The Causality of Form
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The poetics of Aristotle is dominated by the notion of what he called "imitation." What he himself understood by that word is not always clear (for instance, in the case of music), but there is no doubt that, in his own mind, art was essentially imitative and that the diversity of the fine arts was due to the diverse media to which they resorted in order to imitate. In all arts, the means used by artists consist of a form and of something that is informed by it. We have called that something a "matter." Some artists use language as a medium to be informed by their art, and the result is poetry. Others, such as painters, use color and form as means to imitate diverse things, and the result is painting (Poetics, I).
The same notions to which Aristotle resorts in describing the structure of works of art apply in his doctrine to the structure of natural beings. For instance, in his Metaphysics (V, 2, 1013a, 24) Aristotle lists, as the first one among the four natural causes, "that from which, as immanent material, a thing comes into being, e.g. the bronze is the cause of the statue and the silver of the saucer."1 As to the form, which is here described as the pattern (paradeigma), its notion is obviously derived from that of the models after which artists mold the matter of their work. The shape or figure of anything is inseparably tied up, in Aristotle's mind, with the notion of a typical scheme that, although individuated by accidents, remains one and the same in each species. The visible forms, or shapes, of natural beings simply express their essential natures in ways that, because what is being thus informed is matter, are perceptible to sense. The two processes of nature and of art are therefore, although distinct, yet analogous and even parallel. Looking for an illustration of the relation of matter to form in nature, Aristotle does not hesitate to say: "For instance, both the art of sculpture and the bronze are causes of the statue not in respect of anything else but qua statue; not, however, in the same way, but the one as matter and the other as source of the movement" (Metaphysics, V, 2, 1013b, 2-9).
This last remark is worthy of note. For, indeed, the art of the sculptor, which plays in works of art the same part as form plays in the work of nature, is here described as the cause of movement. More precisely, it is the cause of the movement that turns bronze into a statue. Now, when it is a question of natural beings, what is the cause of the movement that makes them to be? It is form, of course, but, this time, instead of being a form introduced into matter from without by the art of an artist, it is form as an inner cause of the movement whose ultimate term is the actual being of the natural thing. In traditional Aristotelian metaphysics, the name of such a form considered as working from within until matter is turned into a wholly formed being is "nature.2 And, indeed, Aristotelian nature is, before anything else, the very form considered as the cause of "the genesis of growing things" (Metaphysics, V, 4, 1014b, 16).
How is it that nature works consistently and coherently enough to account for the coming to be of beings answering a specific type? The answer is: because, just as it is an operating nature, form is the final cause of the genesis of the being whose form it is. In the same way as it is its principle, or beginning, the form of a natural being is what this being is striving to become and finally to be. In short, it is its end. Understood in the fullness of its meaning, the natural philosophy of Aristotle considers the good and the beautiful as the origin of the movements by which the noblest among things are brought forth. Nature chiefly works in view of goodness, art chiefly works in view of beauty, but goodness is beautiful and beauty is good. Such being the ultimate causes of all the generations that take place in Aristotle's universe, how could its Prime Mover be understood, if not as the prime and universal object of love that, directly or indirectly, all beings and all things desire?3
Thus understood, nature is a sort of immanent art. This traditional notion has lost much ground in the minds of our own contemporaries. Chiefly under the influence of idealism, there has been a growing tendency to sever art from nature and to set it up as a separate order whose interpretation requires other principles than those which apply to physical and biological reality. There was nothing wrong with stressing the specificity of art as distinct from nature. Especially under the form of phenomenology, which does not necessarily require the metaphysical presuppositions of idealism, recent research has accumulated useful information concerning the actual genesis of works of art. Yet, without denying the usefulness of such investigations, one may well wonder if the times are not ripe for a return to a more realistic attitude in such matters. It is not a question of identifying art with nature. As will be seen, these really are two distinct orders. But artists themselves are beings of nature, and it might prove profitable to consider their creativity as a particular instance of the general productivity of nature. At any rate, there is little to lose in attempting this approach to the function exercised by form in the genesis of paintings.
1. Form and Subject
Among the painters who have attempted to analyze their own activity, very few have failed to place at its origin, so to speak as its seed or germ, a confused feeling of some painting to be done. They do not agree on its name, or always on its description, but this is not surprising, because what they have in mind is in itself something fluid, still indeterminate, and more akin to becoming than to true being.
On the contrary, most of them would agree that, in normal cases, this feeling is embodied in a more or less vague and changing image, which arises on contact with reality and, as often as not, on the occasion of some sensation. This phenomenon is dominated by the creative imagination of the artist much more than by the perceived data of reality. Everybody has experienced the suggestive power of rhythmical noises: the wheels of a railway carriage running over rails, or the singsong of drops of water heard in the silence of a sleepless night, invite the auditive imagination to inform this raw material with a melodic line, sometimes even with the unifying continuity of verse and song. Most painters are likewise used to respond to the perception of the vaguest patterns perceived on any colored surface by the invention of fully constituted images, each of which is a sort of ready-made sketch provided by nature.
It does not take a painter to verify this fact. The mere sight of colored spots or of lines casually distributed on a plane surface, or perceived in three-dimensional space, is enough to evoke in most minds figures and scenes fit to be painted. Vasari's remarks concerning the almost pathological aptitude of Piero di Cosimo in this respect should not make us overlook the significance of the anecdote that he relates with some crudity: "He [Piero di Cosimo] stopped to examine a wall where sick persons had used to spit, imagining that he saw there combats of horses and the most fantastic cities and extraordinary landscapes ever beheld."4 To which Vasari presently adds: "He cherished the same fancies of clouds." Hence, perhaps, the uncanny ability of Piero di Cosimo (49) to create satyrs, fauns, and perfectly convincing monsters, conceived in beauty.
These remarks help us to understand that the origin of the creative process is not sensation itself, but, rather, the response of imagination to the stimuli of sense perceptions. This point should be carefully kept in mind because of its consequences concerning the ambiguous notion of "subject" in painting; for, indeed, these answers to sense perception given by the mind of the painter actually are, and will remain for us, the very subjects of his paintings.5 Here, however, let us first consider these answers in themselves, such as painters seem to understand them.
Paul Cezanne made such abundant use of the word "motive" (Fr. motif) that, after him, it became a technical term in writings devoted to the aesthetics of painting. In fact, it is not a badly chosen term. According to a usual definition, motive is "that within the individual, rather than without, which incites him to action" (Webster's). In the case of Cezanne, however, it must be noted that he always refused to isolate the internal image from the externally perceived object. To him, the "motive" was reality itself perceived as suggestive of a painting to be done; in other words, it was the confused feeling and image of this painting experienced by the painter in the very reality whose perception provoked it. We shall leave it to art critics to discuss the consequences of this symbiosis with respect to Cezanne himself. Rooted as it is in actually perceived reality, his art feeds on images endowed with the realness and intensity of sensations. Like the poet, the painter thus becomes a "visionary of reality." What is directly relevant to our own inquiry is the fact that, in the case of Cezanne, what other painters would call their subject finds itself reduced to the condition of motive—that is, not of a model to copy, but of an incentive to create a plastic substitute for reality.6
The same notion was implied in what Cezanne used to call his "little sensation"7—that is, his own personal way of experiencing a mental vision in, and as, a perceived reality. The same notion was involved in his oft-quoted announcement that, henceforth, the problem would be to do paintings according to a stylistic pattern, as Poussin had done, but to do them from nature.8 This organic complex of perception and vision is what Andre Lhote felicitously calls Cezanne's "hallucinations from nature." A few lines further, the same painter describes this experience as beginning "by forgetting all that has been done before, all that has been seen, and by wholly surrendering oneself to sensation. For indeed every object, if for one moment one renounces the knowledge one has of its form, of its color and of its matter, becomes a source of unexpected images which, captured in ecstasy, provide the poetic imagination of the spectator with an unprecedented springboard." This is the true meaning of the word "inspiration"—namely, those "crucial moments in which the painting to be done reveals itself" and in which the "everyday world vanishes to be replaced with a world exclusively composed of appearances, of phantoms."9
This description of the initial phase of artistic creation wholly agrees with what modern painters usually say about it. Not only Monet, the great master of impressionism, but also van Gogh and Cezanne used to begin with an actual perception of reality that put them directly in a state of "continuous ecstasy."10 Not, of course, a mystical ecstasy, but a state in which actually given reality is completely transfigured by the response it elicits from the mind. From now on, this response is the real subject that the painter will continually keep present in his mind.
But is there any reason to contrast modern painters with their classical predecessors on this point? Some modern artists feel justified in so doing because, while they themselves start from actual perception, or, as they say, "feeling," traditional painters used to start from some "idea," that is, from a definable "subject."
Assuredly, ideas, stories, definable subjects of every description, played, in traditional art, a much more important part than they do in modern painting, but there might well be an illusion in the belief that those earlier painters found their starting point in the stories told by their paintings, or in the "ideas" that their works now suggest to our own minds. We ourselves might well be mistaken in thinking that what is for us the subject of a painting while we are looking at it also was the subject present in the mind of the painter while he was doing it. Our own tentative answer to the problem would rather be that the anecdotes or events represented by traditional painters were just so many springboards for their imagination, similar to those which, nearer us—real landscapes, scenes, or objects—were for the creative imagination of Monet, Cezanne, and van Gogh. Many modern painters have lost contact with the historical and mythological worlds of classical antiquity as well as with the religious world of Scripture; they fail to realize the emotional power wielded by these venerable writings, and the force of their impact on the minds of such men as Giotto, Michelangelo, and Tintoretto.11 Before contrasting the traditional manner of painting with modern art on this point, it will not be amiss to examine what painters seem to have really done, from the time of Giotto to the last decade of the nineteenth century.
Let us first set apart the, on the whole, rather exceptional cases, in which painters have been expressly commissioned by sovereigns or governments to perpetuate by their works the memory of some historical event. For instance, when David was requested to paint The Coronation of Napoleon I, at which he was bodily present, the painter was not provided with a mere "motive," but with a ready-made subject. In fact, his work can be considered a historical document.
