Painting and Representational Perspective 
Lecture dated Paris, 22 March 1927, given in the Carnegie Foundation for the French Intellectual Union and published by Éditions Moly Sabata 1927. Republished in Puissances du Cubisme, Eds Présence, Chambery, 1969.
NOTE: Divisions marked with an asterisk are in the original. The following subheadings have been added by the translator.
Cézanne - personification of a crisis
An age of indecision
Cubism and anxiety
Perspective and the centralised papacy
From Cimabue to Uccello
From Uccello back to Cimabue
Technical Culture v Science
Epic of the spirit - tragedy of the senses
Notes by Gleizes (these are designated in the text by letters of the alphabet)
Notes by translator (these are designated in the text by numbers)
According to our normal habits of mind, painting and representational perspective seem to be connected inseparably one to the other. But, in the last few years, painting has assumed appearances that suggest that, at least in certain circles, we are not quite so sure. These appearances are disconcerting for the spectator.
The public is used to thinking that painters should do nothing but paint, and that only writers should be allowed to speak, no matter what the subject might be. Deriving their opinions on painting from the writers, the public is persuaded that anything that they have been unable to understand cannot have any value. At the same time, given our present anarchic state, there is more moral authority in the auctioneer's hammer than there is in that growing number of painters who have been working in a disinterested manner, all over the world, for a very long time.
I want to try and demonstrate to you that these researches are legitimate. They form part of a chain of tradition whose truth, which is essentially to do with our own biological nature, has not been understood in the historical theses put forward by the intellectuals - intellectuals who have never exercised the least of manual crafts and who, consequently, are deprived of contact with things. The horizon is so cluttered up with the huge structures of the modern world that, by a well-known trick of perspective, we, who are on the plane of history that is most immediate to ourselves, seem to be enormous, overwhelming; the little that can be seen of what, behind it all, is left of the past, appears to be tiny and miserable. And this is true to such an extent that even the disorders we are currently experiencing do not frighten us. Our habit of seeing the facts we study as if they were external to ourselves prevents us from measuring them exactly; the trick of perspective deceives us as to our true condition.
For the representational perspective I have referred to is not just a problem of painting. If painting has become dependent on it, it must be that it corresponds to the needs of a particular, already existing attitude of mind. At least, that is what I hope you will begin to feel as a result of this talk.
I don't imagine that I will be able, instantaneously, to win you over to a taste for the new appearances in painting; but I would like you to appreciate one fact: that human societies are born, grow, fall into decline, and die, just like the individuals who make them up. Between the different ways in which these phenomena manifest themselves, there may be a difference in scale. But, essentially, they are the same. The life of a society, then, is subject to an ebb and flow, and this process automatically brings about a change in intellectual attitudes. There must, then, be at least two different possible intellectual attitudes. I say 'at least' because, inserted in between them, it is easy to see two intermediate attitudes - as a consequence of the temporary disturbance that occurs with the passage from one to the other.
The new appearances in painting are only disturbing because of the intellectual attitude that is brought to bear upon them. The painters themselves may or may not be conscious of the fact, but their researches are tending toward nothing less than a change in attitude - the development of a new intellectual attitude in which representational perspective no longer has a role to play.
CEZANNE - PERSONIFICATION OF A CRISIS
I would like to begin with a couple of words about Cézanne, who is still close to us and who, everyone agrees, was responsible for everything that has happened after him in the field of painting. There is no-one who does not claim a share in his inheritance, and indeed no-one who has no right to make such a claim. Despite appearances, the contradictions between these conflicting claims are perfectly capable of a rational explanation.
Cézanne represents the highest stage of a crisis which, as we could easily demonstrate, had already been some time in the making. When a crisis is coming to its climax, the forces concerned in it are in direct and open conflict. No-one can say which side is going to win. The only signs are those that are implicit in the possibilities of a game of love and chance. Out of this chaos of contradictory insights, each is able to extract whatever coherent line of thought they happen to prefer. Thanks to the dramatic position in which Cézanne finds himself - thanks to this instability - there is no-one anywhere who does not feel, if only for a moment, that they have learnt from him.
For this very reason, Cézanne never knew those serene heights where doubt gives way to faith.
The unity of sentiment which exists around the work of Cézanne is, then, a consequence of its internal contradictions, its antinomies - and this is only possible because antinomies are what, uniquely, characterise the intellectual state of the age we are living in. Our inability to understand Cézanne will continue so long as this chaotic state of affairs persists. When it ceases - when, finally, we come to a definite decision - that is when the genius of Cézanne will cease to act in opposition to itself.
But let us see if we can't get to the heart of these antinomies straightaway, by looking at them in the most immediate and tangible expression they have assumed so far.
Look at the notorious deformations of Cézanne. You know them, those pots turned up on their end, those jerry-built houses, those tables whose perspective is so badly arranged. What do they mean? Are they proof of a lack of technical means? It is no longer fashionable, these days, to say such a thing, though, truth to tell, that judgment has been replaced with nothing better than a certain affectionate fellow-feeling, a windy enthusiasm which does not do justice to that great, tragic mind.
If we look at these deformations as they really are, in relation to the technique by which they were produced, what they indicate is that, beyond the necessity of using perspective to serve the purposes of description, Cézanne envisaged a genuine reality of a plastic  order. But he could only see it in a confused way.
To explain. Cézanne worked from nature. Once he had put all the elements of his picture on a table - the jug, the apples, the napkin - he stood in front of his canvas and his eyes referred to the real subject with a view to drawing it. At this point the drama begins. What he had handled when arranging the table - what his hands had recognised and appreciated - ceased to exist the moment he moved away from them. A description that was untrue took the place of their real condition. The lovely circle on the opening of the jug, which harmonised and was part of one and the same order with the plane surface of the table, went flat. It became an oval with no formal value. The noble cadence which the objects established between themselves was lost; they were scattered any old way, the proportions were compromised, their relations deformed. An enormous intellectual effort was necessary before the elements that had fallen apart could be restored to their reality, to their true plastic value.
The formal roundness of the jug was no more than a concept in the drawing of the jug, a drawing that could not go beyond the role of a sort of designation, the symbol, like writing, of something other than itself. In Cézanne's work, description and form are engaged in a war without mercy.
Cézanne saw perfectly well that there was a place for his circle on any flat surface such as that of the canvas on which the act of painting takes place. The flat surface was plastic; it could be measured and controlled. There was no contradiction with the nature of the circle. On the contrary, the circle was justified through its own exaltation of the rectangular plane; it became an integral part of it; circle and rectangle knew that they belonged to the same family and that each could only achieve its full significance in relation to the other. In an act of the most clearsighted humility, Cézanne accepted his responsibility before this objectively real phenomenon.
But that is where the consequences of the antinomy begin to be seen. Too deeply soaked in the intellectual habits he had acquired as a result of his education, Cézanne was all his life persuaded that the descriptive story had to be the starting point for the painted work. Not only was each of his works subject to what is commonly and superficially called 'nature' , but he never lost the absolute faith he had in the museums; above all, he never dared question any generally accepted masterpiece.
And that is why he would try to force two things that contradict each other into an impossible unity - the painted word, which tells us about something, and the plastic act, which realises something. On the one hand, the image of the jug; on the other, the circle, with its plastic quality. The first, which considers the plane of the canvas as a means by which the external, three dimensional world can be explained theoretically - the second, which is born from the nature of this plane, recognising it as the first and last plastic reality.
And this is what is so moving. Unlike what happened in the case of the Impressionists - Renoir included - who, individually, exhausted all the possibilities of the formula they had devised, the intensity of Cézanne's research is so great that it does not come to an end with his death. His work is not self-sufficient; it is not just the accidental consequence of his own particular case; it remains open, tending towards generalisation, human, and full of possibilities. Cézanne did not come to a conclusion because he did not have the means to come to a conclusion. All his canvasses are inadequate solutions to the problem he wants to resolve. And he knows it. Putting too much confidence in the word 'nature' , understood in terms of superficial external appearances, he relied too heavily on 'temperament' as the means by which the mystery could be revealed. The charm of the subject was so great that he affirmed it much more than he really wanted to. And the proof is that, face to face with his still-lifes, his landscapes, his people - unable to start working on a canvas without them - he would always work in such a way as to refashion this descriptive, anti-plastic image, to accommodate it into the formal reality of the painting. He talked about the cylinder, the cube and the sphere, believing that their purity would be able to bring everything together, to unify the whole. The experiment did not satisfy him. He tried to free himself from the hold the descriptive element had on him. In his last works, it is sacrificed even to the extreme limits of its image in the memory. Look at them. You will see that he flees from those lovely subjects taken from the landscape round Aix. He avoids the 'hook thrown out by the clever courtesan' - his provençal plain, crowned by the Montagne Saint-Victoire. He becomes the Saint Francis of painting; he needs nothing; he is poor. If he still looks to nature, pleading with her to explain everything to him, he no longer wants her in her opulence. He takes her in her bones - a cramped corner, without horizon, without sky, some rocks, a few trunks of pinetrees, a lake, masses of greenery, reflections, a little earth. And all that begins to assume an order, is constructed, begins to rise. The geometrical plane stands up vertically and almost coincides with the vertical plane of the canvas.
