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When one has thirty years of work and experience at one’s back and is able to glance behind upon the road travelled with a certain perspective; that one’s hair turns white, one’s critical spirit develops to the detriment of enthusiasm; one inquires of one’s self, asking: have I not been mistaken? 

Well then, I believe that I have been mistaken on many points, I believe that our theories contained a large portion of error, but those comprising its essentials, I affirm, remain solid and ever living. Stripped of certain excesses and prejudices, they continue to testify to that which is the profound value of eternal art. Symbolism is the art of translating and provoking states of the soul by means of the links between colours and forms. Invented or borrowed from nature, those links become the signs or symbols of states of soul: they have the power to suggest them. The artist must seek, in Cézanne’s words, not to "reproduce," but to "represent" nature, by means of equivalences, of plastic equivalences, It is the "means" of expression (line, form, volume, colour), and not the object represented, which must be expressive in itself. Such an idea implies, on the one hand, the existence of correspondences among lines, forms, colours and of our states of soul on the other hand; between visible and invisible: a connection of ideas linked to the connections among things. 

Allegory, on the contrary, is the art of signifying ideas by means of a system of purely objective conventions, a sort of language of flowers or of heraldry, wherein the definition of the elements utilised is indispensable, wherein it is necessary to know that a given object has a given meaning. Allegory speaks to the mind. The Symbol, by way of contrast, speaks to the eyes: it attempts to give birth all at once to the whole scale of human emotions in the beholder’s soul, by means of a gamut of colours and forms, let us say: through sensations, that which corresponds unto them. As Viollet le Duc said (Entretiens sur l’architecture), "The spirit, by means of an intimate faculty whose workings we do not understand, establishes certain connections among appearances, sounds and ideas which, strange though they might be, are nonetheless real, as we see how they are affirmed by all individuals who might form a crowd at the same time and in the same place." A symbolist work - and please note that all superior works of art, whether ancient or modern is symbolist - must produce on first sight an emotion analogous to that which seizes us upon entering the beautiful nave of a cathedral. We undergo, starting from the portico, without analysing the elements of the harmonious ensemble, consisting of windows, proportions, ornamentation, loftiness, colour, etc., experiencing an irresistible shuddering, the which is, in this context, a religious emotion. Says Bergson (Essais sur les données immédiates de la conscience): "The goal of art is to lull to sleep the active powers, or rather the resistant powers, of our personality and thus to lead us to a state of perfect docility wherein we realise the idea suggested unto us, or that we sympathise with the sentiments expressed."  All our confused memories thus revived, all our subconscious forces thus set in motion, the work of art worthy of that name creates a mystic state - or at least one analogous to the mystic vision - and in a certain sense and to a certain measure, renders us "able to feel God in the heart." 

Apply a similar method to represent natural objects and you will understand the meaning of this phrase which I wrote in 1890: "art is the sanctification of nature." (Art et critique, August, 1890). 

Let us go further into the arcana of the system: in 1892, there appeared in the Revue Encyclopédique, (No. 32, 1 April, 1892.) a manifesto by Albert Aurier which was never well-understood by painters, but which presented the same ideas in a more metaphysical fashion - more Platonic - with a vocabulary and arguments borrowed from Leibniz. Allow me to cite certain passages: 

"All objects in nature are, in the end, an idea signified ... If art from the beginning and always, is by definition the materialised expression of a given spiritual combination, we must then admit that only he who knows the meaning of the terms employed is able to write those expressions. The painter who, being bereft of that indispensable faculty (and he is Legion), nonetheless make a painting, resembles those who would amuse themselves haphazardly in an unknown language, empty of meaning to them ... In art thus understood, the goal not being the direct reproduction of the object, all elements of the pictorial language - lines, planes, shadow, light, colour - become abstract elements which may be combined, attenuated, exaggerated, deformed according to their proper expressive mode, in order to arrive to the overall goal of the work: the expression of a given idea, dream, or thought." 

Finally, with the aid of my old friend Sérusier, I was able to summarise all that aesthetic chattering [fratras] by means of what I shall call: "Two deformations." 

The artist, standing before nature or rather, before the emotion rendered thereby, must ruthlessly render it to the exclusion of all which did not strike his eye, to make an expressive schema. All lyricism is permitted him: he must needs practice metaphor as a poet. If this tree seems red to him, he has the right to render it in vermillion. That is "subjective deformation." In order to correct the fantasies of such interpretation, we had---and I say this with reservations---"objective deformation," only, that is, the will to conform the image thus obtained to the technical and aesthetic norms proper to a work of art. We sought those laws simultaneously among theoreticians such as Charles Henry, and among the works of the old masters: the ancient principles of contrast, balance, unity common to all the arts, necessary most of all to architecture, which thus oblige the artist to "transpose all into beauty." Nature itself we too much ignored … 

The first consequence due to posing the problem of imitation in art in that manner was to close the "open window" of the realist school, to condemn the trompe-l’oeil, to return attention to the art object itself, together with its proper laws: a picture being, in accord with my 1890 definition, a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain way. 

I should not fail to point out what was erroneous in a system which accorded too much to the individual, to individual fantasy; nor the evident contradiction between the idea of "language" implied by the theory of plastic signs, and the unlimited liberty of vocabulary left to the artist. It was necessary to introduce respect for nature, and to leave to imitation its role and its place. But then, this is not my subject.