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Consciousness of light

So far, I have, temporarily, dissociated the consideration of drawing from that of colour.  But, at the same time, I stressed that this separation was more apparent than real, since, in choosing black, all that we have done has been to distil from colours the element which reduces them all to the lowest point in the scale of values, which unifies them by plunging them all into darkness.  It is now time to bring them back up into the daylight, which is, primarily, the normal support for sight, the support which enables our eyes to exercise their creative capacities.  This is where translation and rotation will be revealed to the fullest extent of their possibilities, in the service of rhythm, which is form-light.  Painting which is painting will, thus, be realised in its integral object, and it will then be understood as belonging to the category of song, passing by the eyes to reach as far as the soul.  What could be more simple, or more human!

No painting without the act of seeing, no painting without the painter, no painter without the man.  Hence the indispensable necessity of knowing what each of these objects means, and what are the attributes they possess.  This is not something that can be achieved by a study of aesthetics, still less by the seductions of talent wasting itself on a fruitless subjectivism.  It can only be achieved by reason working on the basis of experience, which, if it is handled conscientiously and with courage, will never lose touch with what is real.  Such experience will be able to go right back to its sources, right to the Alpha and Omega of all reality.  The painter, then, should possess this courage and should let his own experience guide him as far as he can go.  It will serve Man more than we can possibly imagine.  The painted work which he realises - and which, provided the work and the painter are not distracted from the aim they have in common, realises him - this work is not something that we engage in exclusively for those economic reasons which, nowadays that the 'arts' no longer have any profoundly social significance, seem to follow all too easily after the vanities which the artists proclaim, with plenty of noise, as they set out on their careers.  Like no matter what work, in no matter what craft, painting has an ontological mission.  It must enable the painter to know what he is, so that he can pass this knowledge on to others.

A society such as our own is one in which awareness of how the real is to be identified and of what our human reason is - the consciousness of Man in whose nature we all participate - has been lost.  We have, in the end, reduced all problems to the level of economic problems, but this has not helped us to resolve them.  We have, indeed, complicated them beyond all measure.  To try to stave off the final collapse and to gain time, our society has had to resort to expedients with a view to diverting our attention, to calming the feeling of unease, which is very widespread.  It has invented a series of psychoses, of shorter or longer duration, which play on our hopes or on the more superficial of our feelings.  But we must not allow ourselves to be fooled. For the painter, the 'elimination of the subject'  must be more than just a good intention.  The painter must arrive at a recognition of the fact of painting - of the painting-object, whose real source is in himself.  I will try once again to demonstrate what this means, through the various thoughts which follow on the subject of colour.  

Between the maximum of day and the minimum of day, the intensity of light can be found - thus, between white and black, to speak as a painter.  What is the 'day'?  What is 'light'?  The two questions are inseparable, one from the other, and the reply is that which we gave earlier as the transcendent end to be achieved by the optical phenomena, translation and rotation - the rhythm-form, an expression which can now be completed by the addition of the word 'light'.  What we call light is, then, inseparable from vision, as vision is inseparable from man.  We immediately fall into subjectivism if we think we can know it from the outside, from observation, if we forget its optical origins and disregard the characteristics of the eye - spatial and temporal, localised and, at one and the same time, nowhere and everywhere.  That is the trap that the modern physicist failed to avoid.  He fell headlong into it when he devised his theory of the particle and wave, rightly attributing two natures to the electron, but wrongly placing both of them in space, which is to say, in a condition that is, essentially, static.  The body is localised in space, whether it is treated as a body, or as a measure, or as a linear extension, on a plane or in three dimensions.  The wave, by contrast, is in time.  It turns the movement which is its immaterial support into cadences, through periods - the vibratory pulsations of the physicist. (17)

(17) ‘When we want to know where the electron is, it is in movement, and when we want to measure its speed, we are obliged to stop it’ a great physicist, one of my friends, said to me, in a state of embarrassment, a long time ago. And all simply because the natures of space and time, our natures, had not been distinguished. To be situated is the principle of space. To be nowhere is the nature of time, in spite of the various ways in which it can be divided up into periods, periods which are only of practical value, corresponding to the needs of the person who is using it, or observing it. The observer was disappointed because he was observing it wrongly. He was looking for the body of the electron there where it was absent, and trying to measure its absence by studying the perception of its body. 

To understand 'nature'  - and that is what we must always try to do - we must identify ourselves with its action.  We will never get there through attachment to 'Naturalism', which is to say, by observing perceptions whose origins we disregard - perceptions which, in the end, are only indications, traces, signs left by an objective, non-situated reality.  Since without the eye there would be no such thing as light, let us turn to the eye, let us test it, think about it, and ask it to inform us, so that we might be conscious of its teaching.  The light of day is, in a sense, for man in general, what the plane of his canvas is for the painter.  It is the inert, primordial support for everything which sight will situate and develop on it, according to the duality of its nature, stable and unstable.  It is the object-in-itself, unconsciously experienced by the subject, which, passing by successive stages of space and time, becoming its own object, will bring it up to consciousness.  Light is, in sum, the reward given to a state of consciousness.  Certainly, it is a substance, which is not to say that it is material in the powdery/atomic sense of the word.  As a substance, it is safe from accidents, but it is susceptible to variation in its form, its rhythm.  We have already spoken of this elsewhere.  It is quite comprehensible, and can even be represented - the rubber band is sufficient as an image.  

Only the subject-in-its-act can become conscious of light.  We must not understand consciousness to mean uniquely a work of the intellect.  We must take it as meaning much more - an identification of the whole being with light, a participation, in which consciousness and unconsciousness no longer have any meaning, since the union is already complete, the end attained.  The man who wants to be a painter has already taken a step beyond the simple existence of the subject; he enters into its action by the mere fact that the painter is unthinkable without his object, the painting.  The experience/painting still, however, has to be guided on the right way, if it is to keep in line with the object.  What will act as guide is constant reference to our ocular experience in the way that I have just shown, when I insisted on those two characteristics of the eye which are translation and rotation.  With colour, those two characteristics become more acute.  There is no colour without the eye, working on its support - the day, the light.  

What, then, becomes of the translation, once drawing and colour have been put together again?  First of all, I don't think anyone will be surprised when I say that there are no colours without the eye.  Just as there cannot be any sounds without the ear, or smells without the nose, etc.  ...  

The subjective, observer-based science recognised this.  They are only perceptions, nothing more, reality is elsewhere.  Perceptions, yes, but, above all, something else, something that makes of vision the seat of an objective reality.  The eye makes colours before experiencing them.  On the particular structural bases provided by the objects in the surrounding world - objects bathed in the day/light, their common support - the eye distinguishes colours.  These are, consequently, its personal fabrication.  Colours are, strictly speaking, degrees of magnitude which act as an obstruction to the action of light, and which the sight of man is unable to reduce.  It is a question of the degradation of light [c'est de la lumière dégradée], which is not at all the same thing as its distortion. Colours are static, localised, extended, incorporated.  They are, obviously, of the nature of space.  They each have their own characteristic type, which is susceptible of variations, in tonality and in intensity.  Translation plays with them, and combines different groupings - these are harmonies, chords.  Delacroix and Baudelaire understood it well.  Today's painters must take account of it if they want, through knowledge of their craft, to be worthy of affirming their independence of the subject, of the spectacular perception of the Humanist Renaissance - if they want, as fully as possible, to realise their mission: to bear witness to light.