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A circle should never cease to be a circle, a square should remain a square, forms should retain their nature and all the properties of their nature intact; yes, so long as they are looked at objectively. But this might not be the case if a higher, rather exceptional and subjective, reason should happen to intervene. At least in appearance. There are occasions on which the particular meaning of a circle would require that it be shown by an ellipse, and the meaning of a square to be shown by a rectangle or a trapezoid. In such a case, it will no longer be interpreted as the sign of an idea, but rather as a living part of the Universe. It will strike us as having been subjected to the physical laws of action and reaction, capable of being reduced or enlarged through a process of assimilation or of contrast. (11)

(11)   I assume he is referring here to the form in purely plastic terms, independent of the figurative content, as affected by its relations with other forms in the picture - a major theme in Du "Cubisme".

In order to be able better to study form in its intimate life, the Cubists simplified it, reducing it to its original interplay of curves and straight lines. They learned to interrupt certain lines in order to intensify the expressive power of those lines they had kept intact. (12) They learned how to set small curves  vibrating by putting them into relation with long straight lines, how to use parallel lines to sustain a rhythm etc.

(12)   cf analogous passage in "Cubisme" et tradition.

Liubov Popova: Standing female model, 1913
Oil on canvas, 105 x 69.5 cm
Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow
This painting was done about the time that Popova was studying with Metzinger in the Académie de la Palette, and Metzinger was writing Cubist Technique. See Patricia Railing: Jean Metzinger and Liubov Popova's "Figures"

 Since this perspective is entirely a matter of expression and of quality, there can be no grounds for opposing it in the way the old masters fought with the classical perspective that was tying their hands at every turn. Nonetheless I would be going too far if I were to deny the existence of occasions on which this perspective ought to be sacrificed to considerations of rhythm; though I am tempted to see this as a weakness on the part of painters trying to reconcile feeling and reason, rather than any real incompatibility there might be between the external and internal values of form.


A new perception of space and forms has to be complemented by a new conception of light and colours. 

The painters who came before us tried hard to reproduce light, not to express it. The fact that they failed does not mean that their effort was useless. Thinking about this, the young painters arrived at a conclusion that threw the teaching of everyone who had come after the Primitives into doubt: that in painting the reality of light is weakened by the reality of colour, and vice versa. 

Indeed to subordinate light to colour means to destroy all its elements, with the possible exception of one; (13) to subordinate colour to light means to destroy one of its qualities - its hue  - in favour of a quantity - tone; yet it is precisely through its quality that the individual nature of a colour is asserted.

(13)   I am assuming he understands the light as the totality of all the colours, which in the spectrum (but not, as pointed out in Du "Cubisme", in pigments) adds up to white. The 'exception' is the particular colour that is given. This might help to explain the remark in Note sur la peinture: 'Picasso has contempt for the often very coarse game of those who claim to be colourists. He reduces the seven colours down to white, to the primal unity.'

Light and colour play equal, but very different roles in teaching us about the nature of objects. Painting is impoverished if one of them is sacrificed to the other. Both must therefore be expressed, but separately.

To try to prove the claim we are making, let us take an object of a regular colour, an orange for example. I know that the colour which denotes this particular kind of fruit is identical at all points in the volume it occupies. I know this because I have inspected an orange, turning it in all directions, and because, unfailingly, it presented to my sight the self same orange colouring. But at the same time I can see that its orange colour tends to grow brighter or darker depending on whether it is brought nearer to a source of brilliant light or taken away from it. So if, in accordance with the traditional technique, I imitate these differences in tone, which correspond to what I can see - and if, following this same technique, I try to express concurrently tone and colour - it is clear that I will be quite unable to express the uniformity of the coloration, which corresponds to what I know. If, on the other hand, I do not pay serious attention to what I see, and only express what I know, it will be equally impossible for me to express the volume of the orange, its roundness in three dimensions - as well as the different distances that can be observed between various points on the surface and the source of brilliant light - all of which corresponds to what I can see.

Naturally it will be objected that these are considerations of small importance and that the traditional technique can be used perfectly well to paint an orange without having to show it either as a ball of uncertain colour or as a simple orange disc, that  the artist only has to use his feelings etc.

