Dubuffet.Anticultural-Positions

Dubuffet.Anticultural-Positions - THEORIES AND DOCUMENTS OF...

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Unformatted text preview: THEORIES AND DOCUMENTS OF CONTEMPORARY ART A Sonrceboole of Artists’ Writings Kristine Stiles and Peter 8612 University of California Press Berkeley Los Angeles London University of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, California University of California Press, Ltd London, England © I 996 by The Regents of the University of California Stiles, Kristine, and Peter 5612 Theories and documents of contemporary art: a sourcebook of artists’ writings / Kristine Stiles and Peter 5:12 p. CIXL -— (California studies in the history of art ; 35) includes bibliographical references and index, ISBN 0—520420251—1 (alk. paper). - ISBN 0—520720253—8 (pbk, : alk. paper) I. Art, Modern—20th century 2. Art, Modern——20th centurywSources. I. Selz, Peter Howard, 1919— r Ii.Series. N6490.S765 1996 709’-04~«~dc20 94-46530 (ZIP Printed in the United States of America 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 to The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI 23948—1984. JEAN DUBUFFET Anticultural Positions (195 1) I think, not only in the arts, but also in many other fields, an important change is taking place, now, in our time, in the frame of mind of many persons. It seems to me that certain values, which had been considered for a long time as very certain and beyond discussion, begin now to appear doubtful, and even quite false, to many persons. And that, on the other hand, other values, which were neglected, or held in con— tempt, or even quite unknown, begin to appear of great worth. I have the impression that a complete liquidation of all the ways of thinking, whose sum constituted what has been called humanism and has been fundamental for our culture since the Renaissance, is now taking place, or, at least, going to take place soon. I think the increasing knowledge of the thinking of so called primitive peoples, during the past fifty years, has contributed a great deal to this change, and especially the acquain— tance with works of art made by those peoples, which have much surprised and interested the occidental public. It seems to me that especially many persons begin to ask themselves if the Occident has not many very important things to learn from these savages. May be, in many cases, their solutions and their ways of doing, which first appeared to us very rough, are more clever than ours, It may be ours are the rough ones. It may be refinement, cerebrations, depth of mind, are on their side, and not on ours. Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness. Now I don’t mean to say that the Occident lacks these savage values. On the contrary! But I think that the values held up by our culture don’t correspond to the real frame of mind of the Occident. I think that the culture of the Occident is a coat which does not fit him; which, in any case, doesn’t fit him any more. I think this culture is very much like a dead language, without anything in common with the language spoken in the street. This culture drifts further and further from daily life. It is confined to certain small and dead cir— cles, as a culture of mandarins. It no longer has real and living roots. For myself, I aim for an art which would be in immediate connection with daily life, an art which would start from this daily life, and which would be a very direct and very sin— cere expression of our real life and our real moods. I am going to enumerate several points, concerning the occidental culture, with which i don’t agree. 1 One of the principal characteristics of Western culture is the belief that the nature of man is very different from the nature of other beings of the world. Custom has "' jean Dubuffet, excerpts From “Anticultural Positions” (lecture presented at the Arts Club, Chicago, 1951); photostatic copy of original manuscript in library of Museum of Modern Art; reprinted in j Dilblflf (New York: World House Gallery, 1960). 192 FIGURATION jam Dubzifiét, Portrait of Fantrier, 194 7, oil on canvas. it that man cannot be identified, or compared in the least, with elements such as winds, trees, riverswexcept humorously, and for poetic rhetorical figures. The Western man has, at last, a great contempt for trees and rivers, and hates to be like them. On the contrary, the so called primitive man loves and admires trees and rivers, and has a great pleasure to be like them. He believes in a real similitude between man and trees and rivers. He has a very strong sense of continuity of all things, and especially between man and the rest of the world. Those primitive societies have surely much more respect than FIGURATION I93 Western man for every being of the world; they have a feeling that the man is not the owner of the beings, but only one of them among the others. 2 My second point of disagreement [is thiszj . . . Western man believes that the things he thinks exist outside exactly in the same way he thinks of them. He is convinced that the shape of the world is the same shape as his reason. He believes very strongly the basis of his reason is well founded, and especially the basis of his logic. But the primitive man has rather an idea of weakness of reason and logic, and believes rather in other ways of getting knowledge of things. That is why he has so much esteem and so much admiration for the states of mind which we call madness. I must declare I have a great interest for madness; and I am convinced art has much to do with madness. 