But this was a rather rare occurrence. When painters decided to paint certain mythological scenes, or to represent certain religious events, their real starting point was the creative image evoked in their minds by the literary description of such scenes or by their faith in such religious events. When he painted his Jupiter and Thetis, from a passage in Homer's Iliad, Ingres had certainly no intention of representing the true face and figure of Jupiter or of Thetis. What he was trying to achieve was the plastic construction of two figures, now in the Museum of Aix-en-Provence and so remarkably analyzed by Louis Gillet.12 In other words, for us onlookers, the subjects of such paintings are the mythological incidents they represent, but, to the painters themselves, the true subjects were the plastic forms these mythological anecdotes, or religious events, suggested to their imagination. For us, the thousands of paintings that represent the Nativity of Christ have one and the same subject; for the painter himself, his true subject always is his own personal way of representing the Nativity of Christ in the particular piece of work he is doing. The same historical subject can give rise to an infinite number of different pictorial subjects. The scenes depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are identically the same ones that have been depicted, before and after him, in so many different ways. Many more different renderings of the same scenes still remain possible. Such scenes are, for a creative artist, so many occasions to conceive pictorial subjects.
The same problem can be approached from the opposite direction. Just as one and the same anecdote can give rise to many different pictorial subjects, so also paintings that have practically the same pictorial subject can represent several different anecdotes. We have long lists of "subjects" culled by Delacroix himself from the literary works he used to read with the hope of finding incentives for his pictorial imagination. But who will believe that he ever felt interested in representing for their own sake such mythological subjects as The Education of Achilles, or such literary subjects as Ovid in Exile with the Scythes, or such historical incidents as The Execution of Doge Marino Faliero? Delacroix had never seen any of these events. To represent such incidents was not what he was interested in. Any anecdote acting as a motive and suggesting to his creative imagination the confused form of some possible painting was for him a good starting point. For instance, he would see richly dressed warriors on fiery horses surrounded with dejected figures scattered on the ground. This common visual scheme runs through The Massacre at Scio, The Battle of Taillebourg, The Taking of Constantinople by the Crusaders, The Justice of Trajan, and even The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple. Another group of paintings by Delacroix exhibits a similar unity: Dante and Virgil in the Infernal Regions, The Shipwreck of Don Juan, Christ on the Lake of Gennesaret (done seven times). In all these paintings, despite the variety of the titles and of the scenes described by the painter, the visual scheme is about the same oblong form of a boat tossed upon a heavy sea and carrying a group of frightened people. Incidentally, the common ancestor of this family of plastic forms probably was the famous painting by Gericault, (50-51) The Raft of the Medusa (Louvre), for which Delacroix always felt a warm admiration.13 True enough, there is a human element common to all these situations—namely, the conflict between the weakness of man and the overpowering forces of nature. Delacroix certainly included it in the subject of these works, but, in the last analysis, what lies at the origin of the paintings constituting such a group is a dynamic pattern of lines, figures, and forms that Delacroix was particularly fond of painting.
The same truth can be expressed in still another way. One has spoken of Delacroix's "literary sources," and, indeed, it is enough to read his Journal to know their names, but one may well wonder in what sense it is correct to use the word "source" in connection with a painter's reading. When we ourselves read Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, or Goethe, do we experience an irresistible urge to embody in a picture some of the events narrated by these writers? Unless we are painters, we do not. But painters do. Several different painters will go to different books for the source of their inspiration, or, if they open the same one, they will not necessarily find in the very same passages the subjects of their own works. His own pictorial imagination remains for every one of these artists the ultimate reason for his own choices. It is the painter who creates his own sources; he is their source, or, rather, in him their true source is his creative imagination.
There is a remarkable parallel between the long outdoor walks of Cezanne hunting for "motives" and the long readings of Delacroix hunting for "subjects." In both cases, all that the artist really needed was a sort of springboard for his creative power. In both cases, what he conceived at the contact of the things he saw, or read and imagined, was that in them which could be incorporated with the substance of a painting. Ingres was far from enjoying the imaginative powers of a Delacroix. He was less interested in inventing subjects than in stylizing his models.14 Yet, even in reality, he seems to have been haunted by a certain. type of feminine beauty exemplified by the series of his celebrated nudes, Bathing Woman (1807, Bayonne), Bathing Woman of Valpincon (1808, Louvre), and the Grande Odalisque (1814, Louvre). Each one of these paintings was just a nude, but when he chanced upon a letter of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu describing a Turkish bath, his plastic imagination caught fire. Ingres realized at once that many such nudes could be included within one and the same picture. Whence came the Bather, the Small Bathing Woman, Interior of a Harem (52a, b, 53a-b) (1828, Louvre), and, finally, the fantastic riot of Ingrian nudes that constitutes The Turkish Bath (1859, Louvre). If there ever was an instance of the "life of forms," this is one. We can follow it almost step by step from the chance reading of a letter by Ingres to its perfect and ultimate incarnation.15
These facts can hardly be denied, yet they leave the mind unsatisfied because what is here called a "subject" is not clearly defined. But, precisely, it cannot be. We cannot say what the subject of a work of art is in itself. While he is doing his work, even the artist himself does not know it yet, at least not with complete clarity. And this seems to be true of other arts than painting. In Pascal's own words, the last thing that one knows in writing a book is its title. What is true of the titles of books also applies to their subjects. The only definition of his subject that a creative writer can give is: that which now is the finished book. In the case of paintings, the subject is the initial plastic form that we now find embodied in the new being produced by the painter. In some cases, this form will express itself only once; in other cases, it is so full of vitality that it can embody itself in a chain of kindred works without sinking into self-repetition and exhausting its power; in all cases, the plastic form acts as a living germ whose inner potentialities cannot be wholly foreseen, even by the artist himself, until they actualize themselves in a completed painting.
In explaining these things, one feels divided between two opposite fears, either to make them sound more subtle than they are or, on the contrary, to make them look clearer than it is in their nature to be. A concrete example will perhaps help us to realize the import of these conclusions.
The Boston Museum owns a well-known painting done by Gauguin (54) in 1898 and about which we are fortunate in having commentaries by the artist himself. The art critic Andre Fontainas had written in the Mercure de France (January, 1899) an article on some paintings exhibited at the Vollard Gallery. Among these was the large Boston canvas, about which Fontainas observed that, although obviously symbolic, nothing in it would reveal the sense of the allegory if Gauguin himself had not given to his work this abstract title: Whence Do We Come? What Are We? Whither Are We Going? Here is, as it seems, a clear case of a painting whose subject can be explained by means of words.
In fact, it is not so. When, in March, 1899, Gauguin read Fontainas' article, he was in Tahiti, in extreme poverty, sick as usual and as systematically averse to answering criticisms as he had always been. Yet, this time, he felt a passionate urge to answer Fontainas, not indeed to justify himself, but because the meaning of his whole work was then at stake. A detailed commentary on this exceptional document would cover most of the problems connected with the art of painting, but we shall restrict ourselves to those of Gauguin's remarks which are relevant to our own problem.
Answering Fontainas, as much as he could by means of words, Gauguin straightway returns to the initial setting in which he had first conceived his work. There he is near his Tahiti hut, surrounded with deep silence, intoxicated with the fragrance of tropical nature, and experiencing a bittersweet delight shot through with the sacred awe that the proximity of primitive things and beings always inspires. Under the stimulus of this emotion, his mind begins to be haunted by confused images: violent harmonies of colors; animal figures of statuesque rigidity, with something ancient, august, religious in the rhythm of their attitude, in their uncanny immobility. In their dreamy eyes, the opaque surface of a baffling enigma. Night has come, everything is at rest: "My eyes close in order to see without understanding the dream, in the infinite space, that flies ahead of me, and I perceive the mournful procession of my hopes." In these lines, let us note that Gauguin himself has underscored the words: "to see without understanding." And, indeed, this is the whole point. As Gauguin presently adds: "My dream cannot possibly be grasped, it contains no allegory." Whereupon, availing himself of formulas applied by Mallarme to poetry, our painter specifies: "Because it is immaterial and superior, the essential in a work of art precisely consists in that which is not expressed: it implicitly follows from the lines, without colors or words, but it is not materially constituted by them."16 This is what inhabits the soul of the artist, "painting and dreaming at one and the same time, without having any distinctly graspable allegory at hand. This is perhaps due to some lack of literary education. When, the work now being completed, I awake, I say to myself, I say: Whence do we come? What are we? Whither are we going? A reflection that no longer is part and parcel of the canvas, but which is placed, in written words, wholly apart, on the surrounding wall that encompasses it, not as a title, but as a signature." Here again, let us note that the words, I say to myself, and I say, have been underscored by Gauguin himself. And not without good reason, since their exact meaning is that spoken or written language only begins after the painting is completed. "Emotion first, comprehension next." Once more, the true subject of a painting is given to us by the artist as something to be seen, and no wonder, since it is that part of the painting which could not possibly be expressed by means of words.17
This letter to Andre Fontainas (March, 1899) is remarkable for its lucidity, but it raises a complementary problem that the painter himself could not completely avoid. So long as paintings remain representational, nothing can prevent the onlooker from approaching them from what, to the painter himself, is their most external side. True enough, the artist can do much to prevent this misunderstanding. For instance, he can avoid painting classical symbols, whose meaning is known to all, and which turn paintings into so many rebuses. Gauguin reproaches Puvis de Chavannes, whom he admired so much, with resorting to that sort of conventional language and thus to "write" rather than to paint: "Puvis explains his idea, yes, but he does not paint it. He is a Greek, whereas I am a savage, a collarless wolf in the woods. Puvis will entitle a picture Purity, and then, in order to explain it, paint a young virgin holding a lily in her hand.—This is a known symbol; consequently it is understood. Under the title Purity, I [Gauguin] shall paint a landscape with limpid waters, unpolluted by civilized man, maybe a figure."18 All this is crystal-clear, but it does not wholly justify Gauguin's conclusion: "There is a whole world between Puvis and me." Is there a whole world between symbolizing purity by a pure girl and symbolizing it by pure waters? Probably the only reason onlookers would think of purity is that the word is written on the frame; otherwise, they would only see water, or a girl holding a lily, which are things very different from the abstract notion of purity. Above all, as long as there is a symbol, there must be a meaning. Thus, while it should have its own meaning in itself, a painted figure cannot become a symbol without pointing out something else—namely, the very thing it symbolizes. From this point of view, the difference between these two painters would reduce itself to this, that Gauguin cleverly keeps his public guessing, whereas Puvis de Chavannes sees no harm in using the most naively obvious symbols. But his reason for doing so probably is that, precisely, the symbol itself is of no importance; what really counts is the painting. While he was doing his Summer (55), now at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Puvis de Chavannes did not intend to depict the simple pleasures of a nudist colony in summertime. A representation of some harvesting scene, as in the Harvesters of Brueghel the Elder, at the Metropolitan Museum; or any one of the countless Pleasures of Summer, as in the panel by Boucher, in the Frick Collection; in short, practically any kind of illustration not incompatible with the title would have done just as well. Most of the time, the plastic form causes the picture, and, in turn, the picture causes the title. If, as happens in the case of a commission, the title comes first, it merely circumscribes an area of wide possibilities in which the artist remains wholly free to conceive a certain form and to embody it in the matter of a completely determined individual.