I would respond to the first of these propositions by saying that since considerations of small importance have a crucial role to play on those of great importance, errors in the one are no less deplorable than errors in the other; however perfectly two erroneous notions may be stitched together they will never produce the truth. To the second, I would say that feeling in no way justifies substituting a delusion for reality. If it is divested of the quality of its colour, or if its shape is completely changed, the orange will in all appearance have ceased to exist, at least in its nature as an orange.

Thanks to the consequences of this technique, we are now in a position to overcome difficulties of this kind. That technique teaches us how to represent an orange in a way that is visually incongruous but rationally complete. If I decompose the image of an object, I will be able to render certain parts according to my imagination and others according to the idea I have of it. I will insert a uniform colour in between shades without colour, thus expressing both the idea of chromatic unity and, separately, that of roundness; at the same time, I will try to indicate the relationship there is between these two ideas in such a way that an educated viewer will be able to put them together in his mind's eye, conjuring up the relevant object in its entirety.

Just as an educated viewer is never shocked by the patchwork of bright colours the Impressionists use to enhance the beauty of apparently single coloured objects, so he will not be cross with me for the mutilations I introduce into the way the object is pictured. After all, he knows that the material means - forms, colours or sounds - and the mental realities they express - can by no means be taken as representing an exact equivalent of anything that exists in our relative world.

If we look at a group of objects and not just at a single one, the incongruities between the different artistic elements will certainly appear very sharply. Not only is the quality of the colour constantly being jeopardised by quantitative differences in the light, but the whole situation is further complicated by the mutual action and reaction of the objects among themselves. Rendering a group of objects as if treating a single object, we will subject this whole to a process of decomposition, ascribing to each of the objects a particular role. We will not be worried by what most painters call 'harmony' - which usually amounts to no more than an agreeable and prudent way of watering everything down to the same level; but we will do our best, with the changes we have made in the horizon line and the solutions we propose to the problems of bringing the objects together, to subordinate them to natural principles which can guarantee a rhythmic unity to the picture. We will try to bring into agreement this and that series of tones with this and that series of forms, this or that category of colouring with this or that category of surfaces. We shall not have one and the same colour corresponding both to surfaces that are horizontal and those that are perpendicular. Rather than spoiling a particular shade of colour under the pretext of harmony we would prefer just to reduce it in size. We should note that if a discord in those shades of colour that have been caused by the lighting becomes unbearable the problem is, more often than not, due to a lack of proportion in the drawing rather to any want of refinement in the choice of colours. When we compose a picture, it is crucial to keep in mind the quality of the shades of colour it will have to sustain. By this term 'composition' we understand an analysis of space in all directions carried out in a way that is various, lively and, therefore, unpredictable.


But expressing ideas which relate to form, colour, shade and the positions objects have occupied in a particular space is hardly sufficient; it is also vital that we express those ideas that have been stimulated by their material nature. There are only very few painters who dare to go that far. Most of the painters, having no idea of the art of decomposing artistic elements, are afraid they might find themselves guilty of banal realism, or that they might waste their strength in pursuits and skills that are routine but futile.

The wood of a table, the graininess of a fabric, veins of marble, cannot be depicted; they can only be imitated.

Imitation is an outrage when it seeks to dominate the representation and thus to appear as the end of the painting when it should be nothing more than a means. If, however, we manage to confine it to a position that is suitable for it, imitation turns out to be very useful. It will enable us to liven up the highest concepts with a note of consciously intended vulgarity.

If we succeed in presenting imitative elements in a representative context, and in acting in such a way as to prevent the generalisation of these elements from doing harm to the whole but, rather, using them to enrich it with contrast, we shall be able to accomplish a realisation more complete than we could ever have hoped.

The first condition to be fulfilled in this respect is to ensure that the imitation is perfect. For this reason the young painters have rehabilitated the idea of 'visual delusion'. They do not seem to be afraid of faithfully and 'stupidly' imitating the wood of a table, the marble of a fireplace, or reproducing precisely the arabesques of a carpet. And confusion about this is simply impossible. The most ignorant of viewers can be in no doubt that he is faced with an opposition that is intended and not with a stylistic weakness.