He has not yet reached the truth but he burns to get to it. His eyes, wearied by the spectacle that takes place afar off, close for the sake of the spectacle within him. Finally, he rediscovers that part of the painter's work that is to do with purely plastic values. The cylinder, the cube, the sphere become the rectangle, the plane, the circle, because the picture is a plane; it is only in the contrasts to which it gives rise that modelling has any plastic value. He dies at the moment when the explanation is within reach of his mind.
Discoverer of a forgotten land, perhaps Cézanne did not think it big enough to be worth sacrificing his nostalgia for the countries from which he came. However, we must not think that he did not realise the importance of his discovery. With talent and patience, he attempted to reconcile everything, but form refused to remain confined in the descriptive. He recognised this himself, and has said it in so many words.
And that is why his achievement, oscillating from one mode of thought to the other, has had this strange destiny. It has enabled the emergence of a unity or, rather, a unanimity, around itself precisely because it is made up of contradictions. One tendency - which was not just a matter of appreciating painting but was more to do with a whole different state of mind - has gathered round the plastic values of the circle. The vast majority, for whom painting is just a matter of expressing an opinion or describing an external incident more or less capably [a], gathered round what remained of the Renaissance, of representational perspective. And finally, on the very strength of the drama played out between its contradictions, it gave a fanatical intensity to those earnest painters who consider the least objection to Cézanne to be a personal insult and who accept everything he did as if it was a completed whole. They are still trying to resolve the conflict between the esemplastic reality and the illusions of representational perspective, but they have not even begun to understand it. They behave as if the Renaissance and the Middle Ages were both reflections of the same light, and the passage from the one to the other no more than the consequence of a simple technical improvement.
Everyone nowadays is happy. Everyone thinks that they have understood Cézanne. His work is a mirror in which everyone can pick out their own image, perfectly reflected. But Cézanne never had this feeling of satisfaction with regard to his own work. He was under no illusion. He felt unable to breathe, crushed by a problem he could not understand. Hence his fits of rage, his savage despair and, at the same time - faced with a flock of ignorant painters, every one of them convinced of the importance of his own little emotional ups and downs - the occasional outbursts of his pride, as he saw that he was the only one who, even if only a little bit, was able to glimpse the truth of the intelligence .
That is what cannot be mistaken in the work of Cézanne. The basis of this work is perfectly simple: it is made up of two opposing centres of attraction and of his inability ever to decide between them. Caught between what he saw and what he knew, between what was external and the truth that was of his own nature, he was never able to arrive at the resolution for which he longed.
AN AGE OF INDECISION
Let us leave the heirs of the Cézanne of the Renaissance; and the heirs of that Cézanne who cannot decide between what he wants and the long-established habits that prevent him from realising it. Let us turn instead to those who are the heirs of his desire - to those who, with more or less commitment and understanding, have taken up his vision of esemplastic principles which correspond to the real life and nature of the technique of painting.
Once you have grasped the difference that exists in purely formal terms between the oval that has been deformed in perspective and the real circle, accessible to the intelligence and to the senses, then you have already understood the spirit of what has been called Cubism. And the consequences of this simple restoration of values follow of their own accord - a change in the position adopted by the senses that corresponds to a change in intellectual attitude, a tendency of the mind going in the opposite direction to that which is still everywhere prevalent. It is a light cast on the surrounding world, which brings us back into line with tradition - a tradition that is, to say the least, little known. Finally, it is the awakening of a moral conscience which is more attuned to the principles on which the Universe is built.
If you cannot see the divergences that exist between these two different ways of being, each of which constructs the surrounding world in a very different manner - if you cannot realise in your mind this real circle and this unreal oval - then there is little chance of your being able to understand the new painting, and of course still less of your being able to love it. You will continue to think that the present position is definitive, that what surrounds us is no more than a fiction produced by perspective and that, with the help of a little talent, all the difficulties that accumulate day by day will eventually be solved.
But the anxiety which is felt by the best minds, those coming from the most profoundly rooted cultures, is sufficient evidence that the soil is no longer able to support any too categorical affirmation. Each of us, in the depth of his being, sees questions arise: Why? How?
Conscience, then, is still a force to be reckoned with, constantly working to overcome our hardened attitudes. So, if we can be sufficiently calm, we may be able to admit the possibility that, somewhere in the world, an order of things for which our intellectual preparation has not prepared us, may already exist; and that perhaps it may take more than just our arbitrary whims and fancies to be able to understand it. If we have sufficient independence of mind to recognise something that may initially be a shock to our feelings; if we can recognise that there is more truth in ideas than there is in those individuals who are sometimes too weak to assume them; then we might be able to see that, with regard to painting, what seemed, seventeen years ago, to be no more than an eccentricity , has now become general. And that, although it is in a state of chaos, although it is still unable to free itself from the prejudices of individualism, though it is infatuated with everything modern, and distorted by the speculations of the market, this painting is still a part of those new problems that people living at the present time are being forced to confront everywhere, no matter what their own particular branch of the general human activity.
We are coming to the end of an age in which specialisation that has been cultivated for reasons not of economy but of acquisitiveness has more or less destroyed contact between men by encouraging the use of special kinds of jargon, unintelligible to those who are not of the brotherhood. The world about us is like a painting by Cézanne. Everyone sees only what interests him, hears nothing but that, so that no correspondence can be found between the separate elements. The crisis is intensified by all these contradictory currents, which distort the living reason of our human needs, a reason that cannot develop within such rigid divisions. But this tendency has gone as far as it can in those areas of human life which appear to be marginal - our aesthetic activities, for example - which do not fulfil any immediately pressing human need. These products do not seem to have any necessary relation to the life of the group; they are, in a sense, incomprehensible to it; they are not part of its life but only of its pleasures. The result is that what territory has been left to them has had the sad privilege of being used as a refuge for many of the least unmistakable anomalies of the world about us. The spectator, bored and weary as he is, cannot distinguish the genuine artist from these strange types. He sees the artist as an amusing curiosity and has not the slightest desire to take him as a model, to resemble him. The artist, his vanity flattered by applause, attempts the most dangerous feats. Unable to walk, he does somersaults. As in any period of terrible decadence, the cruelties of the circus are the only stimulants that can have any effect on our devitalised organism. Ave Caesar, morituri te saluant.
But at the same time, in every age of social decadence, for unchangeable reasons that cannot be accounted for by anything within the scope of human responsibility, a biological defence is organised and, rising up against the passivity of the world about it, it affirms its determination to return to the path of normality, outside of which the group, the natural protection of the individual, is no longer conceivable.
CUBISM AND ANXIETY
It was around 1910/11 that everyone, at every level of the social scale, became aware of those apparent eccentricities that were challenging the precarious certainties of the world. And it was uniquely the painting of a group, not of an individual, that was the cause.
The anxiety of those painters who could be seen working not just on their own individual fantasies but on the most basic principles of the order that had been adopted by everyone was terribly upsetting for the peace of the surrounding world. As sure of its rightness as it imagined itself to be, it nonetheless reacted and did what needed to be done to speedily suppress those signs that were still rudimentary but which, in an obscure way, it felt were ominous. And it is not at all paradoxical to add that the appearance of a few paintings was more surprising for the world than, several years later, that generalised form of the crisis - the war.
But the appearances of the war were already foreshadowed in those prophetic signs that appeared on the walls of exhibition palaces throughout the world in the years that led up to it. The biblical mene tekel peres can appear in many forms; the fall of Babylon is more than just one isolated incident.
Nowadays, there is a multitude of indications which enable us to appreciate the technically sophisticated distress of our western societies and the no less terrible desolation of the oriental mind. So, surely, our illusions cannot last very much longer.
Look at those pictures whose bizarre privilege it was to provoke this panic terror and to force their way through the indifference of the age. You will not be able to detect in them the heady fragrance of the masterpiece. But it is not every age that can produce a masterpiece. Austere and poor and unostentatious as they were, the anguish of the threat that was soon to fall on the world could be felt in them.
There is not a canvas of that time that does not foreshadow the overthrow of the foundations on which the human race thought itself firmly established, where it felt itself secure. At the moment when the Ballets Russes were at their height, when the Neo-Impressionists and Fauves had dispensed with the drawing style of the Renaissance because it could not contain the purity of the colour - these humbly painted, angular, grey, ascetic pictures were, really, an unwelcome sight. It was not any upheaval of a geological nature that they prefigured, but a cataclysm in the human order. No tremor of the earth was registered, but a tremor of the spirit that disturbed the intellect of civilised man, too long the slave of his immobilised senses. At last he was beginning to suspect that something dangerous was approaching.