The words in which this truth is formulated are of no importance. For instance, one can say, as has been done, that every painting has a "double subject": one is the form embodied in the painting; the other is the painting itself read as a picture because, borrowing its elements from reality, it seems to represent it. Or else it can be said, with Maurice Denis, that every painting is a "symbol,"19 because what it seems to represent merely points out the plastic form, present in the mind of the painter, that has molded its matter into an actually existing reality. Whatever language we may choose to use, what matters is the clear realization of the fact that, as soon as it is seen as a describable picture, justifiable in the light of a title, the work of the painter has lost its true subject.
2. Germinal Forms and the Possibles
Since it is anterior to its own plastic incarnation, the form conceived by the painter cannot be described in itself; it is known by its effects only. Yet one could not speak about art without saying things about the initial form that is the origin of the whole creative process, and the way one speaks about it is not in itself a matter of indifference. Every time creative work is under discussion, it is important to remember that the starting point of the painter—that is, what he first has in mind—is a more or less fluid image, or, rather, a sort of moving scheme that is much less a model properly so called than the germ of the work to be. Unless he is a mere copyist of himself or of others, in which case no problem of creation arises, a painter cannot distinctly know what he is doing until his work has been completed. To "put the last touch to a painting" is much more than the description of an act; it expresses, in the painter's mind, the end of a period of uncertainty that is coextensive with the duration of his work.
This does not mean that artistic creation is an unconscious process, or that the intellect is not necessarily required in order to conduct it. The only point at stake is that the knowledge that an artist has of his future work little resembles the determinate knowledge we have of already given objects. Rather, knowledge accompanies the progression of the work of art, throwing a feeble light on the path ahead of the painter and offering him possible answers to many problems he has to solve. Even in the Timaeus of Plato, when the Demiurge is working with his eyes fixed on the Ideas, there is at least one Idea that he himself has to conceive—namely, the form of his own work.20
This is so true that one may well wonder if, in the case of painters, the best word to use in order to point out their starting point is "intuition." Taken in its primitive meaning, "intuition" signifies the same thing as "sight." True enough, philosophers have restricted it to mean "immediate apprehension or cognition; the power of knowing or the knowledge obtained without recourse to inference or reasoning; insight; familiarly, a quick or ready apprehension" (Webster's). Now, precisely, even if the "little perception" of Cezanne, or the ecstatic perception of Lhote, can rightly be called an intuition, it is still very far from representing the completed work as it is going to be. To the extent that an Idea is a pre-existing pattern of a certain thing to be made, painters have real ideas. The execution of their work is not preceded by its perfect precognition in their mind. This is an important difference between the art of God and the art of man.21
The reason some aestheticians place the starting point of a painter's activity in some sort of intuition is their tendency to reduce all problems to terms of knowledge and speculation. And, indeed, where there is no mind, there is no art, but because it is production, not speculation, art does not start from cognition alone, but also from action. Art itself does not necessarily require the actual exercising of a will. Idle artists are by no means a rarity. Sometimes because they need time to permit the ripening of an idea, sometimes for psychological or physiological reasons foreign to art, artists fully equipped with all the tools needed for the production of works of art simply do not feel like working. If no men had the will to paint, there would be no paintings.
This truth should not make us lose sight of another one, which is that, although it itself is not yet art, the desire to acquire it and to exercise it lies at its origin. Once more, this desire resides much less in the mind of the artist than in the man himself, and quite particularly in his hand. Many men feel an irresistible urge to use a pencil in order to draw figures: this does not mean that they have the brains required to be a painter; but unless he feels in his fingers the curious itching that must have put a piece of charcoal in the hands of the men who painted the bisons of the Altamira cave, nobody will ever acquire art, much less use it.
A man has no creative perceptions such as those of Cezanne unless, at the very same moment that he perceives certain external spectacles, he feels in his hand an obscure urge to translate them into colors and shapes. These two moments of aesthetic perception are inseparable, and both infallibly disappear if abstract analysis isolates one of them from the other one. Let us remember the meaning of the word "motive": the motivity of artistic perceptions or of artistic images is as essential to them as their cognoscibility.
Unless the impulse to do something with the hand is there from the very outset, nothing will ever happen. Under its elementary aspect, this impulse assumes the form, familiar to all, of doodling—that is, of covering white surfaces with aimless scrawls while one's attention is engaged elsewhere. There is in doodling the same initiative of the hand that, when creative perceptions, or images, are experienced, makes the same hand immediately translate these images, or perceptions, into sketches that are so many seeds of future pictures. But despite its efforts to be as slow as possible, our analysis still goes too fast, for, indeed, another mystery waits for us on this threshold of the art of painting.
Why is it that the hands of so many men cannot leave any sheet of white paper uncovered with their scrawlings? This is one of the many cases in which all we can do is to take stock of a primitive fact that, precisely because it is primitive, does not admit of explanation. Among the Aristotelian principles that modern science makes out to be obsolete, there is one that, from the point of view of mathematicized physics, sounds extremely comical indeed. It is that "Nature abhors emptiness." And one must grant that, unless Nature be conceived as a sort of living being, endowed with knowledge and able to experience feelings, one does not clearly see how it could either like emptiness or, on the contrary, dislike it. But, precisely, artists are living beings, and Paul Valery was certainly remembering the much abused scholastic formula when he said: "The poet abhors emptiness."
Setting the poet aside, because his case is perhaps still more mysterious,22 let us ask ourselves whether it is not literally true that painters, at least, experience this feeling. When the born painter finds himself confronted with an empty surface, he experiences an obscure desire to cover it with forms.23 If the surface at hand is, for instance, a sheet of white paper, the hand of the painter will seldom resist this temptation, as though it were a shame to allow nothingness when it is possible to fill it with beings. Those who seem to believe that, in drawing, the artist merely lets his hand follow a model that his mind contemplates are deceptively simplifying a more complex operation. Without pretending to describe it in clear and distinct terms, this at least we can say, that in this continuous exchange between the hand and the eye of the painter, the hand is giving at least as much as the eye. Its proper contribution seems to consist in producing, for the eye to see, the very form that was but confusedly conceived by the imagination. What is true of drawing is equally true of painting. The creative artist, .whose imagination is haunted by rudiments of indistinct forms, is a man whose hand will make them really be what they obscurely aspire to become. To enable him to see his own images, the hand of the painter must give them actual being.
Can an operation of this kind be considered one of the particular cases of knowledge? To be sure, knowledge accompanies artistic production from its very beginning to its end. It precedes it, it guides it, it judges it, and it corrects it until the work at stake has reached its completion. Yet, to the extent that it is creative, art is not reducible to any particular kind of knowledge, for the simple reason that what has not yet been "made to be" does not yet exist; consequently, it cannot possibly be an object of cognition. Artists sometimes speak of truth as of one of the ideals they hope to attain, or to approach, by means of their works; but if truth is understood, in its traditional meaning, as a perfect conformity between the mind and its object, there can be no truth in the knowledge that an artist has of his future work, because such knowledge has not yet found its object. The truth pursued by the poets is not the conformity of their knowledge with a poem that is not yet there. Nor is it the conformity of their work with a fully defined pattern already present in their minds. In speaking of artistic truth, a poet means to say that something that was but an indistinct and shadowy image in his mind has now become a concrete reality in his own work. A completed poem is a dream come true. In Keats' own words: "The Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream—he awoke and found it truth."24 Eve is the truth of Adam's dream: Eve, that is; not the image of a reality, but the reality of an image.
The same notion of artistic truth has been expressed by Richard Wagner, with respect to both poetry and music. In one of his letters to Mathilde Wesendonk, written when he was completing Tristan and Isolde, the musician remarks that there is a great deal of truth in the doctrine of Kant according to which space, time, causality—in short, the whole structure of the world—are hanging on the thought of man. Is not. human thought an anticipation of reality? Then, after quoting the remark of Schiller that what the poet knows is true, precisely because it has not yet been, Wagner asks himself if what is miraculous in artistic genius is not precisely the fact that what has not yet been finally is. And, indeed, because the form embodies itself in a work of art, what first was but an image in the mind of the artist ultimately reaches concrete existence under the form of a material and perceptible reality.25' This kind of truth would be more correctly called a substantiation.
Painters, at least those among them who scrutinize the nature of their art, feel the same way. In his Journal, under the date June 6, 1851, Delacroix observes that, in his own mind, "truth is the rarest and most beautiful of all qualities," but, precisely, this is the long entry in which he criticizes "Poussin's method of arranging the effect of his pictures with the help of small models lit by studio lighting"; and Raphael's habit of "conscientiously drawing each figure in the nude before he draped it." Rembrandt, Delacroix says, "would never have achieved his power of representing character by a significant play of gestures, or those strong effects that make his scenes so truly representative of nature, if he had bound himself down to this studio method. Perhaps they will discover that Rembrandt is a far greater painter than Raphael." The truth of Rembrandt's works lies in their relationship, not to external models, but to themselves.26 As Delacroix wrote about himself at another date: "Who would ever believe it? The things that are most real to me are the illusions which I create with my painting. Everything else is a quicksand."27 Gauguin seems to have had in mind something like this when he wrote to Emile Schuffenecker: "A piece of advice: do not paint too much from nature. Art is abstraction. Extract this abstraction from nature while you are dreaming before it, and think rather of the creation that will result from it. This is the only means there is to ascend toward God, namely, to do as our Divine Master himself does: to create."28
The written testimonies of painters should not be understood literally as if they were the works of philosophers or of theologians. In fact, rather than to compare the painter with God, one should understand the primitive form conceived by the painter as analogous to the natural forms by which Aristotle used to account for the coming to be of all beings. The most striking feature of the development of a natural form is that it seems to be directed toward a certain term.29 The Aristotelian philosophy of nature, precisely because to a large extent it derived its inspiration from art, had vigorously opposed the mechanistic interpretation of the world that had obtained before the time of Aristotle and was to be revived after him. In the case of artistic creation, at least, it cannot be doubted that the forms are the living germs of the works of art to be. For this reason, they can justly claim the title, of Stoic origin, that used to point out this aspect of their nature: germinal forms. Transmitted by Plotinus to St. Augustine (ratio seminalis), this expression designated a living germ that, in the course of time, would develop according to a specific type of being. In the case of paintings, however, the germinal form is the origin of an organic process of development whose end is a fully constituted individual work of art. No one can predict the course of such developments. They never repeat themselves. In some cases, the hand is allowed to play for some time in a more or less idle way, as if the mind contented itself with letting it free; in other cases, the dialogue between the hand and the mind becomes so animated that it looks like a furious battle; and there are still other cases in which, after doing nothing to a painting for quite a long time, except perhaps thinking about it, an artist will finish it in half an hour, as if his hand no longer needed the guidance of the mind. In no case does the finished work follow from its germinal form in a necessary and predictable way, and still, unless it does follow from such a form, the painter is sure to fail in his undertaking.
