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When we confine our attention to the bare fact of painting, it becomes easier to find common ground. 

Who would deny that this fact consists in the act of dividing the surface of the canvas and of investing each part with a quality which must not be cancelled out by the nature of the whole? 

Immediately there is a rule is imposed by taste: we must act in such a way that no two parts with the same extension should meet in the painting. Good sense approves of this and explains it: if one part repeats another part, the whole becomes measurable, and the work ceases to be a means of giving our personality (which is not susceptible to measurement, since nothing in it is ever repeated) a permanent form [une fixation de notre personnalité]. It therefore falls short of what we want of it. 

Once the inequality of the parts has been established as the necessary condition on which everything else must be based then there are two ways of understanding how the division is to be put into effect. (14) According to the first, all the parts are drawn together by a rhythmic artifice which is determined by one of them. It is this - the exact position it occupies on the canvas is of little importance - that gives the painting a centre from which the different shades of colour part, or towards which they tend, depending on whether it is itself the point of the highest or of the lowest degree of intensity.

(14)   Or, more literally: 'The inequality of parts thus posed as a primordial condition, there are two ways of understanding the division.'

According to the second, so that the spectator - even if it means that he will have to establish the unity himself - can apprehend all the elements in the order they have been assigned by creative intuition, the properties of each part must be allowed their independence, the plastic continuum must be broken up into a thousand surprises of fire and of shadow. 

Hence two methods which appear to be mutually hostile.  

Even a small knowledge of the history of art will enable us without difficulty to find names that illustrate each of these two methods. What is interesting is to bring about their reconciliation. 

The Cubist painters try to do this and, whether they interrupt in part the chain of succession [le lien] that is called for by the first, or make a chain of [enchaînent] some force that is found among those that the second tells us should be left freely to express themselves (15)  - they achieve that superior dis-equilibrium without which the quality we call 'lyrical' cannot be conceived. 

(15)   'laisser librement jaillir' in 1912; 'laisser libres' in 1947/80.

Each of these two methods is solidly reliant on the inseparability of colour and of form.  

Even though out of the one hundred thousand painters who are alive today only four or five seem to feel it, a law has to be asserted here which is not open either to discussion or to interpretation. It must be followed to the letter [scrupuleusement]. 

Every inflection of the form is accompanied by a change in the colour, and every change in the colour gives birth to a form. 

There are tints that refuse to have anything to do with [d'épouser] certain lines; there are surfaces which cannot support certain colours - they cast them off far away, or they give way beneath them as under a weight that is too heavy. 

The most elementary tints [les données fondamentales] of the spectrum are well-suited to simple forms, while more spakling games of colours are suited to forms that are fragmented. 

Nothing is more surprising than to hear each day one and the same voice praise the colour of a painting while criticising the drawing. Nonsense of this sort cannot be excused by an appeal to the Impressionists. If we have ourselves deplored the poverty of their form while at the same time recommending the virtues of their colour, that is because we did not want to go beyond their role as precursors. 

In every other circumstance we would absolutely refuse to perpetrate such a disjunction, contrary as it is to the vital forces of our art. 

The impossibility of imagining form and colour as separate from each other gives to anyone who is aware of it the right to a useful way of envisaging conventional reality. 

There is nothing real outside ourselves, nothing real other than the coming together of a sensation and of an individual mental direction. Far from us the notion of questioning the existence of those objects that strike our senses; but, rationally speaking, it is only with regard to the image whose flowering they provoke in our minds (16) that we can have any certainty. 

(16)   'à l'égard de l'image qu'ils font éclore dans notre esprit ...' in 1912; 'à l'égard de l'image qu'ils produisent dans notre esprit ...'  in 1947/80. Here, curiously, the 1913 English translation gives 'produce'.

So we are very surprised when well-intentioned critics explain the remarkable difference there is between the forms attributed to nature and those of painting at the present time through the will to represent things not as they appear but as they really are. How are they? These critics think that the object must possess an absolute, essential form and that it is because we want to show it that we suppress chiaroscuro and traditional perspective. How very naive! An object does not have an absolute form. It has several; it has as many forms as there are planes in the realm of meaning. (17) The one these writers identify is somehow miraculously adapted to geometrical form. Geometry is a science, painting is an art. The geometer measures, the painter tastes [savoure]. The absolute of the one is, inevitably, the relative of the other. If logic is outraged by this, so what? Will logic ever be able to prevent the perfection of a wine from being different in the chemist's retort from what it is in the drinker's glass?

