namely, the exhibitions of the “World of Art” and especially the “Union of Russian Artists” as they now stand: they give nothing to the treasure house of art and essentially are merely the epigones of the Wanderers. The only difference is that the servile imitation of nature with a smattering of Social-Populist ideology (the Wanderers) is replaced in this case by the imitation of an intimate aristocratic life with its cult of antiquity and sentimentality of individual experience (the cozy art of the “World of Art” exhibitions and their like).
I pointed out above that all previous art had touched on problems of a purely painterly nature only by allusion and that it had confined itself generally to the repetition of the visible; we can say therefore that only the nineteenth century, thanks to the school of the impressionists, advanced theses that had been unknown previously: the stipulation of a locale of air and light in the picture and color analysis.
Then followed Van Gogh, who hinted at the principle of dynamism, and Cezanne, who advanced the questions of construction, planar and surface dimension.
But Van Gogh and Cezanne are only the estuaries of those broad and impetuous currents that are most well defined in our time: futurism and cubism.
Proceeding from the possibilities to which I alluded (dynamism, planar and surface dimension), each of these currents has enriched art with a series of independent theses.
Moreover, although initially they were diametrically opposed to each other (Dynamics, Statics), they were enriched subsequently with a series of common theses. These have lent a common tone to all modern trends in painting.
Only modern Art has advocated the full and serious importance of such principles as pictorial dynamism, volume and equilibrium, weight and weightlessness, linear and plane displacement, rhythm as a legitimate division of space, design, planar and surface dimension, texture, color correlation, and others. Suffice it to enumerate these principles that distinguish the New Art from the Old to be convinced that they are the Qualitative—and not just the quantitative—New Basis that proves the “self-sufficient” significance of the New Art. They are principles hitherto unknown that signify the rise of a new era in creation—an era of purely artistic achievements.
—The era of the final, absolute liberation of the Great Art of Painting from the alien traits of Literature, Society, and everyday life. Our age is to be credited with the cultivation of this valuable world view—ал age that is not affected by the question of how quickly the individual trends it has created flash past.
After elucidating the essential values of the New Art, one cannot help noting the extraordinary rise in the whole creative life of our day, the unprecedented diversity and quantity of artistic trends.
Messrs. art critics and veterans of the old art are being true to themselves in their fatal fear of what is beautiful and continually renewing itself; they are frightened and tremble for the little caskets of their meager artistic achievements. In order to defend publicly this pitiful property and the positions they occupy, they spare no effort to slander the Young Art and to arrest its triumphant procession. They reproach it further with frivolity and instability.
It is high time that we realized that the future of Art will be assured only when the thirst for eternal renewal in the artist’s soul becomes inexhaustible, when wretched individual taste loses its power over him and frees him from the necessity of continually rehashing.
Only the absence of honesty and of true love of art provides some artists with the effrontery to live on stale tins of artistic economies stocked up for several years, and year in, year out, until they are fifty, to mutter about what they had first started to talk about when they were twenty.
Each moment of the present is dissimilar to a moment of the past, and moments of the future will contain inexhaustible possibilities and new revelations!
How can one explain the premature spiritual death of the artists of the Old Art, if not by laziness?
They end their days as innovators before they are barely thirty, and then turn to rehashing.
There is nothing more awful in the World than repetition, uniformity. Uniformity is the apotheosis of banality.
There is nothing more awful in the World than an artist’s immutable Face, by which his friends and old buyers recognize him at exhibitions—this accursed mask that shuts off his view of the future, this contemptible hide in which are arrayed all the “venerable” tradesmen of art clinging to their material security!
There is nothing more terrible than this immutability when it is not the imprint of the elemental force of individuality, but merely the tested guarantee of a steady market!
It is high time that we put an end to the debauch of critics’ ribaldry and confessed honestly that only “Union of Youth” exhibitions are the pledges of art’s renewal. Contempt should be cast on those who hold dear only peaceful sleep and relapses of experience.
— First published in the third issue of Soyuz Molodezhi (Union of Youth), March 1913.