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The first complete exercise

So, the young painter must, as a craftsman, think about the object, constantly.  Maurice Denis expressed this necessary reference to the object very well when he said 'a painting is above all a flat surface covered with colours put together in a certain order'  - though his own work did not often live up to this ideal.  The painter will become conscious of this truth through the initial exercises of translation and rotation in colour, in making  the object.  He will soon come to see the weakness of the subject with regard to true painting, and that this true painting carries within itself all the values for which he longs, values of emotion, of persuasion and of elevation.  He will come to see that the principles of painting lie in painting, and not in the interpretation of a tree, of an anatomy, or of anything else which is external to it and different both in structure and in colouring.  Let him, then, make chromatic circles of differing intensities and tonalities according to a coloured support, a resonant plane, chosen beforehand.  In the same way, let him combine the primary colours, let him look for harmonious relations, simple or complex.  Those are the first exercises a beginner should do, exercises that will give him pleasure and cultivate his feeling at the same time that they open his mind to the three stages that, never being confused with each other, build, in a logical manner, the work that he has in mind: measure, cadence, rhythm.  

After which, the young apprentice can take on translation in its fullness, no longer just in drawing, but also in colour.  This will be his opportunity to build his colours into figures [figurer ses couleurs] in an organism that is already more real and which, owing nothing to the subject, will be the object situated in static space.  It is after these exercises, which must be carefully supervised, that he can pass on to coloured rotation, which is nothing more than the putting into practice of the principle of the chromatic circle.  In translation, we must be careful to recommend the use of rectilinear figures.  It is only when the apprentice knows how to use these figures with some success and liberty that he can be allowed to loosen them up with curves, which will prepare him to pass on to rotation, which is, by definition, dominated by curved lines.  The object, up to now situated in space, will then become mobile in time, as seen, we repeat, by the eye, which will put its capacity for movement to work, and which will follow paths in cadence, chosen and determined by the painter.  

It is quite certain that the management of rotation cannot be picked up in a day.  Before playing with it freely, it will be necessary to work at it over long periods of time, putting the work twenty times back on the stocks.  Rotation is the most difficult part of the painter's craft, the part that has been completely buried under Naturalism, and, thus, the part of which the present day painters have the least idea.  If everyone, these days, can realise seductive colour harmonies with more or less success, no-one knows how to lead one or several colours into rotation without having learnt how to do it.  Such knowledge cannot be replaced by improvisation, chance, intuition, those life-buoys to which the ignorant are obliged to cling.  This stage must be entered into in good shape, well prepared, at the risk of encountering not only failure but ridicule.  

The rotation of colours may be defined as the reality of the colour harmony changing its state.  Its static reality gives way to another reality, that which it assumes when it enters into movement.  To repeat what I have already said before: the immobile, localised measure gives way to the period, the cadence, the pulsation of periods, which no longer implies localisation but continual change, so long, it must be understood, as we do not mistake its nature and, consequently, do not stop it by stopping the eye.  

To give an idea of the way in which we should understand and make use of the periods of rotation, permit me to use yet another example, one which I think is striking, and which few people have not experienced .  We know that main roads are marked with milestones.  Well, these milestones do not have the same reality for someone who might live at number 54 - to take a number at random - as they do for the motorist in action.  For the first, this stone has the real value of a place, a measure; for the second, it is just as real, but it is not that of a place, it marks the end of a period in a continual journey.  For the first, this limit is immobile in space; for the second, it is an instant, punctuating time through a series of relays [points d'appui].   The two persons, then, do not use this milestone in the same way.  The resident understands it as stopped.  The motorist, so long as he does not stop moving - for, in that case he, in turn, becomes more or less resident and is now no longer a motorist - uses it to count the arbitrary, but, for practical purposes, useful divisions of the road, the line that he is following.  There are, in fact, two states of consciousness dealing with one single thing, which shows that the thing, though it may seem to adapt itself indifferently to the one as to the other, has, nonetheless, changed, depending on whether it acts in participation with the static mode of consciousness or with the mode of consciousness in movement.  

From this we can see how important it is not to mistake the nature of these two users, or the conditions in which they operate, and we can also understand that these natures, and these conditions, go beyond the unified procedures by which time and space are, usually, measured - procedures that, if we take them too seriously, will prevent us from being able to distinguish the true natures of rest and of movement, of the measure and of the period. (18)

(18) These problems which we encounter when we try to identify movement are implicit in the very foundation-stone of Humanism, based, as it is, on perception, sensation, which we have considered to be the most reliable witness as to the nature of the real. So, after having engaged in a bit of philosophising, we pass, normally, to the experimental method with a view to measuring and calculating this so-called reality. But it is only possible to measure and to calculate whatever it is that is susceptible to observation, that is to say, whatever is immobile, localised, an extension in space, inert. Measure and calculation are limited to having to deal with nature only when it is stopped, and when it is material. We have presented as a real postulate what is, in fact, only an appearance. Rationalism is founded on such false appearances and it has raised whole intellectual systems to understand and to explain the world on something which, though it is unquestionably of practical value, is, even more unquestionably, without any value for the purposes of knowledge. It has no meaning for the Intelligence, no reality, in the categorical sense in which the word ‘reality’ must be understood.

