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Now I come back to the history of Cubism which continued to grow like a hardy annual, outside the boutiques where impulses that were clearly, in their origins, impulses of the spirit, were being systematically perverted.

Artistic relations between France and Germany were renewed in January 1920 through an exhibition which I organised in Berlin at Herwarth Walden's Stürm gallery. It was the first time that Germans had a chance to appreciate the captivating work of the Polish painter living in Paris, Louis Marcoussis.

That same year, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, the Polish painter Leopold Survage, myself, and the Russian sculptor Archipenko, tried to revive the principle of the Salon de la Section d'Or of 1912 (19). An important exhibition was held in Paris, bringing together a collection of works which revealed that a complete process of transformation and renewal had taken place. It was impossible not to see in these obvious proofs the extent to which the idea as it developed had burst the bounds of the thin shell imposed by the word 'Cubism'.

(19) The exclusion of the Dadaists from this exhibition provided the occasion for the quarrel with Gleizes referred to in fn 6 above. 

Some months later, I published a little book - Du Cubisme et les Moyens de le Comprendre - in which I tried to outline the general principles, the simple and precise elements, on which all true painting must be based. This work is known in Germany since it was translated and an edition published by Stürm in Berlin.

Since then, Cubism has followed the line of evolution that is natural to it, asserting itself from one year to the next, protected by its own internal liveliness against all attempts to take it over, and progressing from the limited sphere of aesthetics to that of life itself, at the widest possible level of generality. For that is certainly what the end must be for all those timid efforts of 1911 which had the rare privilege of provoking the exasperation of the world about them - to restore to the work of art its place in the general, human world; to renew the pact with the rest of humanity that had been broken at the time of the Renaissance. And, while speculators in aesthetics wanted it to be understood as nothing more than an isolated accident, bigger capitalist interests gave them the lie, demonstrating that certain elements of Cubism could be used for the general purposes of commercial propaganda. I have no illusions as to the real nature of this recognition of the commercial strengths of Cubism - there was nothing about it that was in the least disinterested. It was only concerned with the needs of an even more exaggerated over-production. But it was based all the same on a true psychological insight, because its clientèle is the entire human race, with all its variety, its nuances, its many differing reactions. Necessity has obliged the larger-scale commercial interests to develop a great deal of perspicacity. And that is why they made no mistake concerning the real, underlying strengths of Cubism, about the universal nature of the means it had developed and, consequently, about the power which it was already capable of wielding over the crowd.



Large scale speculation - that is to say, large-scale commerce, production and consumption - approached Cubism. It proposed a collaboration. It must at once be said that it was only able to use the most superficial characteristics of the new Cubist works - works that could be seen in the Salons done by some of the old painters of 1911 who were showing more and more rarely, and also by some young painters who were continuing in the same line of development. It used great surfaces painted to emphasise their flatness, it syncopated continuous lines, it showed representational silhouettes done using a very angular style of drawing, the colour was an imitation of that of the Cubists. It never addressed itself directly to any of the true Cubist painters. It used commercial artists, industrial designers, poster painters. And so we began to see Cubist-style advertisements on the walls of our great cities, Cubist furnishing fabrics, dresses, all sorts of objects in the big shops, more and more simplified furnitures reduced to essential, stylised forms, whose exotic materials made a strange contrast to this apparent commitment to austerity.

It is in this over-hasty and crude application of Cubist means, which has its own importance in the history of Cubism, that I for one see a sign of what the future has in store. Cubism was the first stage in an evolution away from a painting that was essentially metaphysical (20) - reduced to the isolation of the easel painting, necessary consequence of the cast of mind that had been established at the time of the Renaissance - towards a physical painting, called upon to work in conjunction with architecture. This will be imposed by the cast of mind which is being prepared and which bears a strange resemblance to the Christian spirit, whose forms the Romantic scholars were the first to rediscover.

