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2. Drawing and colour

The second aspect of the painter's craft involves the question of how the painter's materials are to be used with a view to realising his work - the coming together of the drawing and of the colour.  The work understood as objective painting not as a subjective expression, as painting-object, not subject-painting.  Drawing does not have the same meaning in relation to the reality of the object as it does when it is a question of creating the illusory appearance of a subject.  The principles are different and they are opposed to each other.  I will come back to this with a view to making it as clear as possible and to getting rid of any equivocations.  There are plenty of them.  The most serious and dangerous of them, it seems to me, is the conviction that the qualities of the object can be realised simply by deforming, or torturing, the ordinary, classical, representational style of drawing.  The pretext that is offered is the defence of our sensibility and, of course, the 'human' value of the painting.  You can see the flaw in the argument.  The quality of 'humanity' is placed in the external image of a man as reflected in a mirror.  The man's own song, or his act, is not to be regarded as 'human'.

In order to be effective, the practical means that are proposed in this approach would require the establishment of a common ground between two elements that are wholly contradictory: the one corresponding to the object, which has the possibility of growth - the other corresponding to the subject, which is, at present, withering away.  The one rising, the other falling.  But a common ground of this kind is incompatible with the two ways in which the operation of the sight can be understood - passively receptive, or active, and formative.  At least, so long as we ask from the eye something more than just a series of perceptions, so long as we are not satisfied with being immobilised by our points of view.  It is in vain that we break up and torture the images of these points of view.  We will never arrive by this means at the kind of drawing that corresponds to the needs of the active vision.  We can intellectualise these formulae, these inert silhouettes, as much as we like.  They will give us no more than what they are - appearances.  Look, in these operations of the disintegration of the image, for the capacity of the sight to generate form, but you will never find it.  All you have is a perception, which you are trying to dismantle, and it will draw you ever further away from the object, from yourself, from your own capacity to put the form into action through the real action of sight.

Rather than indulging in the distortion of the classical image, it would be better straightforwardly to take up perspective, which, if it does not attain to form, is at least based on something that is, truly, an operation of the eye.  Faithfulness to the perspective mechanism will prevent you from falling into an arbitrary formula - one which can satisfy neither the subject nor the object and in which the principles of the academy are only very barely concealed. To respect perspective is to respect classical drawing and the masters who were able to use it to produce great works.  You keep control, to the benefit of yourself and of other people.  There is an advantage for each.  Even if you have understood what objective drawing is and are capable of using its resources to produce the painting-object, I think that exercises for the eye and for the hand, executed carefully, following the classical way, can only be helpful.  I recommend them to those who would think of asking for my advice, and I insist on warning them against the superstition that rejoices in all these different sorts of deformations.  It seems to me to be really indecent with regard to the great masters.  These masters were perfectly well able to bear witness to their sensibility and to their personality without having to resort to this sort of subterfuge.  Wasn't it they who said: 'Without knowledge, art is nothing;

There is a great deal to be gained from drawing in the classical manner.  From the rapid sketch to the drawing that has been studied, thought about, realised, there is a wide range of possibilities offered to the faithful student - the student who does not mistake the errors made by his eye or by his hand for the virtues of his sensibility, or his ignorance of the principles of his art for the manifestation of his personality.  He will find in classical drawing a means by which his eye and his hand can learn to work together, the strength of his will can be affirmed, and his line purified. He will learn, without any intrusion of intellectual  ideas, simply by feeling, what proportions are good and harmonious, how line can be organised into cadences, what symmetry is, what are the circumstances in which it is suitable, and what, in other circumstances, should replace it.  He will appreciate the quality of the choices that can be made through all the numerous complications that spectacles seen in perspective can offer.  He will arrange his compositions with a view to affirming and to maintaining the domination of this choice, using no other guide than his own taste, which will improve through constant interaction with his own self-criticism.  Finally, he will even be able to make some use of the values that belong to the nature of the object, which will enable him to assign everything to its proper place and, most importantly, to take up a position in relation to, and to understand, the nature of his preferences.  Through these exercises - understood precisely as exercises and not as an end in themselves - he will learn that real sensibility lies in the mastery of himself and not in the indulgence of his imperfections; that a hand that trembles, or an eye that sees things askew, are not signs of talent; that personality is something more than a mere hankering after originality.  It is, on the contrary, the sign of his whole being.  It marks with its own image and resemblance - without it being necessary even to think about it - the work of the head, of the heart and of the hands.  