(17)   'Un objet n'a pas une forme absolue, il en a plusieurs, il en a autant qu'il y a ...' in 1912; 'Un objet n'a pas une forme absolue. Il en a autant qu'il y a ...'  in 1947/80.

We are, frankly, obliged to laugh when we see many a novice - doing penance perhaps for his over-literal understanding of the remarks of a Cubist and his faith in Absolute Truth - painfully juxtaposing the six sides of a cube, or the two ears of a model shown in profile. (18)

(18)   It would be interesting to know who the novices were who were so painfully following the procedures Metzinger himself had proposed in the Note on Painting and would propose again the following year in Cubist Technique! I take the view that Juan Gris, on the basis of his 1912 work, is a possible candidate. Note that this passage is a critique of the Gris-Kahnweiler thesis discussed in my essay Cubism in Context, introducing this anthology.

Does that mean that we must, following the example of the Impressionists, rely only on our sensibility? Not at all. We are indeed looking for what is essential, but we look for it in our own personality, not in a sort of eternity, painstakingly put together by the mathematicians and philosophers. 

In any case, between the Impressionists and ourselves, as we have already said, the difference is only one of intensity, and we have no desire that it should be anything more than that. 

For as many eyes as there are to look at an object, so many are the images of that object; for as many minds as there are to understand it, so many are the essential images. 

But we are unable to take pleasure in isolation; we want to dazzle other people with what we have been able to seize every day out of the world experienced by our senses and, in return, we want others to let us see what trophies they have won. So from a process of reciprocal concessions emerge those mixed images against which everyone is eager to measure [de confronter] artistic creations in order to calculate what there is in them that can be called objective [de qu'elles contiennent d'objectif], which is to say purely conventional. 

If the artist has made no concessions at all to the common measures then his work will inevitably be unintelligible to anyone unable to fly directly, like a bird, into unknown planes. But if, on the other hand, by weakness or a lack of intellectual direction, the painter remains subject to the forms that are currently in use, his work will delight the crowd - his work? the work of the crowd - and at the same time sadden the individual. 

Among the painters who are called academic there are, perhaps, some who are very gifted: how can we know? their work is so truthful [véridique] that it drowns in the truth, in that negative truth, mother of morals and of everything insipid which, precisely because it is right for all of us, is wrong for each of us. 

Does that mean that the work must necessarily appear incomprehensible to the great majority? No, that is only a consequence - a temporary one at that - and not at all a necessity. 

We would be the first to reproach those who, to cover up their weakness, would devote themselves to devising puzzles. A systematic obscurity is betrayed by its refusal to go away [sa persistance]. Instead of veils little by little uncovered by intelligent minds advancing towards treasures that reveal themselves progressively, all we have is a curtain on the void. 

In any case we may note that, since every plastic quality is proof of the emotion that has, necessarily, preceded it; and since each of these emotions is proof of something concretely in existence - a painting only needs to be well painted and we can be assured of its author's truthfulness, and that the effort of our intellect [notre effort intellectif] will receive its reward. 

That people who have no real connection with painting should be unable, spontaneously, to share our confidence in this matter, nothing could be more natural: that this should annoy them, nothing could be more ridiculous [insensé]. Must the painter, in order to please them, turn his work inside out? Must he restore to things the banal appearance from which it is his mission to liberate them? 

