Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Chapter One - Poetry, Man, and Things

by Jacques Maritain


Preliminary remarks—Nature and Man—Things and the creative Self—The advent of the Self

Larger Work

Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry

Publisher & Date

Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1953

Preliminary Remarks

1. Art and poetry cannot do without one another. Yet the two words are far from being synonymous. By Art I mean the creative or producing, work-making activity of the human mind. By Poetry I mean, not the particular art which consists in writing verses, but a process both more general :and more primary: that intercommunication between the inner being of things and the inner being of the human Self which is a kind of divination (as was realized in ancient times; the Latin vates was both a poet and a diviner).1 Poetry, in this sense, is the secret life of each and all of the arts;2 another name for what Plato called mousikè.

Art and poetry—one of the main purposes of this book is to try to make clear both the distinction and the indissoluble relationship between these two strange companions.

Another main purpose has to do with the essential part played by the intellect or reason in both art and poetry, and especially with the fact that poetry has its source in the preconceptual life of the intellect. I use the words intellect and reason as synonymous, in so far as they designate a single power or faculty in the human soul. But I want to emphasize, from the start, that the very words reason or intellect, when they are related to that spiritual energy which is poetry, must be understood in a much deeper and larger sense than is usual. The intellect, as well as the imagination, is at the core of poetry. But reason, or the intellect, is not merely logical reason; it involves an exceedingly more profound—and more obscure—life, which is revealed to us in proportion as we endeavor to penetrate the hidden recesses of poetic activity. In other words, poetry obliges us to consider the intellect both in its secret wellsprings inside the human soul and as functioning in a nonrational (I do not say antirational) or nonlogical way.

If, in the course of my discussions, I refer especially to the art of the painter and the art of the poet, it is not that I consider the other arts to be less significant. Music is perhaps the most significant of all. But music, I think, requires a separate, quite special analysis. Furthermore, this book is in no way a treatise on the arts; I am neither a historian nor a critic of art. My inquiry is a philosophical inquiry. I need examples which are closest at hand for everybody. Examples are only an inductive or instrumental way to get at ideas and to check ideas.

2. The first two chapters in this book are, to a certain extent, introductory chapters. This first chapter, although mainly occupied with broad considerations about plastic arts, is concerned in reality with poetry--poetry in the universal sense I just mentioned a moment ago—but it is concerned with poetry from a still external, merely descriptive point of view.

Its aim is only to bring us, through an inductive way, to confront some basic facts and state a basic problem. The problem will be scrutinized later.

The second chapter deals with art, in the strictly determined sense which must be given to this word. Its aim is to establish a certain number of fundamentals, which are needed for further investigation, especially when it comes to the crucial point: the relationship between art and poetry.

Nature and Man

3. As soon as beauty is involved, the prime fact that to be observed is a sort of interpenetration between Nature and Man. This interpenetration is quite peculiar in essence: for it is in no way a mutual absorption. Each of the two terms involved remains what it is, it keeps its essential identity, it even asserts more powerfully this identity of its own, while it suffers the contagion or impregnation of the other. But neither one is alone; they are mysteriously commingled.

Man, when he feels the joy of beauty, does not only enter with the things of nature into that relationship of intentional3 or spiritual identification which constitutes knowledge—"to know is to become another in so far as it is another." Man is seduced by Nature (metamorphosed as Nature may be when the object contemplated is a work of art). To some extent Nature enters his own blood and breathes his own desire with him. Whether art, in its beginnings in mankind, always had some magic purpose is a questionable assumption. But in a deeper though improper sense, art by itself involves a species of magic, which has become purified in the course of centuries, and is pure, and purely aesthetic, when the invasion of man by Nature pertains exclusively to the joy of a vision or intuition, that is, of a purely intentional or suprasubjective becoming.

Conversely, in connection with aesthetic feeling there is always, to some degree, a sort of invasion of Nature by man.