These enigmatic canvasses were among those rare cases when, under exceptional circumstances, quite independently of any conscious reasoning, man produces a work whose lucidity cannot really be explained by those instruments he possesses for prospecting the world about himself - his senses or the devices he develops for amplifying them mechanically and artificially. One might have failed to recognise them at the moment when they appeared, but there can be no mistake nowadays, since it is already easy to place them historically, to see their antecedents and to link them to other events of the same sort which have followed and which are still fresh in the memory. Events which have only been suppressed in one form to assume another, still more vigorous but recognisable because of the problems it poses for the framework of the organic life of the whole - problems of which few, however farsighted, were able to dream seventeen years ago.
What, then, were the general principles that were thrown into confusion by Cubism? You probably think that I'm proposing a harmless paradox, puffing up a little thing of no importance in itself. Painting is such an affair of fantasy that it can hardly have any connection with anything serious. But I shall try to give you a better impression of it by recalling something of our own history.
Our principle - the only principle of equilibrium which is observed in the world as it is - is centralisation, a principle that is applied everywhere and in everything. This principle is based on the idea that everything tends towards a centre. Once we have chosen a centre, in a rather haphazard way, we imagine that the more vitality this centre takes from outside itself, the more it is able to radiate back to the surrounding world. We forgot that, whatever it might look like, a centre is really only a point, and a point is only a virtuality. So, bringing everything in to the centre is the same as reducing everything to a point, in which, consequently, everything returns to nothing.
PERSPECTIVE AND THE CENTRALISED PAPACY
The form assumed by centralisation in the religious - which is to say, the general - field was the Imperialism of the Bishop of Rome. Instead of being itself subordinate to the intelligence, the intellect assumed lordship over the senses. Once the way was opened, it was France that - as part of the growth and maturity of the West, and at the age when such a development could be expected in a society - the realisation of this centralising tendency was taken to heart. Up until that moment, the light of the intellect had been turned on other things. The idea of the centre was not unknown; but the centre was placed beyond the reach of those illusions to which man is subject and which are caused by the slow working of his senses. That is what characterises theocentrism, which is exactly the opposite of THEISM - that misunderstanding between God and His creature. Not being particularly interested in his own individuality, man recognised only a relative value in the slower movement of the senses. They were fleeting relations between himself and the world. The Christian society of the period before the Middle Ages could not imagine itself intellectually as anything other than a system of relations arranged hierarchically on a basis of movement. It tried to build itself on this principle. But, in spite of impressive successes, it could not maintain this state of affairs because it could not forever preserve its youth. Adult too soon, it was doomed to a premature old age. The idea of the centre came down from the heights and entered the intellect of man who, fooled by the slowness of his sensorial impressions, saw the relative truth they offered him as an authentic, immobile reality. The light of the intellect changed direction and immediately changed its objectives as well. In the interval that separates the two positions, gradually, the forms that characterised the one disappeared and those that were going to characterise the other took their place. The forms characteristic of the Celts, of Rome of the Kings, of archaic Greece, of the initiatic periods in Egypt, to quote only several links in the chain, faded, became inconceivable, while classical Rome, Ptolemaic Egypt, and other very brilliant but entirely external intellectual appearances came back into view - appearances organised according to the principle of centralisation where, to sum it up in a word, everything was subordinate to homocentrism . The intellectual position was complete. It was impossible to imagine any other means of knowing the world. The value of relations was diminished and that of appearances increased. The real became more important than the true. The habit formed by this way of thinking became strong enough to suppress any doubts - any remaining gaps could be filled by intellectual arguments. The historians had no knowledge of biology and split up the past according to games of perspective. Those past ages whose meaning was unknown were judged according to whether or not they could be used to justify the present; they had only existed, thought, worked to prepare a way for the centre that was occupied now, by ourselves. As their own distinct personality, which had not been cast in the same intellectual mould as ourselves, was suppressed, they were declared to be elementary, even regressive. No-one saw the lie that was given in the most peremptory manner to this prevailing order of things - the most thoroughgoing proofs of their coherence and vitality - those monuments of stone whose equivalent in knowledge or power has never been seen since.
We have not abandoned painting just because we have begun to talk about human life. To centralise - does that not mean to base all our ideas of order round a single point? The deformations of perspective were not an invention of the 15th century, though that is what we are often told. Prior to the 15th century, all the efforts of the builders, of the sculptors, of the painters were leagued together in opposition to these deformations, because these were people who only made use of the senses to address the spirit, and who never allowed them to overstep their limits. What happened in the 15th century was that the idea of perspective was finally given the freedom to indulge in the most arbitrary excesses.
It took three centuries before all the intellectual doubts were cleared away - three intermediate centuries which were needed before Christian society could change the direction of its light from one position to the other. Perspective, unified according to a single point of view - see how simple it seems, just like Columbus' egg. Intellectually, it was an aspiration that wanted to realise itself within the organic structures of the Catholic west. It was in the theory of perspective that the western world made its declaration of faith. Coming to the end of its period of growth, it reached that moment when the troubles of adolescence begin to quieten down, when the body overhauls the order of its exchanges to assume a new equilibrium, and begins the slow descent which leads, through a series of stages more or less brilliant, to the end, through a process of sclerosis that is so slow it passes virtually unnoticed. That is the meaning of the Renaissance. Far from being the work of an impulse on the rise, it was, on the contrary, a mark of decline. We can now see the end of the track. The idea of centralisation has followed its course. Beginning as an aspiration among the religious elite, the whole of the social body is now soaked in it. The papacy modelled after the Caesars; monarchy that wanted to be absolute, and democracy that aspires to dictatorship, they are all the same idea, the same intellectual state reaching towards its most extreme consequences.
I do not protest against the intellectual directions that were established at the time of the Renaissance. I state the facts of the case; I make no criticism. In any case, these things do not depend on any human decision.
The mysterious needs of biology go beyond the initiatives of the individual organic structures. The particular appearances which these directions assumed could, certainly, have been a little different, but the directions themselves could not have failed to exist; and if these directions were harmful for the social future, it is only in a way that is well known in the case of the individual, when he has turned a page, after which, whatever one might think of his health or of his worth as a human being, one knows he is going down the slope which will lead to his end. Consequently, these intellectual directions - the contrary of those which preceded them, but in the way in which complementary colours can be described as contraries - understand the world in the way that is appropriate to them. They realise it in their own way. They are legitimate and, once their position is recognised, the objectives they seek correspond more or less exactly to their needs. If the first position is characterised by the idea of permanence which is expressed by movement, the second, without suppressing this same idea of permanence, expresses it by rest. The first locates it in the spirit, the second in the senses.
So, representational perspective can be described as the sure way by which an idea of centralisation adapted to the senses could be realised - for it is certain that the idea came before its practical expression. It is but the result of a position of the eye which had been wanted by the intellect but which could only be acquired over a long period of time. Of course, trying to explain it later, we were content to think that if, in the 13th century, in Italy, men were unable to find this single perspective point, it was the result of ignorance. But that is a serious error.
The mobile cannot pass into the immobile all in one go. Between the highest speed and the slowest, there is a series of intermediate phases, a process of braking. Well, the reasoning of the intellect did the same. It passed, degree by degree, through an ineluctable succession of stages, whose characteristic signs can be distinguished and described.
FROM CIMABUE TO UCCELLO
If we look at how representational perspective was used in the period stretching from Cimabue to Paolo Uccello, we are surprised to see, in the first, a multiplicity of points of view when the second only uses one. But we should be wary of condemning the first to glorify the second, in accordance with the habits of mind we have adopted and which have become a dogma.
For what we have condemned in Cimabue was a manner of being, a state of mind, a way of operating intellectually, that had existed before him, that is now unknown to us but which, nonetheless, constituted the manner of being, state of mind, way of operating intellectually of our own youth. We reproached him, despite the condescending indulgence we might have shown towards him, because, in similar circumstances, he was the Cézanne of his age. He tried to reconcile two antinomies - the same two antinomies as those that had Cézanne tied up in knots. But the age was leading Cimabue away from the land that Cézanne would rediscover. On the other hand, it was bringing him closer to the land that Cézanne would have liked to have left. The plurality of points of equilibrium realised in the Italian's handling of perspective gave rise to the opinion held in all seriousness that, by comparison with Uccello, Cimabue had not mastered the perspective mechanism. Now, let me remind you of what used to be said about Cézanne. Because his objects were seen to be all wrong in relation to what we thought had been learned once and for all, it was said that he did not know how to draw.