3 Now, third point. I want to talk about the great respect occidental culture has for elaborated ideas. I don’t regard elaborated ideas as the best part of human function. I think ideas are rather a weakened rung in the ladder of mental process: something like a landing where the mental processes become impoverished, like an outside crust caused by cooling. Ideas are like steam condensed into water by touching the level of reason and logic. I don’t think the greatest value of mental function is to be found at this landing of ideas; and it is not at this landing that it interests me. I aim rather to capture the thought at a point of its development prior to this landing of elaborated ideas. The whole art, the whole literae ture and the whole philosophy of the Occident, rest on the landing of elaborated ideas. But my own art, and my own philosophy, lean entirely on stages more underground. I try always to catch the mental process at the deeper point of its roots, where, I am sure, the sap is much richer. Now, fourth. Occidental culture is very fond of analysis, and I have no taste for analysis, and no confidence in it. One thinks everything can be known by way of dis— mantling it or dissecting it into all its parts, and studying separately each of these parts. My own feeling is quite different. I am more disposed, on the contrary, to always re» compose things. As soon as an object has been cut only into two parts, I have the impres— sion 'it is lost for my study, I am further removed from this object instead of being nearer [0 it. I have a very strong feeling that the sum of the parts does not equal the whole. My inclination leads me, when I want to see something really well, to regard it with its surroundings, whole. If I want to know this pencil on the table, I don’t look straight on 194» FIGURATION the pencil, I look on the middle. of the room. trying to include in my glance as many ob— jects as possible. If there is a tree in the country. I don’t bring it into my laboratory to look at it under my microscope, because I think the wind which blows through its leaves is absolutely nec— essary for the knowledge of the tree and cannot be separated from it. Also the birds which are in the branches, and even the song of these birds. My turn of mind is to join always more things surrounding the tree, and further. always more of the. things which surround the things which surround the tree. I have been a longtime on this point, because I think this turn of mind is an important factor of the aspect of” my art. 5 The fifth point, now, is that our culture is based on an enormous confidence in the. languagewwand especially the written language; and belief" in its ability to translate and elaborate thought. That appears to me. a misapprehension. I have the impression, lan- guage is a rough, very rough stenography, a system of algebraic signs very rudimentary, which impairs thought instead of helping it. Speech is more concrete, animated by the sound of the voice, intonations, a cough, and even making a face and mimicry, and it seems to me more efliectivc. Written language seems to me a bad instrument. As an instrument of expression, it seems to deliver only a dead remnant of thought, more or less as clinkers from the tire. As an instrument of elaboration, it seems to overload thought and falsify it. I believe (and here I am in accord with the so called primitive civilizations) that paint— ing is more concrete than the written word. and is a much more rich instrument for the expression and elaboration of thought. I have just said, what interests me, in thought, is not the instant of transformation into formal ideas, but the. moments preceding that. My paintings can be regarded as a tentative language fitting for these areas of thought. 6 [Occidental culturel believes that there are beautiful objects and ueg objects. beautiful persons and ueg persons. beautiful places and ueg places. and so forth. Not I. I believe beauty is nowhere. I consider this notion of beauty as completely false. I refuse absolutely to assent to this idea that there are ueg persons and ugly objects. This idea is for me stifling and revolting. I think the Greeks are the ones. first. to purport that certain objects are more beautiful than others. The so called savage nations don‘t believe in that at all. They don't understand when you speak to them of beauty. This is the reason one calls them savage. The Western man gives the name of savage to one who doesn‘t understand that beautiiiil things and ugly things exist. and who doesn‘t care for that at all. FEGURA'I‘ION ll) 5 What is strange is that, for centuries and centuries, and still now more than ever, the men of the Occident dispute which are the beautiful things and which are the ugly ones. All are certain that beauty exists without doubt, but one cannot find two who agree about the objects which are endowed. And from one century to the next, it changes. Occidental culture declares beautiful, in each century, what it declared ugly in the preceding one. -. . . This idea of beauty is however one of the things our culture prizes most, and it is cus— tomary to consider this belief in beauty, and the respect for this beauty, as the ultimate jus— tification of Western civilization, and the principle of civilization itself is involved with this notion of beauty. I find this idea of beauty a meager and not very ingenious invention, and especially not very encouraging for man. It is distressing to think about people deprived of beauty be— cause they have not a straight nose, or are too corpulent, or too old. I find even this idea that the world we live in is made up of ninety percent ugly things and ugly places, while things and places endowed with beauty are very rare and very difficult