Take the objects of aesthetic delight which are the most completely remote from any impact of humanity: say, either a beautiful mathematical demonstration—or, in the domain of art, a beautiful abstract arrangement, an Arabic mosaic or piece of stuccowork;—or a shining flower, a gleaming sunset, a tropical bird;—or any of the great spectacles offered by wild Nature, desert, virgin forest, mountains, or those big noisy waterfalls which offer innumerable families of tourists the thrill of the sublime. Everywhere, in reality, man is there, under cover. Man's measure is present, though hidden. All these nonhuman things return to man a quality of the human mind which is concealed in them: intellectual proportion and consistency in the case of a beautiful or "elegant" mathematical demonstration, or in the case of a beautiful abstract arrangement. In the case of that beauty which simply delights the senses, number or proportion is there again, and makes the senses rejoice in a property of their own; and as to physical qualities themselves, if a beautiful color in its relation to other surrounding colors "washes the eye," as Degas put it, it is because it corresponds in things to the need of the eye for rhythmical concentration and release, and to that immaterial transparency through which the inner operation of the sense reaches fulfillment.4

Finally, what about the great spectacles of wild Nature? Something of man is still involved—this time a certain feeling (related of itself to no aesthetic perception, I would say a brute feeling, or a merely subjective feeling) which is produced in us, and projected by us into things, and reflected upon us by them: especially, with respect to Nature in her own fierce or solitary, unpierceable selfhood, the feeling of an infinite disproportion between Nature and man: this is not simply crushing and astounding, it also stirs in us, obscurely, vague and indeterminate heroic potentialities—we wonder in the dark through what kind of frightful experiences we might possibly overcome the very disproportion. Hence an impression both of awe and of challenge, which causes, I think, the sensation of the sublime, but which makes this sensation far distant from the pure perception of beauty and, I would say, defective in aesthetic value. (Not to speak of the fact that what is called sublime by tourists, sometimes by philosophers, is often simply what causes them to be in a daze.)

4. Yet what I should like to emphasize now has nothing to do with the category of above-mentioned cases, where the object of aesthetic perception, though implying some inherent relationship to man, was as separate as possible from human life. My contention is that, apart from these particular cases, the beauty of Nature is all the greater, the aesthetic delight or perception in the face of Nature is all the purer and the deeper, as the impact of human life upon Nature is more profound and extensive.

This may come about through the power of imagination. (Thus do the slow clouds moving in the sky, or the immensity of the sea—"Homme libre toujours to chériras la mer"—speak endlessly to man of the human soul.)

And it may come about in actual existence. Nature happens to be invaded by man in her own physical and spiritual reality, I mean, by this last expression, in her inner power of significance. And then her own beauty is best revealed. The bay of Rio de Janeiro, immense, luminous, exquisitely delineated, is one of the most rightly admired natural sites. But how much more beautiful, how much more moving—I mean moving the very sense of beauty—is the entrance, at nightfall, into the port of Marseilles, as it opens its man-managed secretive basins one after another, in a forest of masts, cranes, lights, and memories! When you drive along the Hudson River or through the hills of Virginia (it is not a question of walking, Americans do not know this meditative pleasure), imagine for a moment that the country you contemplate is still populated with Indian warriors and tents: then the beauty of Nature will awake and make sense all of a sudden, because the relationship between Nature and man has been re-established; modern inhabitants have not yet had the time to permeate the land with the form of man. But look at the violent forms, laden with human labor, that have been here and there planted in fields or along rivers by industry: here the relationship is established, Nature avows a new beauty. How is it that when coming from the ocean you pass the Pillars of Hercules and enter the Mediterranean, the beauty of the airy shores and lifelike sea bursts into a song, a triumph? How is it that the simple curves of the Campagna fill you with a plenitude of emotion which seems inexhaustible? If not because of Vergil and the Greek heroes (though you don't actually think of them), and the impalpable breezes of memory which freshen your face. These places on the earth have been impregnated with man's intelligence and toil. It is through history that the union of Nature and man is accomplished. As a result Nature radiates with signs and significance, which make her beauty blossom forth.