The second condition is that the imitation should never cover the whole body of an object. Being fragmentary, the imitation is justified as a remark by the author, an insertion that reveals a world that, though inferior, should never be forgotten entirely.

Let me remark that there are certain things that are not suitable for consideration as being artistic because they lack volume. Should such objects have to be introduced into the painting, they cannot be rendered in a painterly way. We respect their nature as objects that are external and of minor importance. An inscription on a bottle, a piece of coloured paper, a playing card - these have no plastic qualities in themselves, but they can introduce into the image an unpredictable element of animation. They relate the picture to everyday life. Seeing them in this light, we do not at all try to suppress them and, in order to avoid certain ambiguities, we should try to imitate them as slavishly as possible. This category of objects includes volumes of very small proportions which - were we to try to analyse them - would require us to have to go into the most minute details.

To the great astonishment of people who regard themselves as men of good sense, some of the painters are content to fix onto the canvas various inscriptions, postage stamps, newspaper clippings etc. Could anything be more logical? These are objects that have no inner artistic value of their own and it is in their nature to be insignificant and of secondary importance.


It is clear from what has been said that, considered solely from a technical point of view, Cubism, far from being a reaction against Impressionism, is continuing its heritage, deepening it further. Just like Impressionism, Cubism is based on the modern notion of an inconsistency in the world as it is perceived by the senses.

Although the aesthetic adventure of Impressionism ended in failure it did show us that colour gains in expressive power when, instead of simply applying it to the canvas, we place side by side small patches of the basic elements of each of the tones we use. 

It is the same analytical spirit that is guiding us, but the general context has changed. It is no longer by vibrations of the sun that the world about us is formed, but rather by vibrations of the mind.

In art, the terms 'analysis' and 'synthesis' are, generally, used in a very superficial way. That is why certain aesthetic theorists like to accuse the young artists of cultivating an analytical art when, those critics think, painting should be synthetic in nature. They seem to be confusing goals with means. The Cubist effort is to create analytical signs that will be suitable for expressing synthetic ideas. I think that is the way painters have always acted. After all, we cannot paint without searching out relations, and does not the search for relations imply analysis?

I would not dare deny, however, that this calls for an effort on the part of the viewer which demands a high degree of education. To understand a Cubist work one has to be familiar with all the subtleties of modern painting, one has to be able to trace its development step by step. And yet I know people who, though they are not very well educated, will grasp immediately what the supposed experts have already failed to understand and declared to be undecipherable. Is this not because, without understanding painting, people like this are free from all prejudices? After all, Impressionism was not easily accessible either. Everyone knows the documents that attest to this. And now, look how widespread it has become; so many minds were exerted trying to understand Impressionism that this exertion has now become a natural habit.

Since then, Impressionism has come to form a substantial part of the world with which we are surrounded. That is why I have no doubt that those Cubist paintings that are now singled out as the most incomprehensible of works of art will, within a few years, appear as perfectly comprehensible. Nothing man has written or painted shall remain forever unknown. Those who accuse the young painters of arrogantly indulging themselves by groping in the dark are really very naive; indeed is it not a foolish backwardness to declare as illegible a script whose very alphabet is still unknown?

That is intended only as an image. I have no desire to claim that Cubism is a kind of language that needs a key to be understood. I would not even pretend that study of the Cubist technique is all that is needed to produce a good Cubist painting.

'Grace' is as necessary for understanding as it is for creating in the realm of art.

Whether it is Cubist, Impressionist, or anything else, a mere method can never be a substitute for natural talents; all it can do is to strengthen them, and prevent them from being wasted.

I espouse the Cubist technique not because I regard it as being closer to absolute truth than anything else but because I think it corresponds better than anything else to the nature of its time. All around me I keep discovering the principles by which it is guided - relativity of space, congruence of duration through the succession of simultaneous values. Look at the other arts, at philosophy and science. Well, is it not the crucial task of the artist to delineate within the never-ending changes of time the signs of his own age?