FUNDAMENTALS OF A PHILOSOPHY OF ART
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Ladies and gentlemen: We come to the end of this course that was
intended to be an introduction into the philosophy of the arts.
And an introduction into the philosophy of the arts that is a
very curious one, because it has been designed for purposes and
wider conditions that no philosophy of the arts up to now has
ever been designed under.
All the philosophies of the arts have been de-signed from the
armchair of contemplation of the arts and could be designed so.
Not this one. This one was under the compulsion of an absolute
philosophical necessity. What is that - an absolute philosophical
necessity? Philosophy, teaching life and nothing but life, and
concerned therefore primarily, always, and first, with matters
then when matters have become matters of life and death. Most
matters of philosophy - even in the philosophy up to now - like
love, death, life, God, freedom, moral behavior, the human soul
- have in all situations always been matters of life and death.
Matters to be decided upon at once, and to take decisions and
live according to the decisions.
The only exception has been art, or, philosophically speaking,
the problem of beauty. Because beauty has never been in a position
to be a matter of life and death. Art itself was never threatened.
Art itself was never in danger of being abolished It was never
problematical. Beauty has been done, delivered by the artist,
all the time. So, the philosophers always could afford here to
sit back (with) that question into the armchair, the easy chair,
and say: Let’s look at works of art, this or that, - what
may it be. My situation was a quite different one. When I started
to think about the arts, in early youth already, I knew that for
the first time in history art itself has become threatened. Attacked.
That there are forces at work in our time to destroy art (at all).
With good reasons. Because, in mass society, for the first time,
as it comes out - slowly - of the decay of modern society - more
formlessness and more formlessness every day, in every life matter,
breaking up into atoms and massing together into masses of atoms
without relations to each other, without forms - formless life
more and more - in political things too. And finally the consequence,
totalitarianism, where those formless masses are taken into a
terror system, not in order to form them. (They don’t form
anything ever). In order to manipulate them at will from day to
day every way they want to. That means formlessness as a principle.
They had to break art - that was clear to me - because art means,
in a way, form. As long as there is art, people know that things
cannot be lived formless.
So this philosophy of the arts had to be designed from a folding
chair in the middle of the battlefield, and taking into consideration
all - the whole situation - of man in our time, in order to get
at the root of the question: What is art? And then it couldn’t
be done. It couldn’t be done for years and years and years.
And I didn’t know why, knowing so much of art, I couldn’t
go into the heart of the matter. Because I couldn’t do it
until I had changed the equipment of philosophy itself. That means,
as I’ve explained many tines to you, getting away from universals,
making fundamentals no more universals but making them essentials,
no longer analyzing nouns but analyzing verbs, going into activities.
And after I found that equipment I was ready for the philosophy
of the arts.
And then I discovered why I had not been ready. I had not been
ready for the simple cause - and that’s why the others had
not been ready - even if they had been in a life and death situation
for art - because art is nothing but pure activity itself. It
is the only human creative activity where intellect does not constantly
interfere, where therefore it is the hardest to get at it with
universals. As soon as you get at it with essentials, taken as
fundamentals, you can put the question we put here: What is artistic
activity? We found out what artistic activity is. We see that
according to this method we found how beholder, work of art and
artist are united by this thing: artistic activity. We found out
that art is a guarantor of human freedom, that art is the most
pure activity, free activity, of man, and therefore the source
of all free activities of man; that if art is stopped, if this
source dries up, we will not even be able any more to make technical
inventions because the ability to invent, the ability to make
something new and to find something new for man, depends entirely
on his ability to make pure invention, to make things out of pure
invention or pure imagination, to make art. So once more it has
become a life and death matter for the whole of society and for
the whole of human life - to defend art. And at least we found
out - and the totalitarians know, why they attack art. Because
they want to dry out that source; they smell that they have to
dry it out, in order to get at their aims. So that we found out
here why we have to defend it, and what it is - this kind of activity
that makes possible the process of self-realization of man, that
proves - the only activity that proves to man that he can do everything
absolutely new under the sun - a work of art! - that he can invent
things as he wants to invent things. And keep this source flowing.
We found how, intertwined with myth and mythical activity of
man, art has come up in history - in this one history that counts:
the history of the human mind. And finally, from those basic definitions
we went into looking at art and works of art themselves.
