FUNDAMENTALS OF A PHILOSOPHY OF ART
ON THE UNDERSTANDING OF ARTISTIC EXPERIENCE(Printer Friendly Version | Back to Transcript)
Now we have seen that each creative ability of man has its own tool-- fundamental or philosophical thinking the tool of the concept, analytical or scientific thinking the tool of the symbol, artistic or metaphorical thinking the tool of the metaphor--and we have also seen that the metaphor itself can be divided into three basic forms as it is used in the different arts: the phrase in music, the ornament in art, and the literary metaphor in poetry and literature. This is bound up with another great human ability: the gesture--the gesture as an expression of the human being and the gesture in its various forms as it can be used by the different human capabilities. Words, for example, can be gestures and are used as such in politics where the gesture is a making ready for action--a means to bring someone into action, to arouse will and immediate action of a specific kind. The three forms of the metaphor in art--the phrase, ornament and literary metaphor--are also gestures (just as the passive gesture of physiognomics becomes an active gesture in acting and dancing).
With the gesture, especially as it is used in art, there is the possibility of a synthesis where the human gesture gets hold of an outer phenomenon-non--which means among other things that once again abstraction only takes place in science with symbols for the different forms of the metaphor as gestures have already the basic indication of that unification of the human gesture with an objective phenomenon. This ability of the metaphor in art to be a gesture whether it be in the form of the phrase, ornament, or literary metaphor, is one reason why in painting the ornament as a fundamental gesture of artistic intention has the power to carry the meaning of a certain style--where style, to put it yet another way, is the unity of a set of creative gestures given by one basic over-all gesture expressing a certain fundamental position taken by man toward the world in a certain situation of life and being (just as in fundamental thought there can be a given set of conceptions of metaphysical thought that stem from one basic over-all position taken by man in the world).
Now the event that brought about the fundamental change of position that made the modern style the kind of a style it is was, as we have seen, the breakdown of the cosmological and theological approach, and the difficulties that made the establishment of this style so very difficult were, as we have also seen, greatly complicated by the fact that along with all this all the creative abilities of man suffered except one: science-- which on the other hand forged ahead. Certainly in philosophy, except for the work of a very few genuine nihilistic philosophers, metaphysical concepts were not created, and in the pictorial arts there was a complete loss of style and diminishing of the ornament until Cezanne laid the foundations for the modern style of transformation. With Cezanne’s tremendous achievement of the establishment of a new growing style, the great possibilities of modern art came about but most certainly all modern art is not conceived in this style--on the contrary--and this too has to be under-stood and the distinctions made if we are ever really going to understand the new style itself. Perhaps one of the best ways to approach this is to go back to our example of the brushstroke and to see first how the brush-stroke became intentionally visible--not merely in an arbitrary way but in a way where it began to indicate itself, where it began to be discovered as a means for form itself--and then to see what the role of the brushstroke is in relation to this new style and to the fundamental over-all ornament that expresses the basic will and intention of this style.
Although Hieronymus Bosch in a certain sense created the brushstroke (but without creating a tradition) and we saw it first in a very shy way with Titian, and obviously so in the Venetian School, developing then with the Spanish painters until it came to a certain peak with Hals and Rubens, there was always one very definite characteristic about the way it was used up to Hals: it was only an accompaniment, so to speak. With Rembrandt, for example, it had a special individual meaning--being used merely to give fluctuating interferences of dark and light--but still he did not want to express something with it. So we have to ask: Why was the brushstroke used up to Hals only in this manner? How was it possible that the brush-stroke then came to be used to express something? How was it possible for the brushstroke to break out into its own absolute as it did with Constable and Delacroix? How did it finally become possible for the brushstroke to be used as a means of art?