All that having been said, these exercises - which are certainly good in themselves, and which ought to be practised all the time - must not be allowed to obscure the critical faculty to such an extent that it loses sight of the object of the painter's desire: painting, which is quite another matter, and which has nothing to do with perspective and its descriptive character.  Perspective is confined to the realm of the subject, and the subject can only react.  We must not be afraid of repeating that it is precisely the reduction of man to this state of slavery that is at the very basis of Humanism.  The painting of the Renaissance put the materials of the object at the disposal of the subject which is incapable of envisaging anything other than itself.  The naturalism of the spectacle became ever more alien to the nature that acts, that is capable of creating forms;  the spectacles seen by the eye were increasingly diminished, they became increasingly intellectual in nature, and sight was to have no function other than merely to record their existence.

The painters are now turning away from this intellectual aberration, which has reached the end of its course.  Painting is now, once again, trying to find the way of Man.  The painters who wish to achieve it are many.  It is in the technical aspect of their craft that they can find the living means by which they can reach their goal, so long as they turn towards themselves determinedly, to become conscious of the origins and conditions of the work that is to be realised.  It is not by trusting to luck, by covering the canvas with cabbalistic signs that have no significance other than that of a personal opinion, in throwing paint around in a more or less competent manner; it is not by these means that they can renounce the subject in favour of the object.  It is by co-ordinating sight - spherical in nature - with the plane of the surface which is to be painted.  And that is already sufficient to persuade us that, plastically, painting, if it is to be considered in its nature as an object, is flat.  Sight does not at all contradict itself merely by changing its position; it remains itself.  The impression of deformation which is conveyed by perspective is not part of its nature; it is as external to sight as it is to those objects that the perspective seems to deform.  I cannot think that there will be any disagreement about that.  Sight does not deform things when it is allowed to act naturally.  On the contrary.  It is by sight that the form is formed.  

The two operations which we have already mentioned - translation and rotation - are its natural attributes.  Translation, in its principle, establishes the position of the different proportions and endows them with variety, but, no matter what position or what proportion it may adopt, it does not change their formal nature.  Rotation is, specifically, the action of sight - its more or less rapid movement, given a direction but not situated in a precise location.  It is generated by a circular displacement, whose axis it shares with the translation.  Hence the need to know that every form is centred, and that it is limited.  The practical technique of the painting-object is to be found in these two properties of sight.  It is no longer under the false domination of perspective; it rejoins the eye in its real capacity, which creates a plastic reality out of its own, exact nature.  The painter who wants to do away with the subject must advance towards an understanding of his own eyes.  That seems to me to be an indispensable and irreducible necessity.  If anyone should question it, then I admit that I am no longer capable of understanding anything - or that I understand only too well, which amounts to the same thing.  

Since painting cannot exist independently of sight, an understanding of sight is, clearly, the first thing that we have to acquire.  Then it becomes a matter of embodying the laws of sight in the work that is determined by them.  It is thus that painting can become a real object, instead of serving ends to which it can never be anything more than an accessory.  Hence, the practical technique of painting, which is very simple, because it can be summed up as the application to the plane of the canvas, or of the wall, of translation and rotation, properties of the eye.  

A moment ago, I recommended classical drawing, based on perspective, as an exercise, but, since we must always start with the elementary means of any technique, it is clear that the beginner, the apprentice, must, before anything else, be taught how to draw lines - straight lines and curves.  That seems to be nothing, but it is, nonetheless, the ABC of drawing.  Of course, it is not the usual practice nowadays.  Nowadays, we rely on gifts, inspiration, inventions, on 'something to say', and we are no longer aware that the painter, above all, is charged with 'something to do'.  In the past, these rudiments of the craft were learned, without any discussion, through the system of apprenticeship.  It occurred quite naturally.  Now that the craft is scorned and regarded as nothing more than an old wives' tale - when those who are going to be the painters of the future can think only of demonstrating their own originality, when art colleges are considered to be a progress from the workshop, when the painters come to their art late in life with their opinions already formed from following a set course of academic studies, when they no longer have masters for their guides - then the ABC of the craft is completely set aside.  Merely to mention it is to cause raised eyebrows.  