Now, for the end. It all boils down to the central question: What
is form? Art works by form. All art works by form. In order to
get at this final question, we are making three great steps. The
first step we make by analyzing architecture in order to find
that and how style is, in art, the manifestation of the style
of life in a given time, that style of art is impossible without
style of life, and that style of life is shaped by and impossible
without style in art. And in architecture we could see it immediately
by analyzing how the thing makes us work, that it puts us into
a certain composure, into a certain kind of behavior, that it
helps us to get style, to become men of style for ourselves, that
it gives us a certain framework. Every art does that. This is
the working of form on the beholder.
Second step: We went into an analysis of modern art in order
to find what this new style coming to birth right now in our time
means, and unfolding from it some forms that have been created
within that style, and how they are interrelated among themselves
- where we could see how form is inherent in the work of art.
Now we have to make the third step: to find how form - before
we get at form directly from these three points - how form is
given birth to in the artistic process. We’ve all heard
that art can be done only by inspiration. It is the only human
activity that permanently seems to need inspiration. What is that
- inspiration? And is that whole thing true?
If you ask an artist, and he is sincere, he might tell you funny
stories. He might make the mistake of telling a layman not what
Dali tells him - and people who know how to handle them. - He
might tell him: Oh, you see that picture? Well, yesterday I had
that around that way, you know, and I wanted to make a row of
mountains there, and then I finally put it around that way and
made a clown out of it - it comes out better that way - - Then
the layman thinks: that damn shoemaker! He thinks he is an artist!
No inspiration whatsoever. Nothing that I can rely upon. No higher
powers coming in. What a technician!.
Well, that’s one side. These things happen to the artist,
and he does them. If he’s sincere, he tells them. And then
other things - very strange - happen to him. As I told you before,
a painter once said to me: “Oh I don’t know here -
I think that red wants to come through here - that red wants something
(of me ?). I never know how I got at that damn thing at all,”
he says to me, “I really don’t know what the devil
.. it’s just that one thing, you see..” “Oh”
I said “it’s just that one thing? Let’s see.
Let’s analyze that thing”.
How does it all start? In the poems that have been published
now, of Rilke, since his death - his latest poems - he wanted
to make a choice of them, and sent those poems to a girl-friend
of his, and wrote her: “Please help me select the good ones
and take out the bad ones. Keep only one thing in mind always:
See if the first two God-given lines have been held through the
whole poem - if the whole poem is built on those first two God-given
lines. If not, reject it!” That gives a good indication
how the thing starts. All artists who sometimes feel themselves
working under something that, if they are romantically minded,
they will call ”inspiration,” and something that,
if they are realistically minded they will call ”craziness”,
know one thing - that it always starts with a flash. What the
flash is, they don’t know. Here, in Rilke’s case,
it is the two God-given lines. And then he tries to make the thing
up: what is that now? The two God-given lines were what we formerly
found out to be the secret of Apollo, that something like truth
is given to the senses, a unity between the senses and the mind
is accomplished. This is the germ of form.
As to the specific kind, the specific work of art, there is only
one comparison that can be used for the process of artistic production
and those are terms taken out of the philosophy of erotics, and
extremely out of the physiological part of it. What happened here
was that flash, the self-engendering of the mind. The mind has
conceived at this moment. All that comes now is to bear the child,
and is exactly parallel to that process. It is not entirely subconscious,
and it is sometimes so conscious that the painter said: “Well,
if I take that line out here and just take a line that Matisse
did yesterday”..(that conscious!).. “it might help
me here”. The same as if a pregnant woman says: “I
have to go to bed at 8 o’clock because I am pregnant.”
This is conscious. This is decision. This is technicality. But
there is a very funny thing about the pregnant woman: She cannot
eat just that - she hates just that that she formerly wanted to
eat. Her body knows that there is something in this body that
wants this - she translates for it. She does not even know that
she translates it. She just reacts.
So it is in that state. Millions of associations come into the
mind as soon as the creative process has started - as the engendering
has taken place. They have to be rejected, related, shown. They
have to be fitted in, reformulated, transformed. All that matters
- there’s only one thing - that you can keep yourself in
that state. That you had a vision. The vision started. Now it
is not so, that, in the old sense, the artist saw a topic, then
he started to do it: there’s a content, there’s a
form. He saw form. At once. He experienced form. But still, it
is not now so that he experienced form as a vision and now he
just has to put it down. No. The form has to be developed into
the work of art. This is only a germ of form he conceived. And
in order to develop it, he has to sustain the vision - not to
fall out of the vision. Now there are giants who can do that with
one work of art or by genius (?) as Leonardo could - every day
go back to the vision, into the pro-creative process again.