In the Renaissance, for example, there were no brushstrokes in this sense, but in the Baroque period--with its interest in motion, its desire to bring out figures and things and to show beings in motion--Baroque painters needed the development of the brushstroke as a secondary element. But it was never used so intensely as to destroy volume, or the given set form--any more than Baroque perspective was allowed to break specific form. Both remained secondary means only of an over-all style, so how did it be-come possible--as it did with Delacroix and Constable, for example--that the brushstroke became the main means of painting? The change is bound up with two things relating to the romanticism and naturalism that also came to the fore: one was the use of the brushstroke to express certain individual moods of the painter, the individuality itself of the painter; the other, the rendering of process--where the brushstroke became not a means of showing beings in motion, but rather a means for expression of the dissolving of all things into motion itself, rendering the whole thing into process itself. This rendering of process given in a mixture with the rendering of individual moods (also given as a process) we find in the painting of the 19th Century--and the brushstroke became a most important means for both these purposes.
With the Impressionists, for example--who pretended to be mainly concerned with appearance but who were in reality also naturalistic and romantic--we find process with them became absolute. By means of an infinity of broken brushstrokes (which were still highly individualistic but in an entirely different way than the individuality of the brushstrokes of a painter like Manet) and slight color patches they tried to give the full impact of a sensual impression of process in nature, to reconstruct reality merely by sense impressions--and since the individual trend was also there, sensual impressions that were set by the mood of the individual.
With Van Gogh the brushstroke once again became something different and Impressionism was transformed into Expressionism--into modern self-expressionism which was really founded by Van Gogh and which was quite different from the kind of expressionism meant when El Greco and Rembrandt have been referred to (and rightly so) as expressionists. The essential difference lies in the fact that painters like El Greco and Rembrandt, although considered expressionistic, did not express themselves but the feelings of their subject matter. (The religiosity in the painting of El Greco, for example, was not necessarily an expression of his own feelings but rather the feelings of his subject.) But with Van Gogh it became a question of Van Gogh seen through the world, Van Gogh’s individual feelings expressed through the world. This was, of course, the exact opposite of the purpose of the Impressionists--although as far as process was concerned, an inner process was still rendered (and to a point in fact where this processual thinking was absolutely freed).
We can perhaps get the best idea of what really happened by the difference between the Impressionists and Van Gogh and Cezanne and then the great difference between Van Gogh and Cezanne both in the use of the brush-stroke and color. With Van Gogh brushstrokes--while they seemed even more voluntary, arbitrary and sweeping than those of the whole individualistic movement and while they remained to the end a means of individualistic expression--were always used in an intensive way and for the first time brushstrokes became organized. Brushstrokes came to have an ornamental element and were used in a decorative way where they made a consistent pattern. Cezanne too as a young painter used brushstrokes in the way of Van Gogh (namely, they had the tendency already to make certain decorative patterns) but--and this certainly was significant of the great break that came with Cezanne--only so long as he was interested in individualistic impressions. Once he went away from that--and he did entirely--the great change came: the brushstroke started to become with Cezanne an entirely new thing and color, which Van Gogh used in such a way as to strike the eye, opposing bright sweeps of color to each other, became a gliding scale of all colors united in an invisible color, grey, giving the over-all impression that all the colors, which in reality were bright, rich colors, were united in one invisible color, grey--a color he never used (which was one of the strangest achievements of Cezanne).
So we have with Van Gogh the beginning of modern self-expressionism in painting which has corresponded to a similar development in music starting with Wagner, who disregarded the fact that music is a synthesis, so to speak, of a stream of feeling and a direct line of thought. With Wagner the line of thought was dropped as much as possible in order to overwhelm the senses and a self-expressionistic line of music also started which has had no more to do with music in the modern style of transformation than expressionism as found in Cezanne and Picasso has had to do with self-expressionism (and when Kankinsky [Kandinsky] thought that painting by color could do the same thing as music, it was music in the sense of Wagner that he was talking about). Picasso, for example, while very often an expressionist has never been a self-expressionist (with the exception only of a few early things). His art is real art of transformation and has nothing whatsoever to do with so-called modern art done either in the line of Van Gogh or in the line of so-called abstract art which developed since Cezanne. Self-expressionism in art in whatever form, but especially in so-called abstract art, has one very essential pre-condition: the artist must be an exceptional person of great sensitivity and intensity--an intensity so strong that it overwhelms one. But even so, even if the artist is able to do this successfully, it still has nothing to do with the art of transformation but belongs rather to what we could call the art of modernism.