But drawing is like writing; and just as, if he wants to learn how to write, the pupil must start on a diet of straight lines ['des batons'] and circles ['des O'], the same must be done by the person who wishes to draw.  The suppleness of the hand and the co-ordination of hand and eye - those are the prerequisites of drawing. (9)  They even provide a useful means of judging our sensibility and our critical sense.  If an apprentice, lifting his hand up from the paper, traces a line wanting it to be straight and vertical, but ends up with a line that is wandering and bent, he has shown that he is master neither of his eye nor of his hand.  It cannot be blamed in a beginner.  But, still, he can hardly be expected to improve if we shower him with compliments in the name of his sensibility and his personality.  And that is what seems to be done these days.

(9) Throughout the objective, traditional, ontological epochs, active being and its activity was assured by the co-ordination of its gestures - gesta, the totality of the physiological acts of the body or of a part of the body. It is this co-ordination that is at the basis of the process by which the subject is formed so that it can be realised in the object. The subject learns to co-ordinate those gestures which, while he is doing nothing, exist within him only as potentialities. He learns to eat, to drink, to speak, to walk etc. When he knows them (to know, con-naître, naître avec, to be born with), he no longer thinks about them and, at that point, the gestures become automatic. But, I repeat, it is because he has learnt them. Every act, every action, is a gesture. From which we can understand why the Middle Ages, which were traditional and ontological, used the word ‘gestes’ in its ‘naturing’, objective meaning, as action that is worthy of remark, a heroic, epic poem. In the course of learning a craft, the apprentice learns how to co-ordinate his gestures. When he succeeds, he is a master, both of his art and of himself. Nowadays, we tend to prefer to gestures gesticulations; we see in them the signs of sensibility and of personality. It is an idea that escapes those of us who still have a little common sense.  

Seeing that the academic approach is a trap, which is perfectly true, we think to avoid it by asserting the rights of ignorance and fancy.  But this is still the academic approach protecting its essential state of mind.  To one formula without a soul, whose external appearance is therefore empty of any consequence, we counterpose another which is even more harmful, a formula which manages to corrupt even the external appearance.  The young man who is unable to draw the line he wishes to draw is treated with deference, as a draughtsman of great sensibility and personality.  And that is how, without meaning to, we are in the process of creating a generation of dupes and tricksters.  

The truth is very  different, and the future of drawing depends upon it.  That the young man should be clumsy at the start, nothing is more natural.  But he should at least be aware of the fact.  He should not be allowed to mistake his clumsiness for a proof of his temperament.  It is by submitting himself to criticism that he will be able to demonstrate the liberty of his temperament and of his sensibility.  And this will strengthen his longing to attain, through his work and through his will, perfection.  In direct opposition to the superstitions of our time, I believe that it is only on the day when the young draughtsman can draw a beautiful line, light or heavy, straight or curved, just as he wants it, that he will have shown that he is master of his sensibility, and that his hand is the devoted servant of his eye for the sake of joy and of the spirit.  A thousand linear exercises will then became possible and fruitful.  This 'harmony of lines ...  this musical and arabesque part', of which Delacroix speaks, 'which is recognised by few adepts, which for many people is nothing'  will be revealed to the novice in all its truth and beauty.  