There are artists like de Kooning who are absolutely afraid that
if they don’t do that thing in twenty minutes they will
fall out of the vision and the whole thing will be gone. That’s
the whole scale between different art (?). One thing is always
the same. You have to sustain the vision. You have to sustain
that process. And now it comes, that you cannot distinguish any
more: are you doing it or is that thing doing you? Is that thing
doing itself? Why? This germ of form sets those millions of associations
and indefinite possibilities. Between those, you are in the middle.
You have to take in what suits the development of this germ of
form. As soon as you have to start to bring intellect in, cold
calculation into that, you fail. You are out of the vision. As
soon as you take something that is strange to it, the thing falls
apart. You have to shape it around again.
So, from the pure technicality, to see that this red has to fit
this other red - that they don’t kill each other, or from
the technicality that I am looking in a poem for a thing that
is just a rhyme, just a rhyme, for heaven’s sake - nothing
else. And underneath the process that this rhyme is the exact
choice that is necessary for the development of this single germ
of form. Otherwise it will not come out.
Now, as soon as you bring other forms - I will call them shapes
- into it, we model them to this germ of form, want to have them
penetrated by this germ of form you have in hand, Then suddenly
you find that that germ, that form, makes its own requirements,
on you. That you have not really a free choice. That the infinite
view of possibilities you were in, of associations, is very rich
still, but centers more and more into a certain framework, demanded
and required by this basic form you have set yourself. And that
is the moment when form starts to work with you! With you. That
is the moment when the red requires from you to come through here.
That is the moment when this line in the poem requires from you:
“Blonde”, as Petrarch said when his friends said to
him about one of his sonnets on his beloved Laura: “But
Petrarch, Petrarch, she’s black-haired. You have blonde
in your line.” He said: “Well, here, let’s take
it out.” And ....”How beautiful this ‘blonde’
was in my line!” This “blonde” was required
by the germ of form that had been set and that had to be developed
in that sonnet. And he had to take it back. He would have destroyed
the unity of form, in that sonnet.
Now I told you once that in distinction to science, where only
quantitative things count, and therefore only exactitude and not
truth, that there it is so, that if a little man, a small mind,
says something right, it is better than if a great mind says something
wrong. It might be and is, in science, if science is taken into
life, as it has been by Marxism, for instance - it is even very
dangerous if a great man in science says something wrong. In the
arts, and in philosophy as well, quality is involved. And there
a strange thing happens. If a great man says something wrong,
it is infinitely more worthwhile than if a small mind says something
right. Why? Quality counts. The depth counts, of the approach.
And, in philosophy especially, you can always be sure that men
had something in hand. He didn’t know what it was. He was
wrong. But what was it? What did he have?
So Goethe once wrote a poem, where he made a statement about
human life, the human being, how a human life runs, and everything
in the cosmos. And he said the formula: “Getraegte (?) Form
die Lebend sich entwickelt” - “Coined form that develops
organically”, or more than that - “lively” -
“in life” - “by the life process”. Now
this is unfortunately - or, as I think fortunately - wrong about
being, in general. As we have found out here in philosophy there
is only one thing that is capable of development, in all the world,
and that is the human mind. And this is self-development. This
thing also creates another thing, namely art, and this art, this
process of creating art, has exactly what Goethe said, in it.
So Goethe being a great artist and a great mind could not be entirely
wrong. He had something else in hand. What he had in hand was
his tremendous experience of the inner process of art production,
and there it is the absolute formula: Coined form (the germ of
form) that develops in life. And this is the process of art creation.
That is why it is so terribly hard to get at it by analysis, as
long as the analysis is an analysis of notes. That is why you
can get at it only if you start in that perhaps very tedious way
we did it, and very heavy way, if you start by analyzing the activity
itself. Then you might gain that insight into the artistic process.
So from there, form. This process of self-engendering of the mind
and bearing the child (out), in sustained vision, till the work
of art is finished, is the secret of what has always been called
“inspiration”. This is, of course, not inspiration,
because if we want to say, to assume, that this germ of form,
this flash in which the beginning of the vision comes, has been
given immediately by any higher power, God - or other -, directly,
we are welcome to do that, because we cannot contradict that.