From this analysis we may draw two conclusions. First: Nature is all the more beautiful as it is laden with emotion. Emotion is essential in the perception of beauty. But what sort of emotion? It is not the emotion which I called a while ago brute or merely subjective. It is another kind of emotion—one with knowledge:5 because, like the emotion produced by all those signs and that significance with which Nature invaded by man abounds, and which I just pointed out, it constitutes or integrates a delight involved in a vision. Such an emotion transcends mere subjectivity, and draws the mind toward things known and toward knowing more. And so induces dream in us.

Second: The signs and the significance I just pointed out remain, as a rule, virtual or latent, at least at that very moment when the wanderer on the earth is struck by the impact of beauty. No particular recollection, no particular idea, is expressed in consciousness. Yet, for all that, these signs and this significance do not lose anything of their power with respect to the experience of beauty. Let us remember this fact, to which we shall have to return later. Unexpressed significance, unexpressed meanings, more or less unconsciously putting pressure on the mind, play an important part in aesthetic feeling and the perception of beauty.

Following the same line of reflection, we also see that Oscar Wilde's saying, Nature imitates art, is but an obvious truism, as far as our perception of the beauty of Nature is concerned. For man's art and vision too are one of the ways through which mankind invades Nature, so as to be reflected and meant by her. Without the mirrors worked out by generations of painters and poets, what would our aesthetic penetration of Nature be? Only after Giotto had replaced by peaks and mountains the gold backgrounds of early medieval art did we6 become aware of the beauty of mountains. When you are walking in Rome, part of your joy depends on Piranesi; it depends also on the mirror of theater: yellow-ocher palazzi, stores, and workshops open as a grotto, people at home in old streets, are there to offer you the charms of the stage. Let us look at human faces as if they were pictures, then the pleasures of our eyes will be multiplied. An epicurean of art traveling in New York subways enjoys a ceaselessly renewed exhibition of Cézanne's, Hogarth's, or Gauguin's figures, offered free of charge by nature, or of Seurat's when all the lights are on.

Things and the Creative Self

5. It is not enough to consider the mutual entanglement of Nature and man in relation to aesthetic feeling or the perception of beauty. What matters to us is the mutual entanglement of Nature and man—let us say, the coming together of the World and the Self—in relation to artistic creation. Then we truly enter our subject matter. And then we have to do with Poetry.

But while standing on the threshold I cannot help, first, complaining about human vocabulary. I need to designate both the singularity and the infinite internal depths of this flesh-and-blood and spiritual existent, the artist; and I have only an abstract word: the Self. I need to designate the secretive depths and the implacable advance of that infinite host of beings, aspects, events, physical and moral tangles of horror and beauty—of that world, that undecipherable Other—with which Man the artist is faced; and I have no word for that except the poorest and tritest word of the human language; I shall say: the things of the world, the Things. But I would wish to invest this empty word with the feelings of primitive man looking at the all-pervading force of Nature, or of the old Ionian philosophers saying that "all things are full of gods."

The Things and the artist's Self: what can we learn on this subject from the typical forms in which the creative effort of man's eyes and hands has manifested itself in the course of centuries?

I do not like generalizations and bird's-eye views. Yet I am constrained to resort to them by the method I am trying to follow in this chapter. I hope I can attach myself --to broad characteristics simple and evident enough to avoid too great a risk of arbitrary interpretation.

The crucial fact with which we are confronted is, it seems to me, the contrast and opposition between the approach and spirit, the poetic perception, of the Orient, and the approach and spirit, the poetic perception, of the Occident, as regards the relationship between Things and the artist's Self.

In a general way it can be said—and it is strongly emphasized by Oriental writers—that the art of the Orient is the direct opposite of Western individualism. The Oriental artist would be ashamed of thinking of his ego and intending to manifest his own subjectivity in his work. His first duty is to forget himself. He looks at Things, he meditates on the mystery of their visible appearance and on the mystery of their secret life force, he reveals both in his work, either for the pleasure of man and the ornament of human life, or for the sacred rites of prayer and worship. But because Oriental art is essentially religious or religious-minded, this art is in communion with Things not for the sake of Things but for the sake of some other—invisible and adorable—reality whose signs Things are, and which, through Things, art reveals together with Things. In actual fact religion, not art, has lifted art to that level of life which is the very life of art, basically needed for its own truth and greatness, and which is the life of symbols. Oriental art is only intent on Things; but, like every genuine art, it loathes realism.