But it will be worth our while devoting a little effort to try to change the superficial opinion that has been held about Cimabue, just as it was possible for us to unravel the conflict that took place in Cézanne. There is no more empiricism in Cimabue than there is in Uccello. The one is simply operating under conditions that are ruder than those of the other. Scruples of the intelligence were inhibiting the action of an intellect which was orientated in a new direction - a direction from which the surrounding world was coming but resounding differently upon the sense which received it. That sense was not yet beaten, it was still vigorous; it would take two hundred years before the intellect could win it over completely. Between Cimabue and Uccello, if we reflect upon the organ in question - the eye - it seems to us to pass irresistibly from movement to immobility. Cimabue expresses himself through an eye that is mobile, Uccello through an eye that is stopped. Uccello no longer has any reason to feel the scruples which assailed Cimabue. His intellect feels itself to be fully justified by all the evidence that the eye is capable of bringing to its attention.
The whole difference in intellect that separates the Middle Ages prior to the 13th century from what will finally take its place in the Renaissance can be explained by that alone. I insist. Before the 13th century, the intellectual direction is based on the mobility of things. Man feels the movement which surrounds him. With and after the 13th century, the direction changes and the intellect can only perceive things as being immobilised. To find movement again, man would have to create it artificially, with his machines. Before the 13th century, all the most disinterested monuments show how little importance is attached to temporary appearances and how much importance is given to movement, to the work of the imagination [au mouvement, à l'imaginatif ]. The eye provides the widest and most immediately accessible field of investigation for anyone who wishes to be persuaded. If you are willing to admit that painting and the other manifestations at a high level of formal realisation have not always occupied the insignificant role in human activity that has been assigned to them in our own time, you can see it thanks to them. Cimabue and Uccello, to mention only them, provide scholars and historians with proofs that are much more precise and conclusive than any number of texts or closed cabinets whose key has been lost. They have a greater and more living scientific value than the questionable, fragmentary, analytical elements to which, unfortunately, modern investigation attributes a value that is much too high. These latter elements necessarily distort our ideas of the surrounding world, which should be conceived synthetically, in relation to the general form that held them and in which they were no more than particular inflections. The arts at a high level of formal realisation have preserved the exact, complete, absolute, disinterested expressions of societies that no longer exist; all we have to do is know how they should be understood.
What can be seen in the works of Cimabue and Uccello is this overhauling of the system of exchanges, this passage from one biological equilibrium to another, this movement of ebb and flow which we find always and everywhere in life and which works through a series of conflicts in which the opposing tendencies come up against each other. All you have to do to persuade yourself is to look at it without prejudice. The anxiety of the present day already indicates a distrust of what would have been unquestionable only a very few years ago. We must be sufficiently calm and collected to be able to look the struggle between these two states of mind full in the face.
Now, it is certain that the eye, the organ that reconciles the two lights, the positive to the negative, that which is internal to that which is external, is free in Cimabue. Its biological nature is protected, even though the intellect is already being drawn towards the constructions of the outside world. The eye is accustomed to serving faith, that is to say, the certainty that the movement which we can only see successively, one phase at a time, is not destined to stop just because of that. Do you understand? Reasonably, nothing permits us to affirm that the second we are living in won't be the last. That affirmation can only be made on the basis of trust; it is faith. Since the 13th century, the word has more and more been emptied of its meaning.
So the eye, accustomed to following movement, resisted the pressure from the intellect which, using the power of reason, wanted to impose on it a state of rest which it could not itself see in the world about. In its attempts to take movement into account, reason had to use probabilities whose coefficients were very high; the momentaneous was transformed into the definitive, the static condition was considered to be a certainty at least as great as that of mobility. The formidable uncertainty of the second that had not yet occurred and that only faith allowed us to expect, acquired a dull certainty which reason was then able to measure and weigh. Looking at how our Christian society has evolved - and the same can be said of all societies - we can affirm that a long period of faith is necessary before we can aspire to reason. In our own particular experience, it was faith which cured the sickness in which, as part of the normal course of events, the rationalising centralisation of Rome came to an end.
But it would have been impossible to have expressed those contradictory notions, mobile and immobile - which are separated out from the single notion which the preceding period had of them - if the functioning of the eye had not already been dismantled through a process of analysis. The eye could not, all at once, be stopped from looking at the world about it in its developments, from following a line through its undulations, from enjoying the attraction of cadence, living the infinite through the formal realisation of the plane of a wall. So it had, if it was to be accustomed to the idea of rest, to be given a succession of descriptive aspects of the external world, and this could only be done by giving a multiple series of appearances, each one seen in its own perspective. There is much that could be said on the changes that took place at this time. To stay in an area close to painting, I will confine myself to drawing your attention to the transformation that took place in the characters used in writing: the passage from the Roman style of writing to the Latin [des caractères romans aux caractères latins]. This transformation corresponds to the same evolutions of the intellect as those of painting. The Roman are unquestionably more mobile than the Latin .Before the 13th century, in the French wall paintings, so neglected, so unknown, just because they are that much more distant intellectually, yet infinitely more pure, more esemplastic than the Italian paintings, the rhythm that could almost stand on its own without any descriptive element, is the result of an act of the will, a consequence of the agreement there is between the eye and the intellectual culture - intense faith in action, it is what best enables us to taste the continuity of life, movement, beyond the passing forms, a continuous work of association and dissociation.
In France, however, this esemplastic way of working, stripped of all unnecessary additions, was able to develop easily because the ground was already thoroughly prepared to receive it. Once we know what the Celtic monuments, the stone carvings of Brittany and Ireland, mean, we can follow its evolution right up to that period of total collapse which is where we are at the present time. We can see mobile, living, subtly formal organisations change. In their cadence, their polyrhythmic combinations, we can see the slow process by which descriptive images insinuate themselves persuasively; transparent at first and then opaque; finally so demanding that only they can be seen. Between certain esemplastic formations that can be identified on the Celtic stones and Cimabue's Madonna in the Louvre, there is no difference other than the importance given to the descriptive image. The mobile, rhythmic, arithmetical structure is the same in the one as it is in the other. That leads one to think that the chain has not been broken and that, if we cannot find it, it is only because we are too weak to be able to question our own certainties [b].
Despite the fact that the rhythm is encumbered with fragments of space whose own natural movement has been slowed down, Cimabue's frescoes can still be said to be mobile because the eye is still mobile. The eye wanders from one point of view to the other, it jumps back again, it is worked up into a state of violent excitement. Before it can come to a stop, it has to weary itself to a point of exhaustion. Its nature, which rebels against a state of rest, will not allow itself to be changed until its defences have been overwhelmed.
For it is of the nature of the eye to be mobile. The eye is an organ that examines, is capable of cadence, is nuanced, sensitive to inflections, rapid in reaction. It spins movement out of itself, embracing form, tasting it in its relations, imaginative, mathematical. It isn't an ear (c). Of all the senses, the eye is unquestionably the one that is closest to intelligence.
The deceleration of this mobile nature has been continuous since Cimabue in the 13th century. The movement of the external world became less and less apparent to the eye because its own biological needs were being undermined by the intellect which was taking control of the senses. Little by little, the external world was immobilised and the intellect was no longer in doubt of its ability to possess the present by means of its ocular impressions. Finally, the eye stopped for good, tied, anchored to the perspective point. Representational perspective achieved its unity because it was centralised.
So, perspective unity was realised to the detriment of the nature of the eye itself. Before the 15th century, painting was epic; from that moment onwards, an immobile eye was fixed on the world. That is what we thought, and what we still think, was a wonderful step forwards.
The Renaissance eye became the prisoner of representational perspective reduced to unity. From now on, it was obliged to renounce the imagination. It was nailed to the ground by Paolo Uccello, so history tells us. It had lost its liberty, right up until the present day. This immobility was also confirmed through the production of a number of real masterpieces, since talent and the general state of mind are two things which do not stand in any necessary relation, one to the other.
FROM UCCELLO BACK TO CIMABUE
It was, then, an opposition between two states of mind that we saw in Cézanne. Against representational perspective, Cézanne tried to oppose a plastic reality which corresponded to the nature of the plane surface on which he was working.
The Cubists of 1910 developed Cézanne's intuition in their own way. They broke the bonds in which the eye had been held. They again covered, methodically, but in the opposite direction, the path that led from Cimabue to Uccello. Starting out from the unity of representational perspective, they rapidly achieved the dissociation of multiple points of view. The intellect had been thrown into a fine confusion by a tremor coming from the intelligence. The painters presented before the eye a succession of descriptive states. Waking up, this eye lurched from one point of view to the other, jumped back again, and was again thrown into a state of excitement. Before being in a position to rely on the suppleness of its own mobility, it had to proceed by trial and error. But the important thing was that the intellect had been alerted to the problem. It was this intellect, refreshed, that was once again becoming aware of the life that exists beyond appearances. Its hesitations were, in the opposite direction, the same hesitations it had had in the 12th century. It was about to burn what it had loved before and to love what it had burned.
It decentralised, discovering that unity does not depend on congestion round a single point but on a constant irrigation that joins all the independent elements together so that each of them retains the right to its own centre of equilibrium.