We cannot prove that this is not so. But neither are we able to
prove that this is so. And so we have to disregard that question
and find how far we can go with the things that we know. With
the things we can experience. How near we can get to this phenomenon
of inspiration. And I think this is the nearest we can get at
it, to find “coined form that develops in life”, to
find that the artist is up, after having gone into .. by the flash
.. into the vision itself, into the state of vision, his work
is to sustain the vision, his work is to bear the child (out).
And to give birth to it.
As soon as he falls out of it, he might be able to go back to
it later, and to repair the job. It has rarely been done. But
it can be done. And it can be done only, not by intention, not
by any force of will, only -you can only after a year get back
into an unfinished work - by letting the thing as it stands now
do the same thing to you again as that flash, that started it
first, did to you. And you come back into the creative state.
Then you might be able to start the process again, because, after
all, it is not a child-birth process. And it is not a natural
process. It’s a process of the mind, and it takes other
ways. And so you might be able to go back into it and finish the
Now we have, from all the points we always considered in order
to approach and to get into our grasp that thing, artistic activity,
namely from the point of view of the artist, the work of art and
the beholder, made our approach to that center of art which is
form. We have seen it working, in all those three instances. Seeing
it at work - form in the work of art, in the beholder, and in
the artist during the creative process.
Now this form - problem of form - has been approached by the
science of esthetics, modern esthetic science. They have come
that far, finally, that they have stated: A work of art is expressive
form, or significant form, or meaningful form. Let’s take
significant form because in our approach we found, by analyzing
the saying of Heraclitus, what the god Apollo does: he gives truth
to the senses, and he does not say anything, does not hide anything;
he indicates. And he signifies. But then, this is the end - as
far as the science of esthetics can go, to say: What they use
in art is significant form. And I ask again: What - significant
of what - how does significance come into the form? That we found
out. We found out that they never were separated, that the unity
of mind and matter is just the secret of form, and that form is
conceived in the beginning as this germ of form.
But now we have to ask further: What is this form, related to
the general problem of art that has always been called the problem
of beauty? I said - let me first make a few distinctions. I said,
we can best call this artistic activity “Gestaltung”
- making Gestalt, not making form. Not to form, but to “gestalten”.
That I did because we have three different states of what has
always in philosophy been considered as “form”, and
we had to make distinctions here. Unfortunately one distinction
cannot be made in the English language - that is why I brought
in the German word “Gestaltung” and “Gestalt”
which is known to you, and which I analyzed - and why I brought
it. Fortunately, on the other hand, the English language has the
possibility of making the other distinction, namely the distinction
between form and shape, which the German language does not have.
Now this thing here, much as I like it, I cannot do more than
like it - I cannot love it. Why? Because this thing has been shaped;
this thing has meaning; it is not meaning. It has the meaning
to be smoked from, etc., etc. - the whole thing has been formed
- you can say in English “shaped” - accordingly. So
it has shape - it has not form. It can be liked; it cannot be
loved. It has no beauty. It can have attractiveness; it cannot
What is beauty? The term “beauty” has been given
up entirely by modern esthetic science, and by modern artists.
And rightly so. Because this term has been filled with the content
of an old concept of beauty that runs strictly against the modern
style in art. That is why they took in preference the term “form”.
Now form, Gestalt, and beauty are all the same. Form relates to
Gestalt in such a way that Gestalt is rather what I described
to you, for instance, in the work of art, in the whole work of
Kafka or Faulkner, those basic structures that make the whole
thing great - the whole form, the over-all form - that form that
relates already to style, and to style-setting in an age, is great
form. This form we will call Gestalt. All forms that are invented
by this germ of form that has been developed into the Gestalt
- and now, all forms in the work that have been invented in order
to sustain and to bring out this great Gestalt, we will call “forms”.
They still contain, though only secondarily, beauty. Shape alone
does not contain beauty.
So what is beauty? Why has modern art rejected the term? The
term has been rejected because they did not want to be representative
any more - to be representative assumes (?) - and one could be
representative in art - only as long as one thought that things
in nature, forms in nature - whatever, including the human form,
- are beautiful. We do not believe that any longer. Why? And why
were those forms considered as beautiful? As long as one thought
they give truth to the senses. As long as we had a philosophy
where we thought God had created the cosmos for us, and all forms
in this cosmos - they were all related to each other - they all
either had a soul, which is decisive for art - they were intentional
- they made sense. There was meaning in them, meaning, that through
their form, their shape, call it then form, could be given to
the senses. And we found out: this is not true. They are merely
functional. They are not intentional. And therefore there is not
possibility of beauty’s being in them. The beauty we saw
in them, we saw into them.