The rationalist construction is, of itself , perfectly unreasonable and is no more than a simple mirage, a product of the subjective imagination. It must, necessarily, vanish under the shocks it receives from its own means of investigation - those that are based on the analytical method. Rationalism was obliged, necessarily, to try to resolve the problems of movement which, at a practical level, were posed through questions relating to different sort of speed. It measured and calculated these different sorts of speed and, in so doing, it had to treat the nature of movement as if it were an extension in space; hence the total lack of intelligence as to the real nature of this movement, which is, precisely, intelligible, even though it is nowhere.

It is, indeed, the intelligence of movement which is the reasonable base, the only base, for that reality which is action and which is, consequently, the support for all knowledge. Only, if we recognise this true reality, what becomes of the pretensions of science? What do its measures and its calculations represent? Illusions, which have lasted for a certain time but which go up in smoke, leaving behind them only bitter memories. This science seemed to have been justified by and reinforced by certain inventions of a practical nature, whether they had, in fact, been realised with its help or without it. But such inventions, and such practical applications, no matter how astonishing they may be, still belong only to that same feeling of reality that enables us to say ‘I am’. A reality which is relative but still sufficient to enable us to take account of the place in which we find ourselves. It tells us nothing about the more profound, more mysterious reality of Nature-in-itself.

Whether we like it or not, we are obliged to come back to movement ‘which cannot be measured by any sort of calculation’ as Einstein has informed us. A declaration which has nothing abut it which is irrational, which indeed, this time, is truly reasonable, which has escaped out of the consciousness of the rationalist, which is to say, in the last analysis, of the Humanist. We have no need, if we want to understand the Universe, the meaning and direction of life, to turn towards calculation or measurement, nor to the observations that can be made in a laboratory. We must turn, rather, to the Intelligence, Intelligence which is quite distinct from intellectualism and which has been hopelessly compromised by the abuses of rationalism. If we could, once again, orientate knowledge in the direction of movement, the result would be a state of mind that is living, that would bring each individual man back to life, putting him once again into activity - a manual activity for the great majority, an intellectual activity for a minority should their natural faculties incline them in that direction. 

When the painter passes from translation to rotation, he is, clearly, passing from rest to movement.  We should, therefore, understand these periods in cadence for what they are, steps on a way, and should let our eyes move, follow the furrow they have ploughed, become, by degrees, conscious of the overall design, of what is, in the last analysis, the flow of the song which the man-become-painter sings.  For it is, essentially, in rotation that 'the musical and arabesque aspect that is nothing for many people', as Delacroix put it, - 'the melody and the counterpoint', as Baudelaire wrote so well - is to be found.  Rotation - through the activity of an eye which has been restored to its living prerogatives and which is no longer distorted by fixed perspective and by the naturalistic images which it implies - is the principle agent of objective painting.  It is on the basis of rotation, and of that alone, that the change can take place which many young painters wish when they 'banish the subject', without having any clear idea of what can replace it.  

How tenacious is habit, and how difficult it is to turn our intentions into realities!  It is only too obvious when we look at the works and read the declarations that accompany them.  Imprisoned ever since the Renaissance, in a space which is peopled with figures, the painters are unable to free themselves.  They do not even seek to escape.  It is space which holds their attention, which keeps them back, to which they claim they have added unheard of properties, filling it up with curves, with triangles, with flat structures evoking, moreover, obscure metaphysical intuitions or manifestations of the subconscious.  Are these 'new realities'?  They are, rather, the leftovers of a Naturalism which they condemn but from which they cannot disentangle themselves.  

It is, however, a very simple thing to understand that it is time, mobility, that must be integrated once again into the painted work.  That is what is important, that is what can change passivity, characteristic of space, into poetic activity.  It is equally simple to see the marks of this time, of this mobility, rotation, merely by paying a little attention to the buzzing of the machines that surround us.  I have no affection for them, but that does not prevent me from hearing them and from retaining, out of the stupidity of speed that they encourage and which is taking all before it, the useful lesson which can be learnt by anyone who has, again, become aware of the necessity of his own personal activity.  