The first critical moment arises when, at the beginning of his work, a painter proceeds to the kind of operation often called "chercher l'esquisse" The problem is not for him to know why he should start sketching. As had been said, unless he feels an urge to know what he has in mind, and to see it, a man is no painter.30 This initial move should therefore be conceived neither as an operation of the hand nor as an operation of the mind, but as that of a man, and, more precisely, of one of those men whom we call painters because of the special symbiosis that obtains among their eyes, their mind, and their hand.
This initial operation can be described, in an allegorical way, as the moment a germinal form sets out in search of a body. The Greek philosophers often marveled at the fact that, instead of peacefully enjoying the contemplation of intelligible beauty, souls seem to be impelled by an irresistible urge to join bodies. What is the cause of such an impulse? Is it the passionate giddiness of a fall? Is it the generosity of a love that invites the form to communicate itself to matter? Whatever the answer, the fact is there, and similar ones can be observed in other domains. Language is a case in point. Why do the inner conceptions of the mind embody themselves in spoken words, sentences, reasonings, and discourses? But why is it written in the Gospel of St. John that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (1 : 14) ? We should remember that "word" stands for the Greek logos, itself closely associated with the notions of "idea" and "form." The only thing to add, when it is a question of painting, is that the form should not be conceived first in itself and next in its effort to give itself a body. In Focillon's own words, "the form is not only, so to speak, incarnate, it always is incarnation."31
Modern painters have given summary descriptions of their personal approaches to the problem, and despite inevitable differences from person to person, the process generally appears as a particular application of the method of trial and error. The first moment always is the sudden invasion of some matter by a germinal form, usually followed by a more systematic effort of appropriation that requires careful calculation. Several different incarnations of the form are always possible. That certain ones select themselves rather than other ones can be due to the size, shape, or color of the paper or of the canvas at hand32" But it sometimes happens that a painter's imagination is occupied, at one and the same time, by his desire to work in a certain format and by a contradictory desire to do a work unfit for that format. A compromise then has to be reached and a number of sketches have to be tried. But even in normal cases it may take a long time before a germinal form reaches the term of one of its possible incarnations.33
In a first sense, we call possible whatever is not intrinsically impossible —that is, any object whose notion is not self-contradictory. In a second sense, we call possible whatever, after being conceived by the mind, can be made to exist in reality. These two kinds of possibles have in common only one feature—namely, that they are not intrinsically impossible. For all the rest, they are entirely different. As long as we remain in the order of abstract possibility, whatever is not contradictory can be said to be, not only possible, but even compossible. As soon, on the contrary, as we enter the order of actual existence, incompossibilities begin to multiply. In other words, we can impart existence to any one of the possibles that we have in mind, but the sole fact that we cause one of them to be makes it impossible for many other ones to exist. By far the largest number of the misunderstandings that separate painters from art critics, art historians, or simply art lovers arises from the fact that, because they have to make things, painters are always concerned with existential possibility, whereas, because they only look at things and think about them, possibility always remains for onlookers at the level of abstraction. "A thought," Odilon Redon says, "cannot become a work of art.33a
Considering paintings from the point of view of painters themselves, two kinds of impossibilities limit the creative liberty of the artist. To simplify the discussion of the problem, let us call these the objective limits or objective impossibilities, and the subjective limits or subjective impossibilities.
The most general of these objective limits arises from the very nature of the art of painting. Such as we found it defined by Vasari, painting was included among the arts of disegno, but, in turn, it included color. This duality of elements makes itself felt in almost everything that can be said about this art. It introduces in painting an inner tension hard to relieve, impossible to suppress. Drawing is an art complete in itself. It has its own masters, who may also happen to be great painters, but are not necessarily so. Ingres, who was a master in both arts, knew full well that one cannot concede everything to color if he wants to respect the rights of drawing. To him, expression was inseparable from a complete mastery of the art of drawing. Now, "Expression, an essential part of art, is intimately tied up with form. The perfection of coloring is so little required for it that the best painters of expression have not exhibited the same superiority as colorists. To blame them is not to know enough the nature of arts. One cannot require from the same man contradictory qualities. Besides, the rapidity in execution that color demands in order to preserve its prestige does not agree with the deep study that the extreme purity of forms demands."34 Personal gifts account for the choice that each particular painter ultimately has to make. Anyone who has seen lead drawings by Ingres will know at once why, in his own case, the choice was not, likely to be in favor of color. But the very existence of the choice, its inevitability, and the nature of its terms are independent of the personal gifts or dispositions of any particular artist.
Another option seems likewise unavoidable; not, this time, between drawing and color, but, rather, within color itself, between the local tones, and the modeling of the volumes. The necessity to choose is less absolute in this case than in the preceding one. Compromises have often been reached between these two orders, and if, in some paintings like those of Rubens, El Greco, or Delacroix, there seems to be an excessive boldness in laying intense colors on strongly contrasted values, the reason for this may well be that value contrasts have a natural tendency to become exaggerated in the course of time. It must likewise be conceded that the distinction of these two plastic elements may have been overstressed in modern times. Yet, when all is said and done, there remains a great difference between the marvelous compromises by which the great paintings of the Renaissance reconcile local tones with volumes and the resolute use of flat local tones that becomes conspicuous in the works of Gauguin. His best works, as well as those of many recent painters, achieve, by means of flat local tones boldly laid and hardly broken by any perceptible modeling, effects that more strongly marked volumes would annihilate.35
To these general limitations, let us add accidental and particular ones. All the specifications attached to certain commissions should be counted among these. The dimensions of the work, the shape of the surface to be painted, its location with respect to light (opposite a window, between two windows, on a ceiling, in corners, in cupolas), its relation to the other parts of a decorative or architectural whole: all these conditions must be taken into. account by the painter, and they constitute so many limitations to the existential possibilities at his disposal. The nature of the material at hand exercises a no less decisive influence. In short, the fact that all matters are not capable of receiving all forms should be counted among the causes that preclude many an abstract possibility from becoming an existential possibility. From this point of view, the choices made by painters are, if not determined, at least directed by necessities that are beyond the control of their wills.
Their wills themselves, however, impose a still larger number of limitations on the choices that are abstractly possible. The first decisions of the hand, the choice made of a fundamental color, considerably narrow the field of the remaining possibilities. Every further decision will restrict what is left of it with an increasing severity. This is the more important as the first decisions of his hand sometimes take the painter himself by surprise. Just as writers do not always write the books that they were planning to write, so painters feel sometimes nonplussed at the sight of what they are painting. Now, the true possible is not the one that, speculatively speaking, it is not impossible to actualize; it is the one that, because its productive causes are already at work, is already enjoying an inchoation of existential actuality.
The same distinction accounts for the constant recurrence of the feeling of disappointment experienced by every artist after the completion of one of his works. The painting had been so beautiful, so powerfully moving, so truly radiant, and so wonderfully alive as long as it still was a pure possible in the limbo of creative imagination! Now that the work was done, all that was left of such hopes was a poverty-stricken reality. Artists then have nothing else to do than to resign themselves to the fact:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
In the case of painters, the answer is easy to find. At the origin of every painting, an indefinite number of abstract possibles are given together, and the visionary gleam of the artist, in which they all are present, includes incomparably more than what can be embodied in the actual realization of any one of them. Any single germinal form is pregnant with many different possibilities, but the greatest of painters will never be able to actualize more than one of them at a time. As he is looking at his finished work, the artist still has in mind the confused crowd of the other incarnations of the same form that he himself has had to eliminate in order to ensure the realization of this one. No actually existing painting can compete with an indefinite number of possible ones each of which, being imagined as real, includes in itself the substance of all the others. But there is a compensation. Many an artist has had the pleasant experience, when seeing his work again after a certain time, to find it much better than he remembered it. This is a sure sign that, the work having already ceased to live in his mind, the painter begins to see his painting as it is in itself, stripped of the glorious but deceptive halo of imaginary possibilities.
On the contrary, the critics and the public compare the finished painting, not with the germinal form that it first was in the mind of the artist, but, rather, with the abstract possibles that the sight of the picture at stake conjures up in their own imagination. No wonder, then, that they often feel disappointed. Had they had to handle such a subject, they would have seen it in an entirely different way. Which is quite possible, but even they themselves cannot know for sure that this is true. One should never forget the remark once made by Georges Braque: "I do not do as I will; I do as I can."36 Between those who do what they can and those who imagine what they please, the misunderstanding is unavoidable and inscribed in the very nature of things.
3. Life and Death of the Forms
After it has begun to take shape, the germinal form requires a certain time to develop and to reach its completion. This space of time can be so short that the whole work seems to develop within the limits of the initial experience. Most of the time, however, a more or less long duration is required for the form to find its body. There are even cases in which certain paintings that nothing would designate as the result of severe struggles have had to wait for years before being brought to completion. Ingres' Source, which now looks like a somewhat conventional composition in the classical style, long remained in the painter's studio in the condition of a nude that had not yet found its head.