At least, this intellectual notion was felt, intuitively, by a number of intellects that were still widely separated one from the other. The totality showed no sign of understanding anything other than a very clear intuition that it needed to defend itself.
Without being aware of the fact, the Cubists, then, returned, in reverse order, to the intellectual position of Cimabue and of his time. In them, the same conflict appeared between the immobile and the mobile; between space divided up in analysis, and rhythm that restores the solidarity of everything in synthesis; between the limits imposed by reason, and the faith that throws down walls. The drama of the 13th century was being played again: Saint Ignatius and Descartes were giving way before St Thomas.
For a little while. In any case, the painters never suspected the similarities; they were totally unaware of them. So they had no reason to linger and they continued along the path, which didn't stop there. The 13th century is not, in fact, a model on which a social conscience can be built. It is a chaos of doubts, an end for religion, a beginning for rationalism. The works of art it has left had swept all the hesitations away. The old doorway of Chartres, from the 12th century, is a swansong of the spirit; the lateral doorways from the 13th century, a categorical affirmation that salvation can only come from the senses. Cimabue affirms it in his painting. The human epic is dispersed. Faith has become something which is inexplicable but to which we have to cling. The 13th century with its most astonishing men, each of them living the conflict which I have tried to show you, cannot, then, be used to rebuild a conscience because it has already lost its own.
The way that was being opened, then, had to separate the painters' intellect, not just from that of the 13th century but also from that logical consequence of the 13th century - the intellect of the decadent age in which they were themselves living. From now on, the eye was unable to stop. The state of mind, shifting its position, hooked it on to new successions of appearances. A host of forgotten aspects came to the fore. Even painters who were unworried by any deeper problems saw new possibilities in the perspective mechanism by which their descriptive paintings could be made more interesting. That is what explains the pronounced taste for the periods called 'archaic' or 'primitive', which spread to the detriment of those officially sanctioned ages called the 'classical'. But it was only very superficially that this tendency touched the substance of what was being affirmed with ever increasing vigour.
The general attitude of the intellect was consistent with this anguish of the eye that was provoked by a series of heterogeneous images, fragments of spectacles that did not fit together. It could only be resolved through the rediscovery of a principle of unity that would at once be formal and non-representational. The first stage of this change of objective had not touched the representational aspect. It threw it into confusion without suppressing it. So, this stage, though necessary, could only last for a short period of time.
The painters soon realised that it was impossible to achieve any sort of unity out of these bits and pieces of realism, which had been brought together intellectually but which were kept separated by a resistance on the part of the senses. So they began to search elsewhere for a resolution of the problem.
They began to get close to it when they took account of the real existence of their canvas. Independently of what it was going to become, the canvas stretched on its frame had a definite, authentic nature of its own. It was a plane, a complete form, a plastic object. This had already been recognised by certain other painters, who had confined the consequences of their discovery to certain simplifications in the descriptive element . The contribution of the Cubists lay in their desire to affirm this truth to the point of sacrificing the descriptive element altogether. Whether it was based on a perspective unity or on a perspective that had been syncopated, the descriptive, representational nature of the painting was the very negation of all real esemplastic activity. Regardless of the painter's talent, it was the opposite of what had been claimed for it: the image of a real fact was nothing other than an abstraction. Under another appearance, it was still the drama of Cézanne, of the circle in opposition to the perspective oval. The drama was still continuing. But now, since the perspective unity was broken - something which Cézanne had not dared to do - these two states, born from two contradictory positions, could no longer live on the same picture plane. The time had come to make a decision, to choose, to follow the thing through to its most extreme consequences, to accept the necessity of living outside the normal world, to become unintelligible, because, as I said at the beginning, to love you have to understand, or simply believe that you understand, and you will never understand anything if you turn your back on it.
For years we have been witnessing the slow decline of the descriptive anecdote, but this longing for disappearance is usually expressed in a chaotic and unmethodical manner. The problem cannot be resolved by arbitrarily cutting the wall up into slices and then daubing them with paint. To suppress the conventions of the present time in an anarchic fashion, replacing them with nothing more than the most arbitrary of individual opinions - this does not constitute a change in the intellectual position. It only means sinking more and more into one's own centre. The conflict between the circle and the descriptive oval can only be resolved through order, that is to say, through submission to what cannot be changed. It requires humility on the part of the individual, who has risen in revolt against everything and, consequently, against himself. Order is not his personal possession, any more than life, which was given to him without his having had any say in the matter. Order is a constant. To make a work with lines and colours that is alive is to take hold of nature herself, not in her accidents, her nuances, but in her permanent principles. It is to give to the term 'plastic' its true meaning and to understand that its expression is determined by the nature of the materials which we use. A plane will never be plastic if it has volume inscribed on it in a way that has been worked out on the basis of a theory. These principles and rules, fixed and immovable as they are, are still experienced by us as fleeting and mobile. Form is movement, despite appearances. If it was otherwise, there could never be any growth. Only we no longer know exactly what movement is because we confuse it with agitation, which is only a parody of movement. Movement is not a matter of external appearances. It is a process of unfolding from within. The painted work slows movement down to give the eye the chance to embrace the form, to appreciate it sensually - without confusing sensuality and concupiscence. A living esemplastic mechanism must replace the theoretical mechanism of description. By simply recognising its capacity for movement, it will enable the vertical plane of the wall to reveal all the formal figures which are potentially contained within it. Through using the principle of cadence, we will be able to link them together, to associate, to combine them, to let them go, while still giving them a direction, to slow them down, to speed them up, to unite the rectangle and the circle, which Cézanne believed were the true plastic elements of the picture plane. In this way, the man who is a painter, exercising his full human responsibilities, will raise the new organism up to the harmonious morality of proportions by a game of relationships, infinitely delightful for the senses.
This esemplastic order will finally enable painting to work in harmony with architecture - that universe on a smaller scale. No longer will we do what the men of the Renaissance did, imposing on the wall an enlarged version of a picture in perspective that stands in no real relationship with the nature of the monument. Instead, the wall will be organised in movement. It will remain respectful of the human scale of the spectator even when it allows him to gain the heights from which the magnitude of the whole becomes intelligible and capable of being appreciated by the senses - an esemplastic organisation in which many different points of equilibrium are held together by an architectonic discipline, reminding the spectator that unity is not a matter of centralisation but of a hierarchical order based on the measured freedom of each organism possessing its own centre of gravity but nonetheless weaving a chain of interdependence that does nothing to diminish the variety (d).
TECHNICAL CULTURE V SCIENCE
Naturally, a new order needs a new technique. Or, better, a young order needs a technique that does not disguise its nature. Go to the Louvre. Go into the Italian Primitives' room. What freshness! What youth! These canvasses were painted yesterday, time has marked them so discreetly. Time has brushed over them as if it was their friend; and in fact, mobile by nature, it has been easy for them to enter into an agreement with time. The colours vibrate, sing, resonate one upon the other, they look for each other, chase each other, come together, drift apart, marry. Order is preserved through discipline. They are pure, simple, natural. The model which is later to triumph so violently, is still no more than a suggestion.
The technical culture is safe and secure until the 15th century. We know the mysterious, powerful change which then, because in our ignorance we thought we could combine natures that were contradictory, destroyed the lovely colours and decomposed the most attractive forms. But today, the earlier works can still be found, whole and intact, if they have not been too brutalised by the vagaries of the weather and human inability to understand.
After the 15th century, this technical culture was replaced by a science which was becoming ever more complicated: the consequences of description produced their results. People became less and less able to support the principle of contrast. The pure, the simple, the natural no longer suit the intellectual state of mind that cuts, divides, jumps up on tiptoe to reach the sky and sets huge traps in an effort to capture life itself. Banished as being merely decorative, the technique that does not try to conceal itself is replaced by cunning recipes designed to give the impression of atmosphere, of rounded surfaces, complete illusions; all the drugs that stupefy the senses will be brought to bear. Talent confers a striking appearance upon these tours de force, these acrobacies of the scenery. The further we advance from the Renaissance to the present day, the more we come across paintings that have aged and are falling apart.
It seems that the mere fact of wanting to stop what passes and what renews itself by its own means - of, in a certain sense, showing a distrust for life itself - that this has struck the finest intellectual productions with death; while simply to lighten that tendency that the senses have for making things heavier - to give our esemplastic activity its real, living significance - that this has assured for the painted works an unlimited duration.