It is this idea of movement, which Man has not yet managed to restore there where it is living, within himself, that is forced upon our attention by the machine.  Apart from the Italian Futurists, who tried, unsuccessfully, to inscribe it in their pictures, we have to admit that none of the painters who claim to be attached to industrialism have shown any sign that they have noticed the one and only idea that should have been grasped - the idea of movement, whose existence was proclaimed through the rotation of the motors, the turbines, wheels of all sorts, production belts, propellors etc. etc..  Of course, had they attempted it, they would have found themselves faced with a thousand problems that would have to be resolved before this movement could be adapted to painting, reduced as it has been by Humanism  to being no more than a static and, consequently, spatial, expression.  But facile conformism won the day, and our painters of industrial agitation were content with the imperfect, frozen portrayal of machines and of their operators, reduced to the level of Punch and Judy silhouettes.  The Renaissance subject was given a new, much less demanding, lease of life, but the object, which is embodied in the machine in action, went unnoticed.  

The simplest and most instructive exercise for learning how to manage rotation - an exercise that, in fact, sums up the total object of the painting - is that which keeps closest to its principle.  It is undoubtedly at once the most direct and the most beautiful.  I shall try to explain it in a few words.  

Every object is centred, in equilibrium on the basis of its pivot and of its axis.  It is an indivisible organism.  We must be convinced of this if we do not wish to fall back into the naturalistic abstraction of the Renaissance, which takes no account of the nature of the surface of the canvas as the support, and limit, of the work to be done.  The plane surface of the canvas or wall is, first, given a tonality, the freely chosen mode of the basic light [ambiance lumineuse] that will condition everything that will follow after.  The spatial organism - the object in its reality as situated in a particular place - will develop, on this pivot and this axis, colour harmonies in translation parallel to the base provided by the canvas, and also in the inclination of the planes that prepare the way for the rotation.  

It is this plane organism, made up of elements which have been rendered supple through the play of straight lines and curves, that will enable us to introduce the complete, definitive rotation.  This, in turn, will be realised objectively by several concentric circumferences, quite close together, moving round the central harmonious arrangement of colours.  It is in these linear paths that the chromatic melody will unfold.  Of what does this melody consist?  Of a succession of coloured modulations which pass about the concentric rotative lines to support, complementing them, the colours of the colour harmony.  It is in this way that the static theme is developed into combinations of cadences, in time.  The colour harmony could, in a way, be said to have separated out into its parts, and these set up a counterpoint as they interweave one with the other, combining their particular melodies.  These melodic developments operate at once in order and in liberty - the feeling of the eye going beyond the rule and slowing the movement down or speeding it up, insisting on certain periods or passing over others, shepherding contrasts and oppositions of colours and values, balancing them in their continuous dynamism.  

Finally, when the melodic combinations have reached their fullness, when they have arrived at their limit, then they will attain the final object - the rhythm - which encloses in a single form, form-light, the lesser reality of the spatial harmony, and the intermediate reality of the lines of the melodies.  Here, rhythm is to be found in its greatest purity.  It is a grey line which wraps the whole in a circle and brings it to a conclusion, this grey being obtained strictly by a mixture of black and white, consequently without colour and responding symmetrically, so to speak, to the intensity of the starting point - the first tonality of the canvas/space, support for the different levels of reality of the work, that of the extensions at rest and that of the cadences which draw us into their movement.  This grey line is the intensity of ineffable light in the finished painting.  It is, so to speak, the single resonator on which the colours and their sinuous movements sound and sing to the joy of the eye looking at them, and of the soul.

Albert Gleizes: 
Earth and Sky, 1935
Oil on canvas, 136x136cm

You will notice (as I noticed it myself when, after many efforts in the dark, I came upon the right way of organising the three levels of objective reality, distinct one from the other, or brought together in the unity of light) the analogy, even the identity, which there is between this natural - not naturalistic - order, and the organisation of the mediaeval Christian sacred works, the models they follow and the principles they embody: Christ in Glory and Majesty; Virgin, also in Glory and Majesty.  I was struck by this all the more since I had never thought of these works with regard to my own, personal, researches and discoveries.  It was only after the event  that I saw the resemblance.  And that was a source of many very valuable reflections, and a proof that I had not gone astray, since, without wishing it, I had simply rediscovered an order of things which had once been known, as these works testified.  There is nothing new under the sun.  And I easily concluded from this that it had been the refusal of this order - in which, from the very start, nature is situated in man, as he is, in his body - that had led, through Humanist Naturalism,  to the total disintegration of the present day, when man, an active being, understood in his reality as a process of growth, has been replaced by an agitation of particles of dust.