(20) In the 1920s Gleizes uses the words 'metaphysical' and 'physical' to signify more or less the meaning that he would later want to convey with the words subjective and objective. As far as painting is concerned, the appearances of the external world are metaphysical because they do not correspond to the order of reality of the painting itself. As early as Du "Cubisme" (1912), Gleizes has argued that we cannot know the external world, we can only know our 'sensations'. At the time of writing the present essay he was in close relations with the mathematician, Charles Henry who, taking this as axiomatic, regarded all scientific research which pretended to describe an external world independent of human sensations as metaphysical. Which is to say that, as used by Gleizes and by Henry, 'metaphysical' and 'physical' mean almost the opposite of what they are usually taken to mean. In the 1930s, Gleizes was to become interested in the thinking of René Guénon which claims to be 'metaphysical', using a different understanding of the word. Gleizes did not in general adopt the word in Guénon's understanding of it but he no longer uses it as he does here, in a derogatory sense.

The Cubism of 1911 had in effect begun a revaluation of the idea of form. It had, for that very reason, to begin with a revaluation of the idea of the picture. What prejudices there were in relation to this particular object! The habit of regarding the picture as a spontaneous production of the artist was so deeply ingrained, the artist appeared to be such an exceptional being, that it had become impossible to touch the one without touching the other. To renounce the picture as an aim was, all at once, to forget the artist, so that 'the picture-taboo' was at the same time a guarantee of immunity for the artist himself (21).

(21) I understand this passage as meaning that the artist's 'sensibility' was no longer on display and, consequently, the artist, in the process of being converted into an artisan doing a job of work according to certain criteria of an objective nature, was no longer obliged to take the attacks that were launched against his work 'personally'.



In Du "Cubisme", written in 1912, Jean Metzinger and myself tried to make a clear distinction between the picture and decorative painting. We could not at that time have understood that this distinction is determined by a change in the cast of mind of the whole, and so we did no more than to try to define the two terms and draw out the contrast that there is between them. It goes without saying that we declared the picture to be superior. The subsequent development of Cubism was to lead us ever deeper into what we had then thought was a cul de sac.

Cubism, in the changes it went through, was to show us that the nature of the picture and the nature of decorative painting are no more dependent on our personal opinions than they are on our personal tastes. Neither Chardin nor Cimabue could have thought of making a choice between them. The cast of mind of the world in which they lived imposed the picture on Chardin and decorative painting on Cimabue. Who would dare to say, simply on the basis of their pictorial quality, that one of them is worth less than the other? The cast of mind of the world about them and that alone explains these particular ways in which painting appears, and renders one or other of the two options impossible. Only intermediate ages such as our own imagine that they have any choice in the matter - but that is only an illusion since, all the time, the pressure is mounting, pushing us, despite all our hesitations and our distaste, in whichever direction corresponds to the needs of the life of the age.

Painting is always subject to and determined by the needs of architecture. Architecture is the exact expression of the cast of mind of the age. It is by studying architecture that we can trace the evolution of a human cycle and understand its biological constants. Since nothing in the social organism ever disappears but everything is in continual change according to where it is placed in the cycle of its growth, we can say that, when the esemplastic consciousness of the surrounding world is determined by architecture, then painting, consciously subject to it, is decorative. By contrast, when architecture begins to decline, indicating a decline in the esemplastic power of the world as a whole, painting, by a process of repercussion, breaking free from the order that is collapsing, delivered up to its own devices, becomes the picture.

Similar changes take place in the fields of dance, music, poetry, literature taken as a whole, sculpture and, in the art of furniture, using the term in its widest possible sense. We can see it at work in the Christian cycle just as we can throughout the whole history of the numerous cycles that are known to us. The Renaissance marked a decisive moment in the separation of two casts of mind corresponding to two essential periods of life: the one had risen from birth to adulthood, the other was to descend from adulthood to death - the first was organic, the second was destined to become disorganised and disarticulated through the illusion that liberty was being accorded to each of its individual parts.