There is a great charm that results when, once an object has been subjected to a real process of transubstantiation, the most well-informed eye has some difficulty in discovering it. The painting that only delivers itself up slowly seems always to be waiting to be subjected to interrogation, as if it was holding back an infinite number of answers to an infinite number of questions. On this point, let Leonardo da Vinci come to the defence of Cubism: 

'We know clearly' says Leonardo 'that sight, by rapid observations, finds in a point an infinite number of forms; nonetheless, it can only understand one thing at a time. Let us take an example: you, reader, will see in a single glance of the eye this written page, and you will immediately appreciate that it is full of a great variety of letters; but you will not at the same moment know what these letters are, or what they want to say. You will have to go from one word to another and line by line if you want to know these letters. Just as to get to the top of a building you will have to climb step by step, otherwise you will never reach the top.' (19)  

(19)  The French text is taken, with some slight, apparently insignificant, variations, from Josephin Péladan's translation - Léonard de Vinci: Traité de la peinture, Paris, 1910, p.15 §40. The argument leaves us with the unfortunate impression that a painting is 'understood' once its figurative elements - chair leg, clouds, soldiers etc -  have been discerned. 

Yes, not to be able at first contact to make out the particularity of the objects that have inspired the painting, that has a great charm. But it also has its dangers. Just as much as synchronistic [synchroniques] and primary images, we disapprove the facile images of a whimsical occultism; if we condemn the exclusive use of commonplace signs it is not at all because we want to replace them with cabbalistic signs. We are even perfectly prepared to admit that it is impossible to write without using clichés and to paint making a total abstraction of signs that are generally recognised. Each painter can decide for himself if they should be spread throughout the whole, mixed in closely to signs with a personal significance, or proclaimed boldly as magical notes of dissonance, shreds of the great collective lie, on one single point of the plane of higher reality he is striving after in his art. (20)  A true painter takes into account all the elements that experience reveals to him, even those that are themselves indifferent or commonplace. It is a matter of tact. 

(20)   The 'magical notes of dissonance, shreds of the great collective lie', may be a reference to collage which Metzinger explains in Cubist Technique as a deliberately vulgar piece of illusionist trickery.

But this objective or conventional reality - the world that lies as an intermediary between the consciousness of another and our own - even though humanity has striven since time immemorial to give it a fixed form [à la fixer], it continues to shift backwards and forwards depending on races, religions, scientific theories etc. Every so often we can take advantage of an interval in the succession of the changes to interpose our own personal discoveries and mix in with the norm some surprising exceptions. 

We don't doubt that those who make use of the handle of their brushes for taking measurements will, in a very short time, notice that roundness itself helps in the representation of a round object better than all those dimensions that can never be anything other than relative. We are sure that the least perceptive [sagaces] will soon recognise that the desire to find an image to express what bodies weigh, and the time taken to assess the different aspects they assume when seen from different angles [à en dénombrer les divers aspects], is just as legitimate as that of imitating the light of day through the crude juxtaposition [heurt] of a blue and an orange. Then people capable of reasoning things out will cease to be outraged by the fact of moving round an object with a view to seizing several successive appearances which, melded together into a single image, will reconstitute it in time [durée]. 

And those who confound plastic dynamism with the noise [fracas] of the streets will see what the differences are. Finally it will be recognised that there never was a Cubist technique - simply the technique of picture making revealed by a few painters with courage and in a wide variety of different ways. It is precisely for this that they are blamed, for revealing it too much; they are told that they should conceal their craft. Isn't that ridiculous? like telling a man to run without moving his legs! 

All painters, in any case, reveal their craft, even those whose laborious efforts at delicacy [délicatesses laborieuses] are upsetting to the barbarians of other lands. But it is with the procedures used by the painter as it is with those used by the writer: by passing from hand to hand, they become colourless, insipid, abstract. 

(21)   'dont les délicatesses industrieuses troublent les barbares d'outre océan' in 1912; 'dont les délicatesses industrieuses troublent les barbares' in 1947/80. I don't understand the reference. It might be that we ourselves are 'les barbares d'outre océan', upset by a highly sophisticated but delicate oriental art.

The means used by the Cubists are far from having reached this point, even though they don't at all shine with the brightness of newly minted coins and a careful study of Michelangelo will reveal that they have a very honourable lineage. (22) 

(22)   'Une étude attentive de Michel-Ange nous autorise à dire qu'ils ont leurs lettres de noblesse.' The point as I understand it is that Cubist methods have not yet become worn out clichés yet there is nothing very new about them and they can be found in the work of Michelangelo. Much later, in his Homocentrisme (1937), Gleizes agues that the rhythmic line of Romanesque painting - which he himself is striving to recover - can still be found in Michelangelo's painting.