The fact that it takes an artist more or less protracted efforts to achieve clear awareness of the kind of work that is asking to be done is wholly unrelated to the particular nature of his style. Everyone knows the anecdote about Cezanne's obliging his models to sit almost indefinitely for their portrait,37 but if one imagines that this was due to the fundamental dissatisfaction that inhabited Cezanne's soul, he will change his mind after reading, in Amaury-Duval's memoirs of Ingres, the description of the scenes that took place while this worshiper of Raphael was painting the famous portrait of Emile Bertin. If those who now see this remarkable work in the Louvre had any objection to formulate, it would probably be that, for a painted portrait, it looks too much like a snapshot. Now, in a way, this is what it finally came to be, but it is not what the portrait was at the beginning. After trying time and again, with so little success that, on certain days, Ingres actually cried in despair, he decided to interrupt his efforts. It was only later on, while he was no longer working at it, that he suddenly said to Bertin: "Come and sit for me tomorrow, your portrait is done." And, indeed, this time, the work was successfully completed within a month.38' Ingres crying in despair before his model, who would have believed it? And yet; Bertin himself assures us that it was so: "He was crying," Bertin says, "and I was spending my time consoling him." Perhaps there is no such thing as a painless birth.
Whatever its duration, this process is dominated by something that, if it is not exactly a law, appears at least as a sort of necessity. Despite its essential plasticity, there is a point beyond which the germinal form cannot be stretched without losing its nature. As soon as the artist's imagination wanders away from it, his work is lost. Painters' studios are full of unfinished works, most of which will never be completed. These are the projects during whose execution the artist lost contact with the creative perception, or image, that had inspired him at the beginning of his effort. Most of the time, if we knew the detailed history—so to speak, play by play—of certain masterpieces that seem to have . sprung from nothingness at the first call of genius, we should hear a tale of hesitations, doubts, moves, and countermoves that, seen from without, makes no sense. When they assist at this excruciating process, onlookers remonstrate with the painter. They often are desolate witnesses to what appears to them a wanton destruction of paintings that, after seeing them one day in what they considered their final state, they could not recognize the next day. Seen from within, struggles of this sort are meaningful to the painter. The reason for these ceaseless efforts of most painters to correct themselves and even to do their works all over again is their inability to distinguish, among the countless abstract possibilities of which their imagination is full, the only one to which they are really trying to impart actual existence. The remedy, well known to artists but not easy to apply, is to find out at what precise point of their execution they went off the track. To ascertain this precise point, to start again from there as if what has been done this side of it had never existed —in short, to reintegrate the painting into the line of its germinal form—is the only way there is to salvage a work that, otherwise, is doomed never to reach its completion.39
An easy way to understand what precedes is to compare the experience of painters with that of writers. In creative prose and in poetry the problem often is for the writer to ascertain, by a careful scrutiny of his work, the precise point where, having unconsciously lost sight of the particular form whose incarnation was in process, inspiration has ceased to flow, leaving the gate open to the flood of irrelevant developments. There is no point in continuing to write without having first recovered the germinal form that is the living seed of the book; for, indeed, inspiration is but another name for it, and its own unity is the very unity that the work itself must have if it ever is to be.
Some writers have described this experience with vivid accuracy.40 But it does not take a great artist to realize the meaning of such expressions as "to lose the thread of one's own discourse" and "to wander from one's own subject." The only difference is that, in the case of creative art, no logical calculus will ever suffice to ascertain the critical point where the execution first went astray. The problem is the more complex as there is no way for an artist to determine with absolute certainty if he himself has lost contact with a form that can still be recaptured, or if the form itself has lost its efficacy. Some forms have not the vitality that it takes to bring the intended work of art to completion.41 In such cases, the only choice is, for the painter, either to palliate this deficiency by resorting to artificial devices or else to turn his canvas to the wall. Countless paintings look completed, but are not. The holes have simply been filled in with forms in which it is obvious that the painter was not interested.
For purposes of clarification, let us consider the meanings of "to complete," "to finish," and "to sketch."
The verb "to complete" is not immediately clear. Like all words, it is susceptible of several different interpretations, all of which are legitimate. In its present context, "to complete" simply means to bring a certain painting to the point where there is nothing more that the artist can still do to it. At that moment, the germinal form has completely informed its matter; in so doing, it has exhausted all its productive energy. For this very reason, the completed work now stands apart from the artist, subsisting in itself as having received the fullness of the determinations required for its actual existence. The form that once lived in the mind of the painter is now living, according to a different mode of life, in the completed painting. Nobody exactly knows how many millenniums ago the Altamira bisons were first completed; we all can see that the germinal forms from which they then were born are still alive, attracting countless visitors, acting and operating as the fully constituted individual beings that they are. When the painting is, the work of the artist has come to an end.
In common language, "to finish" is frequently used in the same sense as "to complete." In the language of the painters, however, "to finish"sometimes conveys the notion of bringing a certain piece of work to its last degree of perfection by attending to all its details and, in certain cases, by polishing it to give it a glossy finish. The so-called "perfectionists" are likely to be unduly finicky. There is a certain notion of the art of painting that imperiously demands that pictures should be "finished" in this precise meaning of the term. Whether to finish is the same thing as to complete is a problem to be discussed, in each particular case, with reference to a certain particular painting.42
A study is a drawing, or a painting, done as a preliminary attempt to handle some part of the future work. Private collections and art museums conserve a great many studies by masters. Some of them are mere indications of lines, movements, and attitudes, but others are in themselves fully completed works of art. They are complete studies that, taken precisely as studies, have reached their point of completion. In many cases, such studies are not only complete, they are "finished." Such are, for instance, the quasi-miraculous studies for hand, arm, head, single figure, or drapery left us by Leonardo da Vinci and preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. These fragments of future works are in themselves completely finished pieces of work. In fact, some of them are so strikingly complete that they could not have been integrated with a painting as they are without ruining it. The painting would have been killed by the conspicuous self-sufficiency of fragments so complete in themselves that they could not enter the structure of another complete whole. A study may well be left unfinished by a master, but the reason it is unfinished is not that it is a study.43
The notion of "sketch" calls for similar remarks. This notion itself can be understood in a twofold sense.
In a first sense, the sketch is the first outline, or rough draft, of the work. Such a sketch is part and parcel of the painting. It is therefore correct, in comparing it with the completed work, to say that such a sketch is an uncompleted painting.
In a second sense, a sketch is a sort of memorandum done by a painter, either from nature or from imagination, in view of some future work. Since, as has already been said, there is nothing absolute in matters of art, it cannot be said that such sketches cannot possibly be turned into completed paintings. The thing is being done by especially clever artists who, even while they are doing the sketch, already have in mind the future painting. In general, however, a sketch is destined to provide motive and inspiration for another painting, derived from the original sketch but distinct from it. It seems clear that, when the word is used in this second sense, the kind of painting that it signifies is not necessarily an unfinished piece of work. On the contrary, there is a point at which a good sketch has to be stopped if one does not wish it to degenerate from its condition of finished sketch into that of an unfinished painting.44
This is so true that one would sometimes hesitate to choose between the finished work of a painter and its sketch. This often happens with landscapes, especially in the case of painters whose notion of a "finished" painting invites the peril of academicism. By way of example, let us compare the vigorous sketch done by Constable for Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds (56, 57) with the "finished" version of it now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; or, again, the sketch done by Constable for The Hay Wain in the Victoria and Albert Museum with the completed painting in the National Gallery (London). If an art lover were offered a choice between Corot's sketch 'from nature for The Narni Bridge (58, 59a)now in the Louvre and the painting, which one would he choose? The sketch is pure Corot, but one cannot help wondering if there is not the memory of a Ruisdael landscape between Corot and his final version of the work (59b). In the Ruisdael painting, the road keeps the structure together, because it leads the eye both to the left outside the frame and to the right across the bridge; one would like to feel sure that, in the final version of the Corot, the road added to the sketch does not endanger the unity of the work, and if its unity, then its being.
If this be true, it can be said that the notion of completion applies to all sorts of painted works, with the sole exception of those whose initial destination is to be the starting point of a work still to be done. In this sense, a work of art—study, sketch, or painting—should always be completed, since to be completed and to be are for it the same thing. On the other hand, a painting, or a study, or a sketch, is always complete when its execution has been pushed to the point that is required for the fulfillment of the germinal seed from which it proceeds. In Baudelaire's own words, a work of art is always well executed when it is sufficiently so.45
According to the preceding definitions, there is no necessary relationship, for a painting, between being completed and being finished. Many people feel convinced that, if it is not finished in all its details, a painting is a failure. As will be seen later, one might perhaps object that they are mistaking the notion of image for that of painting; but even so, since every man is entitled to his own taste, there would be no point in arguing against such an opinion. The real trouble rather is that, in their zeal for the defense of true art, some painters have gone so far as to oppose the two notions of "finishing" and of "completing." The truth of the case is that there is between these two notions neither such a necessary tie nor such an opposition. If it is necessary for a painting to be finished in order to be complete, then the painting at stake must be finished, indeed. If, on the contrary, a painting cannot be finished without losing the individuating completion that it has already received at the hands of the painter, then to finish it would simply be to destroy it.
The common taste of art lovers seems to confirm this opinion. The vogue of modern paintings has not destroyed the taste for meticulously finished works. Who would dare to maintain that the miraculous landscape of the Rollin Madonna, by Jan van Eyck, does not find admirers among the lovers of modern art? The same remark would apply equally well to many works done by Memling, Gerard David, and others. In A Small Country House, by Pieter de Hooch, we can almost count the number of bricks in the wall and tiles on the roof. Given this style of painting, the work would not have been completed if it had not been so carefully finished. Here again, to complete a painting is to bring it to the point of completion required for its actual existence as a completely determined individual. Inversely, and for the very same reason, Frans Hals was well inspired not to consider an infinite accumulation of petty details necessary for the completion of his Jolly Toper (60a). The apparently slapdash suddenness and liberty of his brush is the surest cause of his success in bringing to completion a painting to which any addition would bring a loss of substance. If anyone doubts this, let him compare the drinker of Manet with that of Hals. Two supremely skilled painters, indeed; but are we wrong in suggesting that, in Le Bon Bock (60b), Manet was courting disaster? The work of Manet is dangerously near the level of plain illustration; the work of Hals is nothing if it is not straight painting.