The value of the line was known in the days when the real nature of painting was recognised, when it was not changed or denied for the sake of the parasitical subject.  So, if its expressive power was to be realised, the painter had to be able to draw it deliberately, and to oblige it to follow the course that was desired.  We know what mastery of this sort was able to produce in the West, not just in painting, but also in sculpture - Irish manuscripts, Merovingian and Carolingian interlacings - in the period that we call 'Romanesque'.  Nor was it despised by Da Vinci or by Michelangelo at the time of the Renaissance.  They, indeed, have left us with studies of interlacings and of arabesques which should be a cause for serious reflection on the part of our young painters, who are too inclined to see in such interlacing and arabesques only a series of decorative games, with the result that, since they have been very much frightened by the word 'decorative' - whose exact meaning, 'decere', that which is fitting, escapes them - most of them will never know what there is to be gained by being able to appreciate the very great depth of knowledge that such studies required. Still less will they understand their mobile nature, a mobility that draws the living eye up to the heights of the soul.   

Illustration from Albert Gleizes: Homocentrisme, 1937. The caption reads: 'Michelangelo. Curves of cadences because of a traditional habit, on an expression which which does not rise any higher than the shape of the man as received by the senses.'

For painters who have outlawed the subject, - which, whatever they themselves may think, means affirming the primacy of painting - the study of the line is of capital importance, for that is the melodic aspect of the work, the formal element par excellence, which is to be realised in rhythm.  So, the painter must not allow any confusion between what is - whether it is static, or whether it is disturbed in some way or another - merely a contour, and what is of the nature of the mobile flexibility of line, which corresponds to the vibrant nature of the eye.  

If all that, for many people, is nothing, there are still a few who have been able to see it; and what that few lack in quantity, they make up in quality.  So, Goethe, for example, has written: 'a beautiful line is the manifestation of a truth that is hidden and whose existence would otherwise never have been suspected'  We know the story of Apelles.  Apelles visited Protogenes one day and, finding him out, indicated that he had been there, simply by drawing a line on a panel.  When Protogenes returned, he saw the line and said: 'Apelles has been here.'  In his turn, he drew, very close to Apelles' line, a line that was more subtle.  Several days later, Apelles came back to see his friend, but he had no better success than he had had the first time, since the other, once again, was not at home.  Seeing, on the panel, Protogenes' reply to the line he had drawn, Apelles drew another line between the two initial ones, still finer, more controlled, more subtle.  In this tournament of mastery, it was Apelles who won.  Protogenes, coming back from his walk, saw that the painter had been there, and, seeing the line that he had been able to introduce, parallel to the other two, admitted defeat.  

Virtuosity, you will say, at the expense of sensibility.  Not at all.  Mastery of oneself, through the perfect co-ordination of the will, of the eye, and of the hand.  A unity that is indispensable for the combinations it allows which are valid according to the needs and principles of the object, and which will enable an infinite variety of appearances in the works that are to come.  Straight lines, and curved lines, skilfully divided in a linear structure, will also provide an exercise for the taste, for the young draughtsman's faculty of appreciation.  A beautiful line will seem to him to be more true than just any line, and that without having recourse to intellectual means, frigid calculations which involve those golden sections, the pre-packaged harmonies and proportions with which we have been stuffing the brains of our painters over these past years.  His own faculty of discernment will be sufficient to persuade him that, the more the experiment is repeated, the more it will improve.  I do not think we need to consult learned disquisitions before we can recognise that a well-formed body is beautiful, and a humped back unshapely.  Our own feelings will not allow us to be deceived, unless they have been perverted beyond repair.  Undoubtedly, they will assert themselves differently, become more and more critical, more prudent and reflective, they will make ever greater use of reason, based on experience, they will surround themselves with the conscience as with a wall, but they will remain at the source of everything and, as I have already said, the rules are only there to correct our mistakes.  Let us repeat that these linear exercises will enable us, through our feelings, to appreciate the intrinsic quality of line-for-its-own-sake, a quality to which most people, beginning with the painters themselves, seem to be quite insensible.

Once he has acquired these initial technical abilities, the painter will be able to make use of them in a way that will be interesting way, organic, corresponding to the more complex properties of the eye.  They will be embodied in the plane of the canvas, thanks to the drawing and to the colour which are, in reality, inseparable, though they must be separated here, for the moment, to enable us to study them.  A separation that is essentially more apparent than real since engaging in drawing without colour, for example, is only really a matter of using exclusively what is most general and most common among the colours when, at the lowest level of the scale of values, they all came together in more or less varied nuances of black.