Because we believed that those things could speak to us, of God’s
all-power, of God’s purpose, of the purpose of the cosmos,
of the harmony of the cosmos inherent in all things - that meaning
was given to us through them. And we found out this is not true.
They have to do only with exactitude. They are functional. They
have nothing whatsoever to do with truth. So, if they do not have
truth, they cannot give truth. And their forms cannot give truth
to the senses. Their forms can only inform the senses about facts.
Cezanne was the first who discovered that, and he discovered
it by fear. He must have felt - he was a very devout man - he
must have felt shocked at the discovery: God is no artist. Natural
forms are functional and don’t give anything of truth to
the senses. There is no beauty in nature. God has been no artist.
In his despair, and being a painter and not a philosopher, he
was not ready enough to say: If God. has been no artist, perhaps
he intended not to be that, in order that I might be-- which a
theologian could answer. He was just in despair, and he tried
to give form to natural things, to bring them into significant
form, into form that signifies meaning. And that is how all modern
art started. By this shock - behind this, that we have no beauty
in natural things.
Now, there is one exception. The human being. And there we have
to distinguish again - more exactly than we did before -. When
we thought that all natural forms are not merely functional, but
are all intentional, and therefore could convey beauty, then of
course we thought that the human body is just the center of all
that - natural given beauty. That we believed from the Greeks
to the end of the 19th century, in art. And we will see later
why. Now, we have to ask the question, since we found out that
in all merely natural things, in all things ( I will say now)
in all things given, in all things that just happen, there is
nothing intentional, everything is only functional, - how about
the human body? After all, we find that the human body is something
a human being, which is a mind, has, just as it has spirit or
intellect. So, is there any beauty in the human body? And most
people will still answer Yes. For after all, who would say to
a girl she isn’t beautiful? In a way, we have to. Because
there is in the human body, for our feelings, the same attractiveness
that is to us in trees, to a lesser degree, and so on in nature,
We get friendly with it. Or there is to it even, if we can use
those things technically, always a certain attraction. Here the
attraction comes to the top. So, the human body in its bloom,
promising - the body of a young woman promising happiness for
a male is something utterly attractive. Is it therefore beautiful
then? Let’s try to find out the limit of attractiveness,
as of the human body. In “Anna Karenina” is a very
sad thing. The lover sits with the woman he seduced, for a long
time now, and looks at her as she undresses. And Tolstoy remarks:
“He liked everything, everything. But how often had he liked
it already?” The whole sadness of boredom, in which all
human drives that have not been transformed into great passion
have to end, is here, in this scene. This woman has not become
less attractive. She hasn’t rotted yet. She is not old.
The only argument is that this attractiveness he had. experienced
too often, and there is boredom already. And there the lover sits,
thinking himself to have been a passionate lover. He has only
been a vehement one. He hasn’t been a classical lover; he
has been a romantic lover. He wasn’t able to transform a
drive into a passion. He never saw beauty in her. Was there beauty?
Yes, there was. He could have seen it. Because the mind has a
body, the body is forced to show beauty. To show the reflex of
that unity of mind and matter, which is form, and which is inherent
in the human being. And when does it show? It shows when the mind
lightens the matter up. It shows in the smile, it shows in the
look, it shows in the walk, it shows in the voice. And it shows
in gesture. It does not show physiologically. What can be seen
physiologically can be the most wonderful thing - it still is
functional. It is functional and attractive.
But what can be seen physiognomically is beauty. Physiognomic
is beauty. And that is why acting is possible, why mimics are
possible, why an artist - an actor - can convey feelings of art,
can convey form, by his mimics, because here he uses as an instrument
that capability of the human being with which it is born - the
capability to show, to give to the senses of another one his own
unity of mind and matter, his being form.