When these confusions are cleared up, the problem still remains for the painter himself to know when a painting is really completed. Experience shows how difficult it is for artists themselves to be good judges in the matter. Most of them, however, have a proper feeling for the degree of precision required in the execution of each one of their works. A good example is the story of Constable's Opening of Waterloo Bridge, a painting whose first idea entered his mind in 1819, on which he worked, off and on, during twelve years without wholly satisfying himself about it. Finally, he exhibited it in 1832, but it failed to please the public, perhaps because it lacked the sentimental value of Constable's usual meadows, brooks, and mills, but more probably, Leslie says, "for its want of finish."46 Yet twelve years was a long space of time to spend on a. supposedly unfinished painting. The truth of the case was that, again in Leslie's own words, "the expanse of sky and water" that had tempted Constable to do the painting did not require any further finishing for the work to be completed.
That great painters usually know when to stop does not tell us how they know it. They themselves have acknowledged, first, that the initial sketches often exhibit a bold simplicity of outline mainly due to the fact that no unnecessary details have yet come to obscure it; next, that they nevertheless experience an almost irrepressible tendency to complete their paintings, be it at the necessary loss of some of the best qualities of their sketches. There is in the germinal form an inner urge to externalize the totality of its content. To allow a plastic form to remain in the condition of a sketch is like trying to stop the development of a living organism in the hope that, if it never reaches the maturity of adult age, it will preserve the flower of its youth. But natural forms spontaneously cease to grow as soon as they reach the term of their evolution. Born of the free will of the artist, the painting has to be brought to its completion by a free decision of the same will.
The main source of the diffi6ulty seems to lie in the very skill of the artist. The painter is looking at his sketch, wondering how to complete it. If he is a master in his art, the temptation will be for him to add anything anywhere. If he yields to this temptation, his work will be promptly finished, it never will have been completed.47 The details he has to find and to paint are those which are required for the complete unfolding of the form, and no other ones will do. The problem is for him to allow the "egg or embryo of the idea"48 to reach its complete development.
The painter knows that this end has been achieved in exactly the same way in which we all know that an organism has ceased to live. It no longer moves, it does not act, it does not operate. The germinal form is now dead in the mind of the artist, nor is there any use in attempting to revive it or, simply, to pretend that it is still alive. If the painter fails to see how to correct, modify, or complete his work for the last time without completely wrecking it,49 or without having to do it all over again, it is a safe bet that the painting is really completed. In Georges Braque's own words: "A painting is completed when it has wiped out the idea."50 One more form has succeeded in saturating its matter. One more individual has been added to the substance of the world.
What happens to painters when they attempt to exploit a germinal form after its vitality is spent is so well known that there would be no point in describing it. Too many painters have to commit this error, in the full awareness of what they do, simply because they want to live. Art dealers know how difficult it is to get the public accustomed to a certain style; if they buy a Corot, customers want a Corot that really looks like a Corot; so the painter has to turn out a more or less uniform series of paintings—that is to say, he has to become the faker of his own art.
Philosophers, art critics, and historians, usually protected as they are against extreme poverty, would be ill advised to pass judgment on such abdications. The tragic side of the problem appears in full in the case of those unfortunate artists whom the awareness of their degradation finally leads to suicide. In this respect, no document that we know of surpasses in sadness Benjamin Robert Haydon's Journals. Painting and repainting, time and again, his famous Napoleon Musing at St. Helena, he himself became acutely conscious of the progressive degradation of his art: "Began and finished a Napoleon in two hours and a half; the quickest I ever did, and the twenty-fifth." It is no wonder that he himself added to this remark: "The art with me is becoming a beastly vulgarity." And again: "The solitary grandeur of historical painting is gone."51 Such is the price to pay for sinning against the essential necessities of true art under the still stronger pressure of the necessities of practical life. Yet Haydon was very far from being of a mediocre character. On the last day of the year 1841, he could justly write in his Journals: "I have loved my Art always better than myself." This is the very reason he finally died by his own hand, "hoping through the merits of Christ forgiveness."52 Art would never end in tragedy, as it sometimes does, if its deepest problems were not directly related to the very life of man, himself at grips with the most primitive necessities of matter. In the poet's own words: "Art is an eminently earthly thing."53Endnotes
1. We are quoting Aristotle's Poetics from the translation by Ingram Bywater (included in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, pp. 1455-87). The Metaphysics is quoted from the translation by W.D. Ross (same volume, pp. 682-926). — Interesting considerations in F. Battaglia, "Forme naturalistiche e forme estetiche," Convivium, n.s. 5 (Sept.-Oct., 1954), pp. 513-33.
2. The Greek word for nature (phusis) is derived from the verb that signifies "to be born." The same remark applies to the Latin word natura, derived from the verbal root nasci, natum: to be born, born. Even the English "nature" still connotes the notion of "innate" qualities in persons or things. When a man does something as if it were in its nature to do it, we say of him that he is to the manner born.
3. On this point, see Aristotle, Metaphysics, bk. XII, ch. 7, 1072b, 3. The theory is verified by constant aesthetic experience. In art galleries, the great masterpieces set visitors in motion; they move art lovers, without themselves being moved, simply because they are being loved. This, Aristotle says, is true of all the objects of desire. Now, being is object of desire, "but the beautiful, also, and that which is in itself desirable, are in the same column" (Metaphysics, XII, 6, 1072a, 34-36).
4. "Life of Piero di Cosimo," Lives, II, 177. Leonardo da Vinci has raised this personal habit of Piero di Cosimo to the dignity of a method. See: "A Way to Stimulate and Arouse the Mind to Various Inventions. I will not refrain from setting among these precepts a new device for consideration which, although it may appear trivial and almost ludicrous, is nevertheless of great utility in arousing the mind to various inventions. And this is that if you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well-conceived forms. With such walls and blends of different stones it comes about as it does with the sound of bells, in whose clanging you may discover every name and word that you can imagine." (The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, II, 250-51.) This is what some psychologists call the phenomenon of "creative perception." Incidentally, this suggestive power of dots and spots is included in the calculations of some nonrepresentational painters, and it contributes to the pleasure caused by the sight of their works. The onlooker, too, is then called upon to exercise creative or constructive perception.
5. This attitude is the very reverse of that of scientists. Delacroix's comic hatred of men of science ("I have a horror of the usual run of scientists," Journal, p. 155 [May 6, 1852] ) proceeds from this opposition between the respective attitudes of science and of art toward nature. This is the only trace of narrow-mindedness we remember finding in the Journal of this supremely intelligent man.
6. A fine natural landscape was not necessarily for Cezanne a "motive"—that is to say, an invitation to paint: Cezanne to Emile Zola, May 24, 1883 (Paul Cezanne, Correspondence, ed. John Rewald, p. 194). To go hunting for motives ("aller au motif"), to work "on the motive," to discuss a picture "on the motive," etc., are common expressions in Cezanne. And no wonder, since, according to him, "Everything is, especially in art, theory developed and applied in contact with nature" (to A. Vollard, January 9, 1903, p. 252). Cf. letters to Charles Camoin, September 13, 1903, p. 255; and to Camille Pissarro, July 2, 1876, pp. 126-27. Cf. Bernard, Souvenirs sur Paul Cezanne, et lettres, pp. 19-20, 44, 55, 56, 82.
7. The fear of being robbed of what was peculiarly his technique seems to have been a source of anxiety to Cezanne (Bernard, p. 34). Among his most cherished possessions was what he used to call his "little sensation" (Lhote, Treatise on Landscape Painting, p. xii). By these words, he seems to have meant his own manner of transfiguring reality in the very act of perceiving it.
8. According to Bernard, Cezanne once said: "Imagine Poussin done all over again from nature—that is classicism as I understand it" (Bernard, p. 93, n. 1).
9. Lhote, Traite du paysage, p. 8; cf. English translation, p. xiii.
10. Lhote, Traite du paysage, p. 8; English translation, p. xii. In this passage, Lhote contrasts the attitude of the modern painter, working in a state of continued ecstasy born of an initial sensation, with the classical self-control and the traditional way of working around an idea. It would perhaps be more nearly correct to describe the classical approach as concerned with an image rather than an idea. The power of fantasy seems to have been underrated ever since the time of Cezanne, in whom, let us remember, this power was rather weak. The "motive" was for him a constantly present necessity. See Bernard, p. 55: "Cezanne's imagination was poor, he had only a very keen feeling for arrangement; he did not know how to draw without a model, which is a serious obstacle to all valid creation." See (pp. 54-55) the incredible project of a Homage to Delacroix, which, fortunately, he never painted. Delacroix, dead, is carried to heaven by angels; one of them holds Delacroix's brushes, another one his palette; in a corner, a barking dog symbolizes art critics, etc. Now, precisely, Delacroix was the very type of painter who does his preparatory work from nature and his works from imagination.
11. In our own day, the meaning of even Christian subjects is not always clear to all, and the countless pictures representing scenes borrowed from mythology or from the history of ancient Greece and Rome are unintelligible to most of the visitors to our art galleries. In so far as subjects are concerned, this humanistic art of painting has largely lost its public. Pausias and Glycera, The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, Queen Tomyris Receiving the Head of Cyrus, these and many other similar subjects treated by Rubens have become meaningless to most modern onlookers.
12. Homer, Iliad, I, 493-516. — Louis Gillet, "Visites au muses de Province: III. Aixen-Provence," Revue des deux mondes, 8th per., XI (Sept. 15, 1932), 315-44.
13. On the "sublime Raft," see the Journal, p. 27 (April 1, 1824). Delacroix has several times compared The Raft of the Medusa with Rubens' The Raising of the Cross, in Antwerp: pp. 134-35 (August 10, 1850) and p. 199 (October 20, 1853). Cf. p. 153. Incidentally, let us note that Delacroix has deeply modified the pictorial theme of the Raft by reducing the proportion of the boats in comparison with the sea; the poetic meaning of the paintings became at once different.
14. Ingres defined his own notion of style when he said that a painter should not attempt to learn how to create beauty in character: "one must find it in one's own model" (Ingres raconte par lui-metne et par ses amis, p. 59).