Now there are two specific features which must be pointed out, and which help us to realize why Things and the pure objectivity of Things, not man and human subjectivity, hold sway over Oriental art.

On the one hand, as everywhere where the religious instinct in mankind has not been transfigured by the Gospel, the various religions with which Oriental art is connected are primarily bound to keep and protect the human community through the social, legal, ritual efficacy of the sacred functions. Accordingly, Oriental art is primarily concerned with the universe of objects involved in rite; it turns away from Man to look for the sacred things meant by Things and the sacred faces mirrored in the world—a mythical universe which is extraneous to Man, suprahuman, sometimes ferociously antihuman. How could idolatry not lie in wait for such an art? As long as God has not assumed flesh, and the invisible made itself visible, man is prone to adore, together with the invisible powers, the Signs and the Things through which his art brings them to his eyes; he is all the more prone to do so as his art is more profoundly art, or endowed with a stronger symbolic virtue.

On the other hand art, for Oriental thought, does not stop at the work done. Better to say, a work of art is not simply an object fashioned by the artist and existing on its own. The work is brought to completion, the work

exists, only when it is seen—as a meeting place where two minds (the artist's and the beholder's) join one another: it veritably exists only as a vehicle of actual ideal communication. As a result, not only is the Oriental artist entirely intent on Things, but on Things such as to be made communicable to the minds of others. And this (together with the related ascendancy of traditional disciplines) is a further obligation for him to depart from himself and make self-forgetfulness his primordial virtue.

6. Such is, it seems to me, the general picture, as concerns the Orient and the poetic approach of Oriental art. But let us examine things at closer range. Asia "is nothing, if not spiritual," Okakura Kakuzo said, and her unity is the unity of a single spirit. Yet there is diversity in this unity. A look at the difference between the major types of Oriental art offered by India and China may help our analysis reach more definite conclusions.

In what way is Indian art entirely intent on Things? I would say that this art is captured by Things; it means a giving up of the soul to the life-giving violence which dwells in Things and ripens into sense-striking luxuriance.

No doubt Indian art, like Indian philosophy, is permeated with spiritual practical purpose. What is done by the artist is less a work of art than an instrument for some invisible result to be produced within the mind. I am thinking not only of those hieratic diagrams which are, so to speak, ecstatic gadgets of yoga; but also of the spiritual expression and smile through which so many images of Buddha aim to induce peace and contemplation in the beholder.

Yet on the one hand everything which is not the Absolute is illusion; and on the other hand this very illusion is a manifestation of the Absolute, not as participated in by a created reality, but as mirrored in a dream;—and the only Self is the Absolute. Let us say, then, that this dream is sacred: just as the pure flower of the lotus resting on the surface of the water, so the mud from which it arises is sacred; everything is sacred. There is no ascetic purification of the senses, but rather self-expansion and self‑evolution of a life-power which is indivisibly sensual and spiritual—until final liberation from that very life-power, and from any sensible or intellectual representation.

And there is no ascent to the Absolute through created realities (since there are no created realities). How could the figures of the dream be of use to point to reality, the supreme, the Unique Reality? The wise man looks for pure aloofness, and turns only to his own inner self. There is no spiritualization of visible things (except in certain works of the Greco-Buddhist school). Art has its dwelling place in maya, and in the realm of senses. It depicts a mirage,7 but it is delivered over to the mirage, and to the unbridled exuberance of sense-captivating forms. And such a process is all the more irresistible as the prime day of the artist, in the Oriental conception, is to identify himself with that which he has to express. Try as he may to reach beyond Nature, he can only succeed in identifying himself with the very life-force, the ferocious eros which carries the dream of the world along to ceaseless births and renewals and swarming productivity. He is vanquished by Nature, and the implacable fecundity of Becoming.

Thus it is that