Those painted works that are already beginning to correspond to another intellectual position are increasingly based on a pure, simple and natural technique. No-one should think they can diminish their importance by calling them 'decorative'. 'Decorative art' is an expression of the jargon of the present day; it can only be applied to the decadence of something that in itself is very great, because it is very human - the proof, in a degenerate form, that man, no matter to what social level he belongs, needs lovely colours. If by 'decorative art' is meant that mediocre and childish artistic facade that corresponds so well to the demoralising atmosphere of industrial production, we could perhaps laud the superiority of pictures that are, equally, produced in series, on order, but which contain one never knows what deep intentions, what mysterious values. But if these last are compared with the work of those ages that no amount of complacency on our part can diminish, then I think we will have to develop a different understanding of the meaning of 'depth'; and that the best of intentions will hardly count for anything when we are confronted by even the humblest products of those ages that we are still forced to recognise as having been ages of great culture. Will we then continue to abuse the new painting for being 'decorative', and will that word still have the derogatory meaning which we attach to it nowadays?
The overall tendency of our researches, in whatever field we are working, is certainly determined by questioning and doubts provoked by the circumstances in which we live. It is no longer possible for us to take works of art seriously if they are only objects of luxury or of pleasure. These works possess an importance in the lives of societies that is much greater than that which we are inclined to attribute to them nowadays. If we are no longer capable of understanding what a work of art might be, this is a proof of a lack of morality in the world at large. It is not through mechanisation pushed to extremes that a society can develop its culture. Industriousness [L'industriosité] is a mark of weakness rather than of vigour. The industry, or what is called 'modernism', of the societies of the past, has left but scanty remains; it is the works of art that have survived, their structures still living, still standing, on industry's graveyard. We must not allow our modern megalomania to fool us into thinking that there has never been a civilisation as technically advanced as ourselves. What do we know? If our civilisations were completely swept away by a natural whirlwind - or by a whirlwind that had been organised very scientifically, following the best recipes that our knowledge can devise - what opinion could be formed in several thousand years by the archaeologists of whatever society had been built up on our ruins? I believe that of our science and of our industries and their obscure needs, they would recover nothing. Books made of paper would have disappeared; our synthetic metals would have come apart long ago, with the consequence that the uses to which they had been put would also have been forgotten; our constructions in reinforced concrete would be dead, despite all the clever calculations to which they gave rise, allowing them to be raised on no more than a single point of balance. However, some monuments would still be standing - remains of palaces, ruins of cathedrals, those monuments that were able to decompose continually just so far as their internal skeleton. Those would be the only witnesses left of our life and they would be the witnesses of our morality, that is to say of our culture, our submission to natural truths. I leave it up to you to attach dates to such evidences of the way we have gone. The noise of modernism must not be allowed to silence the voice of good sense, if anything of good sense remains in our devitalised bodies.
Much more than all those objects and activities that attend to our distorted needs and momentary appetites, works of art are called upon to witness to the quality of the human act. We should therefore become conscious of them and turn towards them. As there is no such thing as spontaneous generation, as everything resounds on what has gone before and on what comes after it, so we should look at these works that we do not understand and, in the real light that is appropriate to them, try to uncover the series of their antecedents. The form that our esemplastic activity is taking nowadays seems to be ever more surprising, but we should not think of it as being particularly new for all that. Whether it is dance, music, poetry, painting or architecture in their most surprising appearances, nonetheless they are all connected to tendencies that have already appeared among men; and if, according to the standards by which we judge them, they appear to be unintelligible, perhaps it is not entirely the fault of the works themselves but rather that of the standards which we have applied. Someone who observes Cézanne's jug from the point of view which sees only the oval, will never be able to understand the person who, differently placed, knows it in its reality as a circle.
That is certainly where the whole conflict lies at the present time. Without our being aware of the fact, our society is oscillating insensibly in a direction which will change its intellectual objectives from toe to top. As they become ever more manifest, the anxieties of the spirit will change the appearances of things much more effectively than all the noisy appetites of those for whom the fate of the world depends on nothing more than the resolution of a simple economic problem.
It is no longer possible to deny that these anxieties exist; they appear under a thousand forms, a thousand forms which still cannot break free of their single source, the internal correspondence that exists between them. The western world is in decline, but a new growth, whose first tremors can already be felt, is starting again. A world dies, another is born. It is the same for the eastern world, which is waking out of its torpor and whose immediate destiny, I believe, will be closer to what we are ceasing to be than to what we must probably become.
In any case, we can already have some idea of the change of position that has taken place within our own culture. It can be seen in the very way that those problems that are most vital for our own intellectual equilibrium are being posed. The signs of the new order that is approaching are unmistakable. Homocentrist rationalism no longer offers a spectacle of proud, self confident intransigence. Without giving anything up, it is attempting to add something which it once thought it could do without, completely.
In the field of ideas - where it is possible to build with the materials of fantasy, and where admirable architectures can be raised once the most daring postulates are allowed - the Cézannean drama played between esemplastic truth and representational perspective does not seem to be approaching any kind of resolution. But in this field too, it is, nonetheless, the same contradictions that confront each other. The reconciliation of the mobile and the immobile still appears to be impossible, though the elegance of the equations is such that it keeps the intelligence spellbound in its artifice. But, slow and imperceptible as it may be, only movement is absolute. It is this simple, fundamental, conclusive truth which, once it is recognised, will enable us to see the world about us in a way that will be quite different from that in which we see it today. We will no longer have any reason to search the centre - that magnificent idea of absolute rest, of total immobility - in the stuff out of which human life is made. Once again, the intelligence will know that its truth belongs to another nature which we can only reach by ceasing to exist, that is to say, by passing on.
And since I have shown you that Cubism, in its struggle with representational perspective, had, without knowing it, returned to the intellectual anguish of the 13th century, let me repeat that, having had the courage and independence to continue along the road that had been opened, it is natural that it should arrive at a spirit much closer to that of the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th centuries of our age. Which means that if, at a particular moment, it arrived at the heights of St Thomas, it is now far from him, in the same way that St Augustine is far from him.
All that is perfectly normal and can be explained by simple common sense. An organism that is being born does not experience the difficulties of adulthood. And an organism that has grown old can only turn back to its own adulthood in memory. Birth can occur side by side with decrepitude. But an old man cannot salvage himself by trying to return to his youth. Our scientific age tends to put far too much faith in the virtues of rejuvenating medicines. But that is a consequence of its inability to discern movement.
For movement is a cadence which must return to the same periods. Once the periods have passed, they can only return in an order that is unbreakable. The 13th century is the thirteenth period of an organic system which, nowadays, has had almost twenty. If the system no longer possesses sufficient vitality to enable it to keep going, the organism which will emerge once it dissolves will inevitably have to begin again at the first period of all beginning.
EPIC OF THE SPIRIT - TRAGEDY OF THE SENSES
Have I succeeded in interesting you in the considerable effort undergone by those painters who, in the limited field of their craft, have honestly tried to address the problem that is facing everyone at the present time? For the person who is, nowadays, called an 'artist' is, before anything else, becoming a man, a man with all the responsibilities that that word implies.
At a time when feeling is the only active factor that is constantly evoked as the means by which a work of art may be conceived, men who paint are refused the right to feel the drama that surrounds them. We must try to understand this, once and for all.
Are we prepared, for the sake of some ill-defined idea of individual freedom, to allow as a man of feeling, someone who deliberately places himself on the margin of his time; who, to satisfy one doesn't know what libertine intellectual instinct, is happy putting together, day after day, with more or less talent, pictures 'after the manner of the masters' in just the way that Henry II or Louis XVI furniture is put together for use by the average man? To want this in an age that prides itself on its critical sense, is to show an absolute ignorance of the moral significance of works of art. It is to ignore the role they play in the course of societies; it is to reduce them to being no more than an arbitrary accident, a convulsion without meaning, an anomaly without a future. History, however, categorically gives the lie to such an attitude.
I have tried, using what has been done over the past seventeen years - and it could easily lay claim to very many antecedents - to help you to understand the similarity there is between the growth of societies and that of individuals. I believe that works of art provide a set of elements by which we can establish our history very precisely, on sure biological foundations. Through them, we can find the law of the growth of societies, provided we know how to recognise, in the vestiges that have come down to us, the marks of the state of the intellect that they embody. These states of the intellect are invariable in their principles and in the order in which they appear, and this in turn is an irrefutable evidence of the position occupied by the man out of whom the surrounding world has been built. It is easy to recognise because natural laws are unchangeable and what has been will be. Science would be impossible if we were not persuaded of the fact. Societies are not subject to accidents, to fantasies which we take for facts and which, for all the time we have spent observing them, have not allowed us to come to any conclusion. Societies have revolutions of the same order as those that rule the course of the stars. Those appearances of our idea of form that remain in the world after our everyday actions have fallen into oblivion, are an exact record of the different phases of the human revolution. More than all the individual incidents of everyday life, they give the observer the assurance that there is a real, simple continuity, one thing linked to another, in human history. The archaeologists can think of nothing but to sustain a thesis; they have reduced everything to a point designated in advance - that which coincides with their own position. The relations they have established are no more than deformations imposed by their habit of seeing things in perspective. An object, a column, a ruin have never been considered by them in their complete, plastic reality. What heartrending confessions we are now hearing from the best of our men of erudition, victims of their formation, with no support in any sort of technique, without the security that is given by mastery of a manual craft, victims of this age in which the real value of technique has been confused with the complications without interest of technological virtuosity.
