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The hieratic image

Here, then, are three modes of expression for objective painting; three modes that are particularly suited to it.  There is, first, the pure work which makes no appeal to the memory through image or story.  Then there is the work that freely and, as it were, by chance, evokes hints of images through the interweaving of melodic lines.  Finally, there is the work in which a given iconographical image has been deliberately aimed at.  In these two latter cases there can be no question of a deformation of classical drawing.  On the contrary, it is the formation, by means of signs with an objective value, of a propensity human nature has for analogy; whether it appears unconsciously and is respected, or whether it is sought through subtle combinations with a view to satisfying a willed intention, to convey a given episode or a precise symbol.  

The shape of the image, by virtue of being born from melodic structures and movements, takes on a particular character, very different from that of the classical image, subjected as it is to the imitation of sensible appearances and determined by the desire to evoke illusions based on the study of anatomy.  The new image, by contrast, is, really, of the nature of painting as painting itself.  There is no distinction that can be established between what it is and what it may appear to be when seen from any particular point of view.  Sérusier saw the need for this reversal of the idea of the image.  Feeling the insufficiency of the stylisation of the classical image which he was, himself, trying to achieve, did he not , one day, say to Maurice Denis: 'Yes, you are right.  Art must be hieratic.'?  It is indeed a hieratic shape which is born from this germination of melodic lines, a traditional, spiritual shape that may recall a condition that is inferior, but which enables it to free itself through being raised up towards Form, towards Unity, the Universal, the one that turns.

Albert Gleizes: Christ in Glory, 1943
Oil on canvas, 288x200cm


There is, nowadays, a tendency, in the disarray in which the world is plunged, to demand that painting, among other things, find the means of its rejuvenation not just in the drawing of children - which is, as I have indicated earlier, a patent error - but in the representations of epochs that are called 'archaic', which is another mistake, all the more serious because here one is taking the effect for the cause itself.  So we see excellent painters with a tormented mind, using these works to extract from them variations on their superficial appearances which have nothing to do with the state of mind that brought them into existence and gave them their real character.  I will confine myself here to pointing out that these works, whatever they are and from wherever they come, are traditional expressions of the religious spirit, which is, essentially, ontological and which, consequently, acts by a process of germination, understanding nature as a perpetual creation; nature which, for each of us, is seated in ourselves, and which we must know - Ars imitatur naturam in sua operatione  - if it is to be really manifested in our works.  This is the principle to which the 'archaic arts' bear witness and of which we are ignorant, because archaeology is a profane science, marked by the tares of Humanism.  

So, to see only the external appearance of these works and to travesty it by deforming it is a real nonsense.  What is legitimate is, first, to rediscover the laws of the object, and then, as I have stressed, to suggest the presence of the image, more or less intentionally.  In this way it becomes a sign or symbol, and has no pretension to act as a substitute for the plastic organisation of the painting.  

The painting-object also has modes of expression other than those which remain faithful to the limitations of the classical picture.  I am thinking here of ways of applying it, of the practical purpose that the work is to serve.  Nothing seems to me to be more lacking in judgment than a desire to keep the expansion of painting, once it has been freed from the subject, confined within the limit imposed by the 'picture'.  First of all, given that we owe the picture as it is in its present form to the classical method, we are not showing very much sense of initiative when all we can do with our painting is to increase the ever widening gap that there is between architecture on the one hand and aesthetics on the other - between the people considered as a whole, organised hierarchically, and that particular category of men of good taste who seem at present to enjoy a monopoly with regard to serious concern for works of art.  

The picture corresponds exactly to the dimensions of the subject as it is whittled away.  In the  mind of the subject, it is a spectacle looked at through a fictitious window broken into the wall.  I wish that we would become aware of this and, if we are obliged by the circumstances of the moment, to make use of its form and its dimensions, I wish that we would resist the blind infatuation we seem to have with regard to it and which makes us condemn what is, by contrast, the true support for objective painting, the wall - a wall which requires considerable expertise and which, of itself, is able to restore the painted work to its proper place in relation to what surrounds it.