It is easy, in the world of humanity at the present time, to see the signs of that organic incoherence which is the prelude to the end that all ageing biological systems have to undergo. But with some small degree of perspicacity, it is also possible to see a tendency towards coherence, which could be the sign that a new social reorganisation is taking place. In that field of human activity which has given birth to Cubism, I see definite signs of the renewal of what used to be called 'great decorative painting'. A productive activity undertaken for reasons that were merely aesthetic is beginning once again to discover those technical means which are the indispensable precondition for a real esemplastic act. Descriptive painting is beginning to give way to the living wall.

Not many painters could continue in this almost unbearable situation in which the spirit of generalisation was struggling with the spirit of particularity - a particularity which attributed a quite ridiculous degree of importance to the individual. A reaction set in which included painters who, while still trying to attract as much publicity to themselves as possible, disappeared entirely into the obscurity of a private code (22). But it also included certain painters who had started out as Cubists but who, unable to break free of an old prejudice, fell back (are they aware of the fact?) into the state of indecision that characterised the work of Cézanne.

(22) Gleizes may be thinking of Marcel Duchamp, whom he knew very well. They had been together in New York, where Duchamp's development had worried him deeply.

But what is there that is so terrible about decorative painting? Is it because its freedom is ordered, because it has a structure? And, as a result, is the individual who is so taken with himself, afraid that he will be shown up clearly, in the full light of day? The chief characteristic of decorative painting is, of course, the very great quantity of means that are developed as a direct result of the technique employed. The plastic results are determined by the technique. As we can see straightaway, it is not a matter of describing, nor is it a matter of abstracting from, anything that is external to itself. There is a concrete act that has to be realised, a reality to be produced - of the same order as that which everyone is prepared to recognise in music, at the lowest level of the esemplastic scale, and in architecture, at the highest (23). Like any natural, physical reality, painting, understood in this way, will touch anyone who knows how to enter into it, not through their opinions on something that exists independently of it, but through its own existence, through those inter-relations, constantly in movement, which enable us to transmit life itself.

(23) The hierarchy of esemplastic acts is a main theme of the theoretical Essai de Généralisation which Gleizes intended should accompany the present essay when it was published by the Bauhaus. The argument is not so much based on the relative worth of the different arts as on a theory of vibrations, very close to the thinking of Charles Henry. 

The picture is something quite different. It is based on a pre-determined theme and its technical means are, therefore, necessarily, distorted. They are adapted to the needs of a reproduction, accessible to the senses, of events that have their own plastic nature and existence somewhere else, and that are quite foreign to it. Only very sparingly can it permit the development of new means, and only in the confusion imposed by individual opinions - so the picture is quickly lost in the formlessness of the descriptive element, because it has never itself been plastic, or esemplastic, in the true sense of the word. In these conditions - the conditions of its complete decadence - it can only appear to be acceptable if the value of individual opinions is affirmed to be absolute, without qualification. The day on which the painter justified himself by his exceptional way of seeing things was the day on which the picture lost its general significance. Under the pressure of the deformations to which it was subjected, and which were becoming ever more eccentric and surprising, it began to drift insensibly into the most abstruse metaphysics. If you want to be convinced you only have to look at the transformations the picture has undergone between the Renaissance and the present day - from Michelangelo, who blows it up out of all proportions to put it on a wall, to Braque and Picasso, who confine it in a narrow frame. We can see the description, what man can see through the windows of his eyes, expressed first of all through a generally agreed convention based on the normal way in which things are perceived. We can then see how it is deformed into a perception that is individual, an appreciation that exists independently of any common measures by which it could be disciplined - in a word, an abstraction (24).

(24) As Gleizes said in a letter to Robert Pouyaud, written in 1926: 'A table is as concrete as a horse; but the tablemaker starts from principles that can also be found in the structure of the horse. The painter who starts from the horse to make an image of it, to reproduce it, has no principle. I would go so far as to say that he starts from the concrete (the horse) to arrive at the abstract (the image of the horse); while the tablemaker starts from the abstract (the principle of equilibrium, of movement, the relations of each part to the other) to arrive at the concrete. Oh, words! ...'