In this talk, which has already been long, I have touched on several details of the two biological states through which our Christian world has passed. I would like to finish by adding several clarifications of a general order that can be applied to all those societies that have gone through a complete cycle of existence.
The life of the group, like the life of the individual, unfolds between the epic of its spirit which characterises its youth, and the tragedy of its senses which characterises its old age. The epic of the spirit exalts senses that are new; the tragedy of the senses when they are seizing up, is a longing to return to the spirit.
The forms of these two phases are tangible in works of art and they are constant.
First there are the fantastic stories of legend, of its birth, as mysterious to the group as it is to the individual. The myths are the marvellous truths of its origins. They are lights, not fog, a work of participation with the Universe in which everything is seen as part of everything else, everything is resonance, everything is animated. The group is still vividly conscious of its dependence on agriculture as the essence of its life.
A little later, as the spirit becomes more dense, form is developed while remaining movement; the appearances of our esemplastic activity go through a gradual evolution, following the order of their intensity. Dance, music, poetry are the first formations of space; they continue to grow, they assume new directions, and thus we have writing, drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture, which sum everything up in a calculation that is even higher. They are sacred biological acts which produce monuments that go beyond the human scale in which all the plastic expressions come together, logically. The spirit has created the world, space is entirely peopled, the social world about us has its form, and a multitude of variants can be produced according to the materials that are used.
All the constructions of this first phase of the youth of the group bear witness to its constant characteristics. The epic imagination is a proof of its esemplastic power. Everything is formal, inventive and arithmetical, therefore rhythmic.
But what the spirit has done, the senses, becoming heavier, will undo, because everything is destined ultimately to come apart to return to the spirit. Adulthood will harden the world about it and render it insupportable to the individual who has lost his internal vital force.
The esemplastic act cannot go beyond the limits that have been reached. The form of a group is as determined as the form of the individual. Like the individual, it is dependent on a certain order of magnitudes which it cannot go beyond; so, the group cannot evolve beyond certain constants. From the moment, then, of that expansion of our capacities that corresponds to adulthood, the group will be living on its capital. It achieves a harmony between the mobile and that impression of slowness which it calls the immobile, but that harmony is dangerous for it. From now on, it can only develop the 'immobile' and thereby, for this very reason, accumulate the material of its death.
Right at the very start, it will change its intellectual position. The change can easily be recognised. I have shown it to you in the case of Cimabue and Uccello. Once this position has been reached, the external world will be more and more immobilised and, increasingly, the group will be unable to see anything else. Such a period is marked by a definite dislike of agriculture. This occurs to the profit of the cities, where the ideal of unification in immobilised space seeks a monstrous self-realisation. At this point, the myth disappears entirely. Apparently realistic fantasies become ever more human (!) [sic - PB], seeking to resemble things that could really happen on the increasingly pitiable scale of the individual. It is only by shrinking itself that reason can adapt to them. The epic appears as a sign of credulity when once we are persuaded that everything can be explained by the work of the senses. The world seems to have come to a stop. By investigating it, patiently, man is sure to be able to grasp its mystery. But the more he thinks he has advanced, the more he feels he is going back, the more difficult it becomes for him to participate. So he adds artificial extensions to his senses; he invents machines which bring him nothing but agitation, which bear no relation to movement. They devitalise him by robbing him of all his esemplastic responsibility. To such an extent that, to avoid the trap set for his degraded intellect by the demands of the surrounding world, whose frozen appearance is a constant source of despair, he will try to eliminate the disenchantment of his senses by using powerful rejuvenating drugs brought to him thanks to his scientific knowledge.
The appearances of this second phase of the group's revolution have been faithfully recorded in the works of art. Before their aesthetic relations were ever thought about, they were subject to biology; before being lovely, a tree is a tree. But, in this phase, the desire for representation is proof that the esemplastic development has been stopped. Everything becomes imitative, conventional, instantaneous, geometrical (e) . The works of art have already become merely human monuments and they soon fall back into the individual. Each of the means of esemplastic expression is dehumanised through the fact that it cuts itself off, believing itself able to find its own justification in isolation. Which does not prevent the varieties of the materials being used from becoming inaccessible either to the intellect or to the senses. In fact, are we not asking, albeit indistinctly, the same thing of all of them - a sentimental representation?
Such, in their broad outlines, are the stages that can be perceived in the biological evolution of human families. Doubtless they bequeath an inheritance, but it is only accepted in the form in which it is perceived, understood and wanted by the inheritors. The society that is dying cannot impose its wishes on the society that takes over from it, any more than it can impose the orthopaedic material which it needed more and more as it grew older.
So, the curve of human evolution is not in any way dependent upon our individual human preferences. It follows an unchangeable movement whose nature will never be understood through compiling statistics or examining the bottom of a test tube. Wisdom is a matter of adapting ourselves as closely as possible to the needs of this biological curve and thus participating in the life of the spirit.
We exaggerate - and this is the contrary of wisdom - the importance of our immediate, momentary case. Seeing ourselves at the forefront, and discerning nothing ahead of us and nothing but a dubious memory of the past, we believe that anything anterior to us had no reason for its existence other than ourselves - hence the intellectual illusion of continual progress. A simple game of perspective which we can describe momentarily but which will be dissipated by the next reality, the moment it comes along. It is still Cézanne's jug. The person who sees it from the point of view which can only perceive an oval will never be able to understand the person who, differently placed, knows it in its truth as a circle.
Those painters, then, who have adopted the position where the circle is true, have only been obeying the secret impulse that commands us all. Painting and representational perspective are not inseparably connected.
But the painters are not the only ones who are beginning to be conscious of the fact. A similar change of position is required if the anxiety with which we are surrounded, in all the different forms which it assumes, is to be resolved.
NOTES BY GLEIZES
(a) Here we see how a craft which has its own, well-defined discipline, can be devitalised by literature, which makes of it nothing more than a sort of writing, which suppresses the evolution of form for its own advantage, which sees no more than the lowest common denominator given by the element of description. This is the drama that is staged in all societies when they are at the point of death. Once the evolution of form is exhausted, incoherent declamation and oratorical effects are given their head. The death of an old man whose last energies are concentrated with a remarkable force in cries and in lamentations that are all the more terrible because they are born from his inability to control what is happening around him - this is a powerful image by which we can understand the very same process when it takes place in the death of the group, macrocosm to the individual microcosm, a phenomenon that occurs on a scale greater than that which is familiar and known to each of us taken as individuals.
Literature, left to its own devices and to whoever takes a fancy to indulge in it, is the last means of expression available for the opinions of those civilised persons whose scholarly formation knows nothing else, and who have no idea of the authority that can be felt in a manual craft, which restrains the senses, disciplines them, adapts them to respond automatically to the Rule, and imposes upon them the relative but necessary measures of concrete reality. Painting, which is as much dependent on its own technical means as any craft, has believed itself to be a vehicle for description, and thereby became an offshoot of literature. Hence the naivety of those painters who seek and are flattered by the applause of littérateurs, whose incompetence is plain to see once the esemplastic work rises to the achievement of form in the conditions that are natural to it. Back
(b) I know of no study of works of art in which one feels that the meaning of this game of ebb and flow has even been suspected. Studies of this kind are usually written by men who know a great deal but who are lacking in culture with regard to the nature of form. So that a great mass of erudition merely serves to conceal the rigorous conditions of biology to which all the formations of the external world are subject, with works of art as simply their highest expression.
Understanding is also made impossible for other, more sentimental reasons. Instead of sacrificing everything to the truth, we often sacrifice the truth to momentaneous interests or opinions. It would, for example, be disheartening to have to admit that Catholicism today is coming to its natural end, and that the nation too has lived a complete cycle of existence. As we lack faith, we do not see how these two decrepit forms could possibly die to be reborn in the spirit. So, all studies of the evolution of works of art are obliged to celebrate the merits of immobility.
The origins of Christian art have been much studied since the 19th century. So far as I can see, in France, only Didron  has clearly identified the two aspects of Christian art - that before the 13th century, in which the spirit rules, and that after the 13th century, where matter becomes ever more oppressive. No-one apart from him has had sufficient freedom of spirit to search for the key to this phenomenon; and no-one at all has felt that it was essentially a matter of biological necessity.
The idea of form has only been imagined in immobility; not for a moment has anyone asked if it could perhaps be seen in mobility. So, the Past has always been judged on the basis of this current idea of form, considered as unique and definitive. To it, we have reduced what, because we do not understand it in its own nature, we have considered to be a mere groping about in the dark. Emile Mâle , the best and most sympathetic of modern scholars, is helpless when he has to explain the technique of stone-carvers and image-makers prior to the 13th century. He can see only the graphic influence of the manuscripts. And he is not the only one. The studies of these questions done by churchmen show to what extent the initial spirit of Christianity has lost its force. Since the days when the Old Testament and the New were bound together in a single volume, we have quite forgotten that what separates them is their two dissimilar characters - the first that can only be read in the immobile because it is divine in its nature, the second having to be read in mobility because it is human in its nature. Back
(c) I say that because it looks as though we shall have to revise the attribution of spirituality given to music and that of materiality given to the arts that are called plastic.