And this beauty never dies - as love for this beauty, If one
has seen it, never dies. Faulkner said once very beautifully:
“Love never dies; we die.” We are not able to sustain
it. So love, not in the sense that he means it there, because
he means the holding up of attractiveness, which does not hold
- but beauty seen, even in a human being, - strong beauty, beauty
coming through, beauty of the mind, shown in the body, shown in
the behavior - and we will never forget it! That is why you don’t
forget great moments in the theater. That’s why I will never
forget how Chaplin walked at a certain moment - never forget how
he was broken - just so - when he came out as an old man in Monsieur
Verdeau. Why? Because he was able to convey truth to the senses,
because his own senses, his own body, his own whole being was
form at that moment, was a work of art, as - as a sketch - we
For this beauty, once seen, never dies, and has much to do with
beauty in the work of art, where we have it from another end:
form. Again. And this form that we have enables us by the help
of art to become Gestalt ourselves in the end - makes the process
of entire self-realization possible. Art helps to that too, and
it helps to it by this means. So form and beauty in that sense
are one. And the magic of form and Gestalt is beauty.
Seen from another end, beauty, as I previously said, is just
this thing that is truth — but truth as being felt by the
senses only, not truth given to the mind. So beauty is, in a way,
a substitute for truth.
It is much more. In all religions - the redeeming religions at
least, the hopeful religions - human beings have always conceived
the state of felicity the state in the hereafter and the other
world, as a state of beauty. That means, considered by suffering
men, by men who don’t like themselves and therefore don’t
like the world and don’t like others and want to be redeemed
and saved - it means beauty as salvation. To the other ones, who
like themselves and like other people and like the world, because
they are strong enough for it however the world might be, - beauty
is synonymous with fulfillment.
Why? We found that this thing - truth given to the senses in
a work of art - brings us into a state of felicity because something
has happened. The world, contradictory in itself - we, in contradiction
to the world, as we are, or always having to work in order to
find meaning in things, to put meaning into them, to make them
work, to bring meaning, to bring truth into the world, to cheer
our life, the life of other people, in order to make better -
has suddenly ceased. Here everything seems to be done. Peace.
No contradiction between mind and matter. No contradiction between
the will of the subject and the resistance of the object. The
perfect marriage. Something that is not to be worked on any more.
Peace. Beauty. Fulfillment. That is the other twin (?) of symbols
leading to that concept of beauty. We will have to see how this
stands up as the modern art.
And therefore we will finally now have a look backward into the
center of the matter. Art is always non-realistic. “Non”
is a negative affirmation. The question arises: How is art non-realistic?
Let us first say: Art is always non-realistic because it cannot
be realistic. Why can it not be realistic? Not because we are
unable - or the painter is unable - to do the same job as color
photography does, on one single object. He might not be unable.
He might be able to do a work that resembles that thing as exactly
as color photography does.
Why couldn’t he consider this a work of art then? And here
the problem lies. He wouldn’t be interested. What he wants
is beauty. What he wants is to give meaning to the senses. He
wants in a work of art - at least - he wants human feelings in
it. And he wants new things in it - not things already seen. He
wants experience in it, if he is an artist. If he has to put experience
into it by conceiving form - the experience is already in it,
and experience itself makes the form, - he will be absolutely
unable to copy that thing. That means, to make it realistically.
That is why art has to be realistic - it has no choice. But now,
how - this is a negative - non-realistically? How is art non-realistically?
If it wants to be art - that means if it wants to be positive.
Not positive in the sense of positivism - that’s a nice
thing in which everything has ended what-ever was thought in Western
philosophy - sophisticated stupidity - but in the sense of positive
as giving something, doing ..… And there we find, up to
now, three ways of art. And crossing all styles now - that means,
giving an over-all impression of the development of art as to
this single central matter, there have been three ways in which
art realized to be (succeeded in being?) non-realistic. The first
way was to be “other”-realistic. Other-realistic means
to be so related to myth - and myth, as well as religion, is that
strange human activity where facts are invented - facts, -- so
related to myth and religion, art first wanted to get away from
reality and the reality of forms in nature in order to create
another reality. Those artists really believed - the whole Indian
culture up to the Egyptian culture, beginning with the fetishes
-they really believed that there was a realistic relation between
the things they made that gave expression to forms, and forms
that existed, either in this world unseen, as the Negro plastic,
or beyond this world unseen – in the empire of the ? in
Egyptian art there was always something like that to it. This
does not mean that art was unfree for that. That whole talk about
art becoming free only in our time isn’t worth a dime as
long as people always think that this freedom is a freedom from
outside interferences. Artists have coped very well with outside
interference, and doing in art, and doing art nevertheless. This
is not the freedom that has come. It’s another kind of
freedom that has come, that is much deeper.