15. The successive stages following which a literary motive becomes a subject can be followed in the case of The Turkish Bath, a picture completed by Ingres in December, 1859. Ingres had read one of the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, April 1, 1717, describing her visit to the public hot baths of Adrianople (now Edirne). This description was copied twice by Ingres in his notebook (n. IX). His notes leave out most of the anecdotic elements of the motive, which, anyhow, could not be included in the subject—for instance, the friendly words addressed by some of these naked women to Lady Mary, herself in traveling dress; the remarks made by Lady Mary• on the respective importance of the beauty of faces and of bodies; her reflections on what the painter Jervas would have learned, had it been possible for him to be invisibly present, etc. In his notes, Ingres retains almost exclusively the plastic elements of the descriptions and the general impression of the scene: about two hundred women, all of them naked but without trace of impudicity, standing, walking, or reclining in various postures, while young girls do the hair of these women in a thousand different ways (text of one of Ingres' notes in Ingres raconte par lui-meme, pp. 238-39; text of Lady Mary's letter, ibid., pp. 239-40 n., the edition of these letters, indicated p. 239 n., is that of London, 1764). On the successive stages in the evolution of this work, which, once finally completed as an almost perfect square, Ingres himself truncated and turned into a circle (Pls. 53a and 53b), see Georges Wildenstein, Ingres, p. 230, n. 312.
16. Letter to Andre Fontainas, Tahiti, March, 1899 (Lettres de Gauguin a sa femme et a ses amis, p. 288). Cf. letter to the same, Tahiti, August, 1899 (pp. 292-93),
17. Same letter, p. 289. In order not to break the continuity of Gauguin's thought, let us quote here the end of this letter (p. 290) for the light it throws on the problem, which will be examined separately, of the relationship between art critics and art. The key to the problem is that, because they write, critics are bound to reduce painting to literature. "Serious, full of good intentions, and learned, the art criticism of today tends to impose upon us a method of thinking, of dreaming, and this would result in another kind of slavery. Engrossed in its own business, its special domain—namely, literature—criticism would lose sight of what concerns us--namely, painting. Were it to be so, I would haughtily repeat to you the words of Mallarme: 'A critic! a gentleman who minds somebody else's business.' "
18. Letter to Charles Morice, Tahiti, July, 1901 (Lettres de Gauguin a sa femme, pp. 300-01).
19. The notion of "symbol" applies to creative painting in general and far beyond the limits of the so-called symbolist school. Like all denominations, this one is likely to become misleading. Its meaning can be inferred from several letters of Gauguin. Even in his own works, one must be careful not to mistake the allegorical explanation of the picture with its subject. In his letter to Daniel de Monfreid, February, 1898 (Lettres de Paul Gauguin a Georges-Daniel de Monfreid, pp. 201-02), Gauguin gives an allegorical explanation of the Boston picture. At the center of the picture, a standing figure is picking fruit from the Tree of Science; on its right side, a crouching figure, intentionally painted too large for the rest, raises its right arm: it is marveling at two dim figures, standing, which have the audacity of thinking about their destiny. On the left, an idol, with mysteriously and rhythmically raised arms, seems to signify the Beyond. A seated girl listens to the idol; an old woman, near death, expresses acceptance and resignation; "at her feet, a strange, stupid white bird, holding a lizard in its claws, represents the vanity of idle words." Then Gauguin asks the excellent question: "If one told the students of the Beaux-Arts, for the Rome competition: The picture that you have to do shall represent: 'Whence do we come? What are we? Whither are we going?'—what would they do? I have completed a philosophical work on this theme compared with the Gospel. I think it is good; if I have the strength to copy it, I shall send it to you." In short, we should distinguish among the legibility of the picture (reading what it represents), the allegorical meaning of what it represents (understanding ideas that could as well, or better, be expressed in a philosophical treatise) , and the symbolic meaning of the picture (the plastic rendering of the painting to be done). The second meaning, so abundantly represented in the murals of Puvis de Chavannes (Grand Amphitheatre, Sorbonne, Paris), corresponds to the order of what Gauguin calls his parables. See the letter to Andre Fontainas, Tahiti, August, 1899 (Lettres de Gauguin a sa femme, p. 293). This is the letter in which he says: "You are doing me pleasure, a great pleasure, in acknowledging that you had wrongly believed that my compositions, like those of Puvis de Chavannes, started from an a priori abstract idea that I was trying to quicken by means of a plastic representation."
20. In Plato's philosophy, the Ideas were the self-subsisting principles of intelligibility, unchangeable and eternal, which account for what of being there is in becoming. In Plotinus' philosophy, the Ideas became the thoughts of the second highest principle (after the One)—namely, the divine Intellect (Nous). In St. Augustine's theology, the Ideas became the patterns, eternally present in the second person of the Christian Trinity—namely, the divine Word (Verbum)—according to which God created all the beings that constitute this world. Thomas Aquinas took up Augustine's doctrine and developed it along the lines of his own Christian philosophy. The Ideas are in God as "the likeness of a house preexists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like the form conceived in his mind." (Summa theologiae, I, 15, 1, answer [Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, I, 163].) The Ideas are one with God, and since the Christian God is the living God, the divine Ideas are life. Such had already been the teaching of St. John in his Gospel (1:3, 4) : "Without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life." Hence, in Thomas Aquinas' doctrine: "The likeness of these things, which do not have life in themselves, are life in the divine mind, as having a divine being in that mind" (Surn.rna theologiae, I, 18, 4, reply to 2nd obj. [Basic Writings, I, 193]). In Christian philosophy, as in the experience of artists, the forms of the works to be done are conceived, by analogy with the divine Ideas, as so many living and creative realities.
21. The notion of what an artisan will do preexists in him (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I—II, 94, 1). It is likewise true that "no line must come from the hand of a painter unless it has previously been formed in his mind" (Maritain, Creative Intuition, p. 67). But during the whole conception and execution of a painting there is no single moment when its complete pattern, up to the final touch, has been totally present in the painter's imagination. "When a painting is in the making, we seem to recognize it little by little, but without ever knowing ahead of time what its true visage will exactly be" (Jean Bazaine, Notes sur la peinture, p. 27). This, Bazaine says, is a particular case of Pascal's: "Thou wouldst not search for Me if thou didst not possess Me."
22. Fromentin has spoken for both writers and painters in his novel Dominique (p. 169) : "I told you once, not so long ago, that I had a hankering, not to be a somebody, which seems to me absurd, but to produce something, which is the only justification for our poor little lives. I said so then, and I still mean to try; not, I beg you to believe, in the interests of my dignity as a man, or my pleasure, or my vanity, or other people, or myself, but simply and solely to get something off my mind that makes me uncomfortable." Compare Charles Morgan, Sparkenbroke (p. 274) : "George, contrasting with Piers' impatience in all else the steadiness of his approach to his art, said, with a hand on the manuscript: 'Is this what you care for most in life? What do you want out of it—fame?'—`To do it,' Piers said.—`But why? It must go beyond that?'—`If it does, it goes beyond my reach.' "
23. "Plastic art cannot be the simple expression of space. Empty space has no other function than to make life possible. Plastically it does not represent life. It leaves us isolated with our thoughts and feelings. Reciprocal action between us and the environment is not possible and without this action, human development (culture) cannot exist. For our feelings empty space is unbearable. Think of the solitude one feels in the desert and on the ocean. It evokes all kinds of subjective sensations and fantastic images. Contact with the plastic expression of reality is lacking. Even limited spaces and forms of great size displease us. Churches, factories, etc. can depress us; objects and creatures can awe and frighten us when the space determination is incomplete. It must be noted that empty space can evoke universal conceptions, create mental and moral activity. But this activity is in the abstract domain and always requires the remembrance of the world of oppositions. The action of plastic art is not space-expression but complete space-determination." (Piet Mondrian, "A New Realism," Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art, p. 18.)
24. Letter to Benjamin Bailey, November 22, 1817 (Letters, ed. Maurice Buxton Forman, p. 67). On Adam's dream, see Milton, Paradise Lost, viii, 460-90. Cf. the penetrating remarks of Lionel Trilling, The Opposing Sell (pp. 40-41), where the ethical implications of the doctrine appear in full.—In the same sense, Klee, Ober die moderne Kunst, p. 49.
25. E. Gilson, L'Ecole des muses, p. 135.
26. "When Courbet painted the background of the woman bathing, he copied it faithfully from a study which I saw hanging near his easel. Nothing could be colder; it is like a piece of mosaic. I began to make something tolerable of my African journey only when I had forgotten the trivial details and remembered nothing but the striking and poetic side of the subject. Up to that time, I had been haunted by this passion for accuracy that most people mistake for truth." (Journal, p. 198 [October 17, 18531.)
27. Journal, p. 25 (February 27, 1824).
28. August 14, 1888 (Lettres de Gauguin a sa femme, p. 134).
29. The modern emphasis on the notion of "form," not only in psychology but also in zoology and botany, authorizes the hope that the two orders of science and art, dissociated since the rise of mathematical physics, will reopen an era of co-operation. See Adolf Portmann, Animal Forms and Patterns; Agnes Arber, The Natural Philosophy of Plant Forms; same author, The Mind and the Eye.
30. "What is certain, is that if I were to pick up my palette at this moment, and I am longing to do so, I should be obsessed by that lovely Velazquez. What I want to do, is to spread good, fat paint thickly on to a brown or red canvas, and therefore what I must do to find a subject is to open some book capable of giving me inspiration, and then allow myself to be guided by my mood." (The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, p. 30 [April 11, 1824].) Compare the deep remark made by Gauguin: "I have no pretension to invent something new. What I am coveting is a still unknown corner of myself." (Lettres de Gauguin a sa femme, p. 163.)
31. Vie des formes, p. 52.
32. "Nowadays, I rarely start a picture from hallucinations as I did in the twenties, or as later, about 1933, from forms suggested by collages. What is more interesting to me today is the materials I am working with. They very frequently supply the shock which suggests my forms much as the cracks in the wall suggested form to Leonardo. I start a canvas, without a thought of what it may eventually become. I put it aside after the first fire has abated. I may not look at it again for months. Then I take it out and work at it coldly like an artisan, guided strictly by rules of composition after the first shock of suggestion has cooled. Forms take reality for me as I work. In other words, rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting and as I paint the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush. The form becomes a sign for a woman or a bird, as I work. Even a few casual wipes of my brush in cleaning it, a flaw in the canvas, a stain on the board may suggest the beginning of a picture. The second stage, however, is carefully calculated. The first stage is free, unconscious; but after that the picture is controlled throughout in keeping with that desire for disciplined work which I have felt from the beginning." (Joan Miro, in James Johnson Sweeney, "Miro," Art News Annual, XXIII , 187.)
33. See the sequence of images (plates on pp. 77-78) that accompanies the same article by Sweeney. — In the same article (p. 70), see an excellent example of what a germinal form can be when it attempts to express itself in both lines and words.