Restoring the painter's craft, reformulating the laws of painting, those had been my ambitions, which, I believed, could be satisfied by engaging myself fully in the way that had been opened up by the first experiments of Cubism.  I did not shrink from the task and, by way of control, I often took a look over my neighbour's wall, convinced that, in spite of differences of expression, the end we were pursuing was the same - the more and more urgently required resurrection of Man.  But this resurrection could take place only by way of the seed, not by the way of matter, reduced to ashes.  The seed - which is all activity, the true source of energy, and not at all something that has been left over after a long period of analysis, something to which, intellectually, we attribute properties it does not possess, properties that are only hypotheses and subjectivities.  

For the painter, who must testify to this germination of Man through his own, living, activity, it has become categorically necessary to flee the naturalistic subject.  But its 'abolition', which we see more or less everywhere in the world at the present time, is not something that should be undertaken lightly.  It corresponds to a deeply rooted intuitive sense of the direction life is taking, at a moment when the proofs of the death of a civilisation are there to dazzle the eyes of even the least perceptive.  Let this intuition, then, become a reality!  To banish the subject is fine, to set to work to build the object is better.  But do not go heading off in the wrong direction.  Go towards yourself, towards the man that you are, with reawakened senses that have, once again, been put to work, well ordered in their reciprocal relations, well led by the faculties that are involved in all these efforts.  And, finally, you may ask yourself if the presence of the reality of Man is not affirmed better through self-mastery, through a work that is accomplished, ceaselessly renewed and perfected, than it is through subterfuges which are only a means of refusing to face the problem, subjective subterfuges which do not fool anyone, even yourself, and which leave behind them nothing but bitterness and disappointment.  

This 'abolition of the subject'  will only be justified if we do not deprive 'the object'  of its nature and laws - a nature that is simple and laws that are few, accessible to all those who have enough courage and independence of spirit to admit their existence and to learn their secrets.  Painting is painting, a craft like any other, out of which it is possible to produce masterpieces without even being aware of the fact.  All that is needed is to love it truly and to be very severe with oneself; and then to set oneself to doing what it is that one does well, without being carried away by the concoctions of the intellectuals, things to say, which, insidiously, turn the object in the direction of the subject.  The reason that lies behind painting is to sing light, and nothing else.  The song is Man, and there are a thousand ways of singing.  I confess I can find no place in it for a house, or a tree, for a naked woman or a horse, but all is open to colours that are formed, harmonised and melodic, realities of my eyes for the joy or sadness of my heart or of my soul.  Measure, cadence and rhythm follow each other happily, and I possess them truly, there where they are, when I wish, without having to look, for the work I am doing, in appearances which have no connection with it - other than that of the fact of being based on similar principles.  Appearances which can only lead me into error with regard to the object which I must, above all, serve.  

Let no-one attribute to me something that I haven't said.  I do not in any way advocate indifference to the appearances of the outside world.  Quite the contrary.  I have become an inveterate country-dweller, precisely because I am extremely sensitive to my surroundings.  I am like that redskin chief who was brought to visit New York and asked to give his reactions.  'The houses of men are so tall that we cannot see God's sky', he replied.  I do not like towns, and I have never liked them.  I feel, on the contrary, a perfect affinity with the country.  That is why I live there, tenaciously; not as a visitor, but as a real native, assuming all the duties of a peasant, those to do with cultivation and those to do with husbandry.  That attaches you solidly to existence and to its realities.  Every minute you can see objective, creative, naturing nature [la nature naturante], which cannot be explained by any amount of analysis.  You cannot imagine anything abstract entering into the problems which present themselves every day, problems to which correct solutions must be found.  These vital problems don't pussyfoot around the object.  They take it head on, directly, and hypotheses and intellectual representations crumble before its solidity.  

All that leads one to think, and to take oneself as the starting point for one's reflections.  I am therefore I think.  At the same time as this work with the soil, there is the overall frame - the landscape, the sky, the waters.  Can you escape them?  You are soaked in them like a sponge, and you become a reservoir of colours and nuances which have, one way or the other, to be restored to the world about you.  The painter, however thoroughly he might be turned towards the active reality of painting-painting, towards his true object, brings this process of impregnation to his work, without premeditation, without thinking about it, like something received as a shock that must, inevitably, rebound.  His colouring and his melody bear the characteristics of the surrounding world which are brought together and revealed in the synthesis.  

I noticed this fact with regard to certain of my own paintings when I saw them in an exhibition.  They evoked for me the atmosphere that is so distinctive of Provence, which was then so far away.  I saw it in the insistence of certain lines which belong to these paintings alone.  Without my knowing it (I was only concerned with the theme I had to develop), my measures, my cadences, and my rhythm, submitting to the charm of the coloured light stored up in my eyes, restored it in a way that at once resembled, and, at the same time, was very different from, its own identity.  I understood then that I could not have painted these pictures anywhere else; that, although they were perfectly objective, they were not, for all that, without an effective relation to the subject, by means of feeling, controlled by the rule.