So that was not the interference. It didn’t prevent the
Egyptians from making great art. But what it did, it set a style,
a style that was other-realistic, supposed to be a copy of another
existing reality. And in order to do that, all those forms from
the primitive to Egyptian art distorted. This was deformation.
Deformation - because every artist can only handle given natural
forms - they always resemble, they will always have a resemblance
- here they were taken and distorted. In order to make them resemble
another reality they were made into forms that were deformed,
as to forms we know. This is the reason why those forms later,
in modern art, could be used - we will see why.
Second state was the state of reformation, not deformation. Reformation.
It started with the Greeks, and has been held through from the
Greeks mainly, through all Christian arts, with a few deviations,
up to the 19th century. That style - I’m calling it a style
now, I mean an over-all style that comprises many styles in itself,
but they always have one basic thing in common, and that is that
the forms used in them - may I say “shapes” now -
used in them in order to give form have been form that because
it was believed then that man can be like the world, because the
world is a cosmos, or is ruled by one thing: a God who means well
toward man, that things therefore contain beauty and that this
beauty has only to be brought out - that those forms can be taken
and just enhanced, in order to bring out their inner beauty that
they are endowed with, - by reformation of those forms given.
This reformation, in later tines, from the Renaissance on - in
all this time - has been done either -- in two ways -- either
by violence - and this is the Hellenistic style, the Roman style,
the Baroque style - or by, not violence, by going into these forms,
like the Greek style - measured, classical - Greek style, Renaissance
style and some later 19th century painting. Both those ways -
but it has always been the same - reformation of forms. Because
we believed there is beauty in them, we have only to bring it
out.-It was not an other-worldly style ever (always?). The Christian
sty1e, the Gothic style, for instance, was an other-worldly style
too. And here you see how little it means in art - to bring those
forms in from other fields, like religion, as Malraux always does.
This whole distinction - the artist as a religious artist or not
- doesn’t make any difference. In the Gothic style - that
is, a style of the humanities that believed in another world,
you will not find a single example where artists have tried to
make, what has made up to Egyptian art, an other-realistic style,
that is, a style that resembles another reality. This was only
one stride in Western art, in art that is only half-Western art,
that is Byzantine art. Byzantine art again approaches this possibility
of making a style by deforming - by giving similarity to supposed
other-worldly reality. For the artist is only the size of how
he behaves toward reality in art (?). And so the Gothic artist
is a Western artist, and Gothic art, strange as it might be, shows
only transcendence. It shows another world, but it shows this
other world being here, embodied in the being of this world. That
might strain the body - give certain forms, but those forms are
not deformations. They are not forms that resemble another reality.
They do not have to be reformations. They are the utmost of reformation
of those human and natural forms that were believed to have a
beauty in them also. And that makes a unity of Western art. This
reformation, this .. philosophically, was done first by Heraclitus
when the Greek thinkers started to think and philosophy was born
and for the first time the question arose: what is being? Up to
then, humanity had built a wall - this other-reality was a wall
to shield itself from the not-bearable reality of this world they
lived in. When this world seemed to be bearable to the Greeks,
the question was asked directly: What is this world? What is being?
And together with this thinking, this style of the arts started.
So we are not only in a position today to the Renaissance art
- don’t make any mistake about this - we are in a position
toward all the Western art in the modern style. Because something
absolutely decisive has happened or is beginning to happen.
The next of the three steps, of the development of the human
mind, as far as the arts are concerned, as it shows in the arts.
And that is always an over-all question. It shows elsewhere too.
The third step is about to be taken: our relation to natural forms.
And this style we are developing here -- make no mistakes about
it, as Malraux does, who is asking himself: Isn’t that again,
as I would say, an other-reality style? Isn’t it again that
forms are coming up that want to enslave man, that want to bring
him back under the rule of absolute natural things, or absolute
forms, or whatever that thing may be? Oh no! That is no other-worldly
style whatsoever. It is also not a style .... It is a worldly
style. It is a style of this world. And that is the reason why
it is not connected with religion and can nevertheless be a style.
This inventing - of the model of Kafka, of the precedent of Faulkner,
of the moving space in Cezanne, of the absolute interchangeability
of all forms whatsoever in Picasso ...