33a. A soi-meme, p. 90. To which Redon adds: "except in literature. Art borrows nothing from philosophy, either."
34. Ingres raconte par lui-meme et par ses amis, p. 62. — Cf. Baudelaire, The Mirror of Art, pp. 51-52.
35. On the antinomy "local color—volume," see Kahnweiler, Juan Gris, p. 153. If the painter wants to stress the modeling of the volumes, he must sacrifice local color or local tones. — This point had already been developed with great clarity by Lhote (Parlons peinture, pp. 306-07). A painter should avoid marriages between mutually hostile families. For instance, to join pure color with modeling is to sink into the most shameful vulgarity. Lhote then divides the painters, from the point of view of technique, into two families: the "valuists" and the "colorists." The "valuists" have an architectural vision of reality. These are the pure plasticians (Leonardo, Georges de La Tour, Corot, etc.). The colorists are, so to say, "the musicians of painting." They only gather from reality its most subtle and most directly perceptible elements (Fra Angelico, Fragonard, van Gogh, Bonnard, etc.). "Between these extreme families is that of the courageous equilibrists. After their sensibility has made its choice between value and color, these artists attempt to introduce into their works the permitted maximum of the contrary element. These are the heroes of painting: Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Rubens, El Greco, Cezanne. But even when they come to terms with these hostile elements, they do not superimpose them on the same part of the picture." Sometimes, carried away by their game, some of them "put a little too much polychromy in their modeling; despite their genius, they then stand on the very limit of the possible, on the borderline of vulgarity. Greco's Pentecost, certain Rubens, and certain Delacroix, in which intense blues and reds are laid on excessively contrasted values . . . cause an uneasy feeling that is not usually caused by their works, more noble because born of a more severe choice of means."
36. Le Jour et la nuit, p. 10.
37. "After one hundred and fifteen sittings, Cezanne gave up my portrait in order to return to Aix. When he left, Cezanne told me: 'I am not too displeased with the shirt front.' He made me leave in his studio the suit of clothes with which I had sat for him. It was his intention, when he came back to Paris, to work again on certain parts of the portrait." (Vollard, En ecoutant Cezanne, p. 64.)
38. Amauiy-Duval, L'Atelier d'Ingres, p. 97. The St. Symphorian, now in the Cathedral of Autun, was first commissioned in 1824. According to Baudelaire (The Mirror of Art, p. 60), it "was entirely repainted several times, and at the outset it contained far fewer figures." The work was completed in 1834. See, in Wildenstein, Ingres, p. 206, pls. 131 and 132.
39. Speaking of the artist, Hersch (L'Etre et la forme, p. 206) excellently remarks: "Sometimes he loses this unique road, he loses contact with being, he no longer feels the constraint exercised by the form, and, straightway, his freedom empties itself and confounds itself with nothingness. The artist no longer creates, he only alters given reality; he modifies fragile materials. He absolutely must find back that which is the only possible condition under which this one form can possibly be. It is the unity of this form that possesses him; this it is that he struggles with all his forces to preserve; this it is from which flows toward him the extraordinary choiceless liberty. Because this is one, he does it; and because it is one, it is." The import of this truth concerning the problems of art criticism is defined on p. 207.
40. Charles Morgan, Sparkenbroke, pp. 272-73. In this work of art about art (and a few other things), the poet attempts to determine the exact word that has jerked a reader back out of his poetic illusion. See the penetrating remarks that follow: this search must be conducted from the point of view of what should he said in the poet's world, not in everyday life: "Probably it twists further back. . . ." "It's more than one sentence, George. It's everything that leads up to it. What the girl says is right; the rest is wrong. I must go back." — "You say it like a peasant who has come ten yards down the wrong lane. It's two days' work. . . ." "I must go right back." See the conclusion of the episode, p. 350.
41. See the curious reflections of a shy artist about what he himself called "the seasoned painter" (le peintre d'experience), who, instead of pouring all his inspiration into his sketch, saves it, so to speak, in view of the completed picture to be done: "He will know how to contain the flame always ready to flare up, so that the sketch, done in cold blood, does not engage the work that is to follow." Once the sketch has been well established and quite dry, let the painter frantically attack his canvas. (Jules Breton, La vie d'un artiste, 1890, pp. 284-85.)
42. Defending Corot against the reproach of not "finishing" his landscapes, Baudelaire has said: "Next [they are unaware] that there is a great difference between a work that is complete and a work that is finished; that in general what is complete is not finished, and that a thing that is highly finished need not be complete at all" (Baudelaire, The Mirror of Art, p. 29).
43. Another division is found in Malraux (The Voices of Silence, p. 109) : (1) "the working sketch (or study) "; (2) "the sketch which records the artist's direct raw impression"; (3) "the expressive sketch," as exemplified by the lithographs of certain masters, such as Degas or Toulouse-Lautrec. Concerning these two latter classes, Malraux observes (p. 109) : "The rough sketch is a memorandum; the expressive sketch an end in itself. And being an end in itself, it differs essentially from the completed picture." See (opposite pp. 110 and 111) the plates showing a detail of Delacroix's Pieta and the final version of the same work. — Malraux's interpretation of the reason such an artist as Constable added a realistic "finish" to his sketches (namely, to gratify the spectator by a more complete realism) is not a complete answer to the problem. The sketches of Leonardo da Vinci do not differ from his completed works by any lack of realistic "finish." A scrupulously "finished" picture may not even have begun to exist as a painting.
44. There is no difference between doing something and completing it. To the extent that a thing has not been completed, it has not been done. This is true of all kinds of arts: "Omnis ars infinita repudiat" (Thomas Aquinas, Contra gentiles, I, 63: "All art repudiates unfinished works"). In the present case, however, painters have to clear an obstacle that seems proper to their own art, at least under this form: "Everyone must have observed, on looking over the studied and drawings from nature of any celebrated painter for a great work, how much of their interest and beauty is lost, when they become transferred to the canvas: many of the delicacies of drawing and sentiment disappear by being embedded in the depths of shadow; or requiring to be stronger pronounced so as to give them distinctness from under the rich tones of color with which they necessarily become charged." (Note of John Burnet to Reynolds, Discourses, p. 29.)
45. Baudelaire, The Mirror of Art, p. 29. — Cf. "I'm satisfied with the sketch [of the Entombment], but when I come to put in the details how am I going to preserve this impression of unity that results from very simple masses? Most painters, and I myself did so in the past, begin with the details and deal with the effect last. But however distressing it is to see the impression of simplicity in a good sketch vanish as one adds the details, there still remains far more than could be obtained with the other method." (The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, p. 68 [March 1, 1847].) See the whole note, pp. 68-69 (March 2, 1847). Among the best reflections on this problem are those of a minor master whose writings denote a comprehension of aesthetic problems much superior to his own powers of execution: Jules Breton, Nos Peintres du siecle, pp. 246-49.
46. Leslie, p. 227. A more complete explanation is given by Leslie, pp. 207-08. It clears up the case so perfectly that we beg to quote it in full: "With Constable chiaroscuro was the one thing to be obtained at whatever cost. 'I was always determined,' he said, 'that my pictures should have chiaroscuro, if they had nothing else.' In the pursuit of this indispensable quality, and of that brightness in nature which baffles all the ordinary processes of painting, and which it is hardly possible to unite with smoothness of surface, he was led by degrees into a peculiar mode of execution, which too much offended those who were unable to see the look of nature it gave at the proper distance. In the 'Waterloo Bridge' he had indulged in the vagaries of the palette knife (which he used with great dexterity) to an excess. The subject challenged a comparison with Canaletti, the precision of whose execution is wonderful, and the comparison was made to Constable's great disadvantage; even his friend, Mr. Stothard, shook his head and said, 'Very unfinished, sir,' and the picture was generally pronounced a failure. It was a glorious failure; I have seen it often since it was exhibited, and I will venture to say that the noonday splendour of its color would make almost any work of Canaletti, if placed beside it, look like moonlight. But such pictures ought not to be compared, each has its own excellence, and nothing can be more true than Constable's remark that 'fine pictures neither want nor will bear comparison.'" Since we are about this unfortunate picture, let us recall one more of its misfortunes. Speaking of this same Waterloo Bridge, Leslie wonders (pp. 227-28) what would Constable have felt, "could he foresee that, in little more than a year after his death, its silvery brightness was doomed to be clouded by a coat of blacking, laid on by the hand of a picture dealer! Yet that this was done, by way of giving tone to the picture, I know from the best authority, the lips of the operator, who gravely assured me that several noblemen considered it to be greatly improved by the process. The blacking was laid on with water, and secured by a coat of mastic varnish."
47. See Delacroix's remarks in his Journal, April 23, 1854. The passage is reproduced in our Appendix II, pp. 316-17.
48. See Appendix, p. 316.
49. "I am simply trying to lay in colors that express my sensation. There is between tones a necessary proportion that can make me modify the form of a figure or transform my composition. So long as I have not achieved this proportion for all the parts, I continue to seek it and I pursue my work; then there happens a moment when all the parts have found their definitive relation, and from that very moment it would become impossible for me to modify ever so slightly my picture without doing it all over again. One must achieve a construction." (Matisse, quoted by Dorival, Les stapes de la peinture francaise contemporaine, II, 85.)
50. Le Jour et la nuit, p. 27.
51. The Autobiography and Journals of Benjamin Robert Haydon, ed. Malcolm Elwin, p. xi. Cf. "Painted a Napoleon musing (front), and sold it for twenty guineas, all in six hours" (p. 602). "Painted a little Napoleon in four hours." "Nearly finished another Napoleon in four hours—nine to one." "Worked hard, and finished another Napoleon—`Haydon, patent for rapid manufacture of Napoleons Musing.' This is the eighth" (p618), and so on (pp. 620, 621) ; "I have painted nineteen Napoleons" (pp. 626, 627, 628, 633).
52. Haydon, pp. 596 and 654. — See a similar story concerning the painter Marchal (in Jules Breton, La Vie d'un artiste, pp. 263-64). A diptych painted by Marchal, Penelope and Phryne, was a tremendous success. For two or three years, unable to sell anything else, Marchal exhausted his talent in replicas. Finally, he committed suicide "in evening dress, with all the correctness of a gentleman."
53. "L'art est une chose eminemment terrestre" (Pierre Reverdy, Le Gant de crin, p. 11).
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