Cezanne in his lonely position of being the first artist who was really aware of man’s changed position in the world had one great purpose: to put unity and order back into the chaos of nature he saw about him-- which was the thing about the Impressionists that troubled him so much. What really disturbed him in Impressionistic pictures (which had for him only pure optical value) was that he became aware of the feeling in them of the dissolution of nature into the mere process of energy. In this he saw chaos, as he saw chaos in nature itself, and that was precisely the thing he wanted to fight. He wanted to right the senseless chaos of impressions before him and in his paintings to bring, things back into unity. Out of this was born the entirely new vision of the world found in Cezanne-- a world with more motion than in the Impressionists’ but transformed now into something entirely different: transformed into a world where all qualitative differences between things and beings had been abolished, where everything seemed to be made of the same material and to be interchange-able--and a world where the quality of being itself could be given as the action of being. This same unification took place in the ornament created by Cezanne--where he was able on the one hand to create out of the brush-stroke the volume and on the other also to cross the volume by the brush-stroke and by that to unite the whole picture by means of the brushstroke, where he was able to give a mutual procedure in which volume dissolved constantly into the brushstroke (into the ornament) and constantly reunited again into volume, where everything was interrelated but also came out on its own too. That meant that Cezanne was able to transform the metaphysical idea of process into a visual idea of active procedure which had agents, and agents that were shown--bringing about a unification of a kind that was absolutely new in painting and in life.
Cezanne in the new vision of the world he painted seemed to have anti-coated, as we have seen, the scientists and new theories they advanced much later. Not only did the interrelation and interchangeability of things shown by Cezanne--where the quality of being itself could be given as the action of being--correspond to certain scientific theories concerning fields of action, but his new vision of space corresponded also to new space theories advanced by Einstein. Cezanne discovered the possibility to create in the smallest space, the space of a still-life, a universal space, to give an equation, so to speak, between a mountain and a table-cloth in a still-life, and to give an impression of universal space in full action in a still-life--which meant that Cezanne discovered in an artistic way, of course, what Einstein discovered in a scientific way: namely, that space, the scope of space, the vastness of space depends entirely on the observation point of the observer and his space and time and observations conditions, that even scientifically there is no possibility to consider space a value that can be grasped by disregarding the observer, that the observer must always be regarded in space (which also means, of course, that time as well as space is involved because the eye in taking in different spacialities moves and in moving loses time). Cezanne was able to change the observation conditions, so to speak, of the artistic beholder in such a way that the difference between mountains and table-cloths, a table and stellar space, a universe and an apple became absolutely irrelevant--giving the beholder for the first time the experience of space being influenced by the observation point of the observer.
But what could be the observation point, so to speak, of the artistic beholder in Cezanne’s paintings--a point of observation that corresponded to the beholder’s experience with the world--and how did Cezanne bring it about? Metaphysically and visually up to Cezanne, all painting had a conception of the human eye as if man looked with his eyes fixed only in one place--which was related, of course, to the experience of man towards the world, the relation of man to being, and whether it was the experience of being submerged by being, so to speak, as it was in mythical art, being side by side with being, as it was in Greek art, being beyond being, being in a hereafter, as it was in Byzantine art, or being beyond being as it was in Gothic art, or being before being, being near being, as it was in Renaissance art, or being superior to being and at the same time being carried along by being in motion as it was in Baroque art, the position of the beholder was always outside the picture, so to speak. But with Cezanne the beholder was given for the first time the experience of being amidst being, being in the middle of things; the beholder was given for the first time the visual experience of man in our time--the visual experience of man who has had to look around more than anyone else has ever had to except perhaps the cave man and the hunter, the experience of permanently being amidst things, the experience Cezanne himself felt of masses and people and nature crowding in on him.
This he was able to achieve by a unification of perspectives (which explains why his so-called distortions were necessary) and by creating for the beholder a feeling of space that was finite and full--by creating a space where air became a solid substance, where atmosphere as solid and finite became the new space of man, where if the feeling of being within space was given, it was given as limited space, where still-life’s had almost wider space than landscapes. Instead of the feeling of lines of perspective meeting in infinity found in Baroque painting, Cezanne was able to give instead a unified perspective, so to speak, where the background and fore-ground met and were united in the middle ground--where the foreground moved to the middle ground and stopped there, where the background moved forward to the middle ground and stopped there. The roundness of an apple in a Cezanne still-life, for example, was given that quality of roundness in order to bring the apple into a motion inwards toward the middle ground where it was met by a counter motion from the background outwards toward the middle ground--where by an entirely new composition and juxtaposition of planes a movement inwards from the foreground and a movement outwards from the background met and were bound in an invisible middle ground. No feeling of depths behind the picture was given, no feeling of going on into infinity as in Baroque painting, but rather by making the background move in toward the middle ground the impression was given of being amidst, of being surrounded and taken into the world with no power of transcendence.
So Cezanne with his new vision of the world laid the foundations for a new style in art--in architecture as well as in painting. Cezanne by his use of the brushstroke and the ornament he created out of it (which had already the cubist structure for unification of the picture) and by his new concept of structure and space made it possible for the cubists (who were after the possibility of breaking up visible forms, so to speak, into an infinity of meeting planes, of uniting forms not united in natural vision) to take over those elements and to develop out of then a new ornament that had the indications of three-dimensional depth (accomplishing thereby the space of Cezanne)--and that contained in it not only further possibilities for the development of painting in the new style but contained also the possibility of a new ornamental design for architecture. Mondrian forced this discovery of the cubists to its conclusion by only giving the vision of space itself, by using space as his subject matter. Mondrian by going through cubism and leaving three-dimensionality discovered the possibility of giving three dimensions in infinitely small depths--of giving that small space by the opposing of pure color planes and by giving movement only by intensity of color--which means that here with Mondrian architecture and painting intersect for Mondrian was able to give the same thing that underlies the whole style of transformation in architecture: namely, “empty” space that is not empty at all but rather space that is in constant motion with filled space--“empty” space that in architecture can be used as a building substance, so to speak, as visually substantial as steel and concrete.
Now Picasso (once he went away from en early period of expressionism in the sense of Van Gogh--expression of inner feeling), like Cezanne, became concerned only with showing as to nature what things really did and what they really were inside, in their essence, but Picasso, since he saw in reality the real unreality (as Kafka also did) wanted now to break away from reality itself, so to speak, to overthrow the whole scheme of given natural shapes, and to transform them by the new means of the style of transformation not into the process but into the real procedure going on. And he has been able not only to do this, but to discover out of Cezanne’s style and in modern life and metaphysical thinking a new element that is one of the wonders of the style of transformation itself: the possibility of transforming everything into everything else. Out of the possibility not only to transform shapes given to the eye but also to inter-transform artistic forms and shapes already given, Picasso has been able to bring about such an interchangeability of forms that he has become the most multi-metaphorical painter of our time--being able to give in his paintings the vision of everything changing into something else and re-changing again, yet keeping all the while the same basic ornamental form. It is the discovery of this possibility to give through an interchangeability of forms controlled by one basic ornament a multitude of metaphors crowding in that has enabled Picasso to give simultaneously in one picture, as he has done in the “Girl in the Mirror,” for example, a young woman and an old one, full face and profile, a feeling of growing and expanding life, a feeling of withering away, the sun and the moon, the day and the night (to mention only some of them).
So with this only too brief glimpse of Picasso and with our inquiry into Cezanne we have had a chance to see at least a few of the wonders of the style of transformation and of the changed position of man in the world it shows, a chance to see some of the implications of what Cezanne really did when he laid the foundations for a new style, and what painters since him--painters like Picasso--have been able to do in the new style-- which is so very different from the continuing self-expressionism which is so often taken to be the modern style and which in reality must be so sharply distinguished from it.