to meet, I must say, 1 find this idea not very exciting. It seems to me that the Western man will not suffer a great loss if he loses this idea. On the contrary, if he becomes aware that the world is able to become for any man a way of fascination and illumination, he will have made a good catch. I think such an idea will enrich life more than the Greek idea of beauty. And now what happens with art? Art has been considered, since the Greeks, to have as its goal the creation of beautiful lines and beautiful color harmonies. If one abolishes this notion, What becomes of art? I am going to tell you. Art, then, returns to its real function, much more significant than creating shapes and colors agreeable for a so called pleasure of the eyes. I don’t nd this function, assembling colors in pleasing arrangements, very noble. If paint~ ing was only that, I should not lose one hour of my time in this activity. Art addresses it— self to the mind, and not to the eyes. It has always been considered in this way by primi— tive peoples, and they are right. Art is a language, instrument of knowledge, instrument of expression. I think, this enthusiasm about the written language, which I mentioned before, has been the reason our culture started to regard painting as a rough, rudimentary, and even con~ temptible language, good only for illiterate people. From that, culture invented as a ratio— nalization for art, this myth of plastic beauty, is in my opinion an imposture. . . . Painting is a language much more immediate, and, at the same time, much more charged with meaning. Painting operates through signs which are not abstract and incorporeal like words. The signs of painting are much closer to the objects themselves. Further, painting manipulates materials which are themselves living substances. That is why painting allows one to go much further than words do, in approaching things and conjuring them. Painting can also, and it is very remarkable, conjure things more or less, as wanted. I mean: with more or less presence. That is to say: at different stages between being and not being. At last, painting can conjure things not isolated, but linked to all that surrounds them: a great many things simultaneously. On the other hand, painting is a very much more immediate language, and much more 196 FIGURATION direct, than the. language of words: much closer to the cry, or to the dance. That is why painting is a way of expression of our inner voices much more effective than that of words. . . . Painting has a double advantage over language of words. First, painting conjures objects with greater strength, and comes much closer to them. Second, painting opens, to the in— ner dance of the painter’s mind, a larger door to the outside. These two qualities of paint— ing make it an extraordinary instrument of thought, or, if you will, an extraordinary instrument of clairvoyance, and also an extraordinary instrument to exteriorize this Clair- voyance, and to permit us to comprehend it ourselves along with the painter. Painting now, using these two powerful means, can illuminate the world with wonder— ful discoveries, can endow man with new myths and new mystics, and reveal, in infinite number, unsuspected aspects of things, and new values not yet perceived. Here is, I think, for artists, a much more worthy job than creating assemblages of shapes and colors pleas~ ing for the eyes. WILLEM DE KOONING Content Is a Glimpse: Interview with David Sylvester (1963) Certain artists and critics attacked me for painting the III/5mm, but I felt that this was their problem, not mine. I don’t really feel like a non—objective painter at all. To- day, some artists feel they have to go back to the figure, and that word "figure" becomes such a ridiculous omen—if you pick up some paint with your brush and make somebody’s nose with it, this is rather ridiculous when you think of it, theoretically or philosophically. It’s really absurd to make an image, like a human image, with paint, today, when you think about it, since we have this problem of doing or not doing it. But then all of“ a sudden it was even more absurd not to do it. So I fear that l have to follow my desires. The Women had to do with the female painted through all the ages, all or" those idols, and maybe I was stuck to a certain extent; I couldn’t go on. It did one thing for me: it elim— inated composition, arrangement, relationships, light—all this silly talk about line, color and form—because that was the thing I wanted to get hold of. I put it in the center of the canvas because there was no reason to put it a bit on the side. So I thought I might as well stick to the idea that it’s got two eyes, a nose and mouth and neck. I got to the anatomy and I felt myself almost getting flustered, I really could never get hold of it. It almost pee tcred out. I never could complete it and when I think of it now, it wasn’t such a bright idea. But I don’t think artists have particularly bright ideas. Matisse’s “human in a Red Blousem what an idea that is! Or the Cubism—when you think about it now, it is so silly to look at an object from many angles. Constructiyismmopen, not closed. It’s very silly. It’s good that they got those ideas because it was enough to make some of them great artists, ” Willem dc Kooning, excerpts iron) “Content ls a Glimpse . v . zit-am, {New York) 1 (Spring were 46—47. Originally, this piece was part of an interview conducted by David Sylvester with \Villeiii dc Kenning {or the BBC. FIGURATIQN 19‘; ...
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Dubuffet.Anticultural-Positions - THEORIES AND DOCUMENTS OF...

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