I said modern artists do not believe any more that things are
as they look. It goes deeper: They know, because they feel, that
there is no beauty in things, in those forms. What is the next
possibility of art being non-realistic, as it always is? It is
a possibility of being transrealistic - possibility of the action
So we go from deformation to reformation to transformation. Those
three steps in the arts are also the steps taken by the human
mind in all other fields. This transformation is what we have
to do, because of what we are threatened with - and not only the
artists, who are threatened with becoming realistic by force -
Socialist realistic - in totalitarianism, - and therefore forced
to give up form, order, the thing by which we live - to make them
utterly formless, as all human life. And here it hangs together,
made formless in totalitarianism - mass reactions that are manipulated
- the human personality absolutely formless, beginning with manners
and ending with the impossibility of love.
Those forms have to be inculcated again into the human being
by art. If you destroy it, you destroy the form-giving ability
of human beings, which means you destroy life. Human life. It
depends on that.
Now, faced with that, with absolute formlessness, and seeing
that they don’t believe any more in the significance and
relevance of forms given, an seeing the decay of this society
-into mass society, becoming ready for totalitarian rule by itself,
one of the main means to stop that process is to know what we
have to do. Here in the arts, what are the artists doing? What
are those first steps? They try to transform those forms, which
is form-giving again - invention of new form relations, invention
of a new form world This transcendence, this transformation, is
the name I would give to the modern style.
And using this criterion of transformation, you will be able
- and now you see why deformations - without understanding them
- they are related to another reality - have been taken by modern
artists in order to get away from all forms that have been developed
by reformation. But have made them transformed forms, modern forms.
Now, this modern style, if we call it what it is, the style of
transformation, then you will have a criterion at once to see
which contemporary art is contemporary and which is not. And we
will be out of that embarrassment of the so-called “modern
style” - they called themselves modern already in the Renaissance
- and later we knew that it was a renaissance - they called themselves
partly the Renaissance, in certain matters - and later we had
the name, we had to have the name, because the name is an activity.
Transformation here is our task in general, against the threatening
formlessness of life and going down of humanity, and in face of
the daily growing more and more worthless of forms that have been
believed up to now - that have been brought (up) by reforming
- we have to do transformation. Transformation of man, transformation
of humanity, transformation of the world, of society, of nature.
This transformation that starts as an indication, out of the bitter
necessity of not knowing any more what to paint, that looks true
to the experience, in artists, that transformation modern scientists
stumble upon every day when they suddenly find out we don’t
know what matter is any more - we don’t know what energy
is any more - we don’t know what things are any more - we
need an absolutely transformed vocabulary in order to live up
to the things we find. And finally philosophy, that has to find
it all out, and find a way to gather all those first steps together,
to show how they hang together, that we again are caught upon
a great thing, and go to a great task, and this is a matter of
life and death. We have to choose only between complete formlessness,
however that may end, and it will not end with now fresh barbarian
people coming onto the scene and saying something new! There aren’t
any of those peoples any more. We have to bring it out of ourselves,
out of our own society, out of each single individual. There were
nice dreamers in the 19th century, who thought they could do this
by a social revolution, or something like that, or by just changing
economies around, and they found out that they got into states
that are even worse than the one they tried to leave.
It’s a much deeper task. The task that starts with rethinking
through things, with thinking anew about the human being and his
capabilities, and make the choice. And before this choice, among
other things, modern art - the style of transformation puts us
all. And that is the reason why it is attacked. This complete
change that it indicates, that it shows something new that might
help against the anarchy of complete formlessness, this makes
us hate it. By people who want to be complacent, who want to see
that everything is wonderful and all right, that all the things
we have believed to be beautiful formerly that were done by reforming
are still beautiful, that every-thing has meaning because father
told them so, and because they want to tell their children so.
But that is not living up to the crisis. And this crisis is one
of the greatest humanity ever faced! It is really a crisis of
life and death. The outcome of it will be: humanity, really -
or it will be a mass of formless apes!
And that is the significance of art in our time. And in that
way, art not being symbolical, or using symbols only on the side(lines),
art itself is a symbol. Art itself is a symbol always for the
world human beings want and had to want. Style in art coming up
is an indication that man is making a new evaluation of the world,
is taking a new position towards the world, is developing In himself
a new attitude towards the world, and all this is style of life.
The changing of this style of life, as indicated by the changing
of the style in the arts, was my main purpose in this introduction
to the philosophy of the arts, in order to make you aware what
we are fighting for, and what we are in for, and why art has become
a matter of life and death for the existence of man.
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