In the order of the evolution of the creative act, music is the nebulous state, while architecture is the accomplishment . Architecture is infinitely more a spiritual expression than music, more mobile within itself, like a flame when it is compared to water. It is of the divine order because it gives the most complete idea of the present, that attribute that cannot be changed by time. Architecture is man contemplating the creative divinity in the finite and the infinite of His nature. The fact that the elect who are capable of this kind of contemplation are so few should at least give us grounds for thought when we see how the materiality of music touches men and animals alike so very easily. What Pythagoras has said on music proves nothing because at that time Greece was already passing into its immobile, materialist position; it was moving away from the mobile, spiritual youth that characterises the period prior to the 6th century BC. The Christian phase seen between the 5th and the 15th centuries will be a better guide. We must recognise the enormous importance attached at that time to the architect, master of his work, the builder par excellence. The whole hierarchy of the western world was structured by him. How many were the saints who were only raised to the dignity of their sainthood because they were architects. The decline of the architect was the mark of the decline of the Christian world. Back
(d) Unity, then, is not a property of that which we call space. Rather, it is more of the nature of what we call time. The picture in perspective is dominated by space, the form is fragmented because it is episodic. In those structures that are now going to be painted on the wall, the form will be determined by time. It will be complete because it will be developed in a framework with clearly defined limits. A bit of a landscape, a person seen passing by, only appear before us in a moment of space. The sun, the moon, a planet, or any of the stars, appear to us as circles because we are sufficiently far removed from them to be able to possess them in their nature as forms, in time. Up until the 13th century, form-time, circular in its nature, was a confirmation and application of the state of mind that had been taken up. It signified that mobility was the nature of man and of the world about him. After the 13th century, spatial form, perspective, more and more expressed the opposite state of mind. It signified that the immobile was going to be taken up as the basis for every act of reasoning.
The two words space and time have no absolute meaning. They are two words used for convenience.
No scientific system can ever pretend to arrive at any truth on the basis of these two words. They are two states of mind corresponding to two ways of feeling. If the reasoning is controlled by the senses, space emerges from their impressions which have been slowed down and which, for the moment, we will call immobile because we don't like to be difficult or to push our critical effort too far. If the intelligence controls the reasoning, time emerges from the successive interlinking that we will call mobile - which, with regard to life, is already a great improvement. Out of all this, two possibilities of formal realisation can be conceived. Form may depend on one of two positions - space, and time .
That is what seems to me so surprising (and what makes me admire the painters more and more the better I understand the problem) in the researches, intuitive at first but becoming more and more conscious, of the Cubists and Futurists of 1911. They were expressing an aspiration, whose tendency it was to totally overthrow the sense-based convention of spatial form and to replace it with that, whose legitimacy is already much more widely accepted nowadays, of the form required by the intelligence, ordered according to the nature of time.
No-one should imagine that in speaking this way we are abandoning the domain of painting. The idiotic character that is attributed to painting at the present time is merely a means of preventing it from developing esemplastically, according to its nature. If, instead of being one of the liberal professions, painting were once again to become a living force, the practice of a craft, invariable in its nature; if, instead of in state academies or independent schools, its principles had to be found through a hard apprenticeship in a workshop; if it hadn't been totally distorted by the literary arteriosclerosis that typifies the world about us - the natural end for the movement of the walking man to the seated man - then we would hear much less chatter about aesthetics, genius, sensibility, those figleaves of incompetence; the false idea of art for art's sake would wither away; painting would not even begin to be a temptation for that crowd of beings who are incapable of living a healthy, balanced life and who finish by believing themselves called upon to make sensational revelations because they do not understand the emotional disorders that are an inherent part of their weakness. Painting could thus once again become a noble craft, open to the intelligence, with its hierarchy, based on the value of each and everyone, in which each and everyone has a role to play according to their capacities. Everyone would have need of it, because the needs of men never change and never will change, even if they come to be perverted in old age. And, finally, I repeat that none of this is new and nothing can be gained by denying it or sneering. This has been in the past, and it will be again in the future. Back
(e) See how representational perspective leads to mechanisation. The image fixed in the camera box by photography is a result of an intellectual state that does not believe that the eye is capable of appreciating cadence. For a mechanical invention is never anything other than the concrete manifestation of a state of mind. There is nothing fortuitous about an invention, a discovery. They are something other than a mere means to satisfy needs or desires. In other circumstances, when the intellectual state was differently orientated, we had no need for the mechanical applications of which we are now so proud. Photography is the result of an idea that could only develop in an intellect that has forgotten movement, mistaking the effect for the cause. What is so very typical is that it was imagined by a painter. That painter working with his little invention was being far more original than plenty of painter-mechanics of our own time who are still using canvasses and colours. This invention took place at the beginning of the 19th century. It seemed to provide a scientific proof - what idiocies have been pronounced in the name of this credo ! - of the retinal image. Above all, it rendered insupportable the representational image, which was unreal, and often without any apparent resemblance to the real.
At the end of that 19th century that was so credulous with regard to the senses and yet still so fertile for the spirit, we see mechanics offering the eye, immobilised by the single perspective point, a strange, ingenious paradox of movement, making a succession of instantaneous images cleverly linked one with the other pass in front of its stupor. The cinematograph did not free the eye. It demanded yet more renunciation; it weakened its personal action, its organic autonomy; it wearied it and exhausted it, reducing it to a state of ankylosis. Representations, which had already replaced nearly all of our esemplastic activity, passed before it in the same way that the precarious state of sound passes before the ear, which cannot receive external impressions in any other way. In sum, the cinema works in a way that is quite contrary to the nature of the eye. The life of this admirable organ has been destroyed. It is like the little car that had to take the place of paralysed legs. It may be a mechanical wonder, which does their moving for them by means of an external impulse, but it has no possibility of bringing life - a movement - back to those inert organs. So, the cinema, with regard to the biology of the eye, is its last enemy. It could only ever have been conceived for an eye that was already totally impotent, and its industrial expansion at the present time is a morphine that will put a definite end to its existence as the INTELLECTUAL ORGAN, which is what it was called in the age that was that of the youth of the Christian group. Back
NOTES BY TRANSLATOR
(1) 'Peinture et Perspective Descriptive' - the reader may like to bear in mind that wherever I use the expression 'representational perspective' , the original is always 'perspective descriptive'. Back
(2) 'Plastique' is a crucial word in Gleizes' thought which I often translate using Coleridge's word 'esemplastic' - 'to shape into one'. Back
(3) For Gleizes' use of the word 'intelligence' and the distinction he draws between 'intelligence' and 'intellect' see e.g. Cubism and the General Culture. Back
(4) This word, used here in a derogatory sense, is used in a much more positive sense as the title of one of Gleizes' most important books. Back
(5) The expression seems a little odd. Gleizes may have in mind the passage in Augustine's Confessions in which, reflecting on time, he suggests that it is a function of consciousness: 'It seems to me, then, that time is merely an extension, though of what it is an extension, I do not know. I begin to wonder whether it is an extension of the mind itself.' (Book XI) Back
(6) La Forme et l'Histoire, written shortly after the present text identifies what I assume is meant here by 'Latin' as 'Gothic'. Back
(7) Gleizes is here thinking particularly of the 'Nabis', Paul Serusier and Maurice Denis, and also perhaps of the Benedictine 'School of Beuron', all of whom practised, and argued in favour of, a simplified, hieratic, flat style of representational painting. Back
(8) Presumably Adolphe Napoléon Didron (1806-1867), author of Iconographie chrétienne: Histoire de Dieu. Paris, 1843. Didron also published a translation of the 'Mount Athos Painters' Guide' by Dionysius of Fourna which Gleizes was to use at a later date. His son, Édouard Amedée Didron (1836-1902) was also an art historian, as well as an artist, specialising in stained glass. Back
(9) Émile Mâle (1862-1954). Best known for his L'Art religieux du XIIIe siècle en France, translated into English as The Gothic Image, Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century. Gleizes' La Forme et l'Histoire begins with a critical discussion of Mâle's way of understanding mediaeval art. Back
(10) This idea of an 'order' of plastic acts going from the most transient (dance, music, the spoken word) to the most permanent (painting, sculpture, architecture) is developed by Gleizes in his Cubisme: Essai de Généralisation and L'Inquiétude: Crise Plastique, both written in 1925. Back
(11) This will later become the basis for the distinction Gleizes will draw between 'figure', as the image in space, and 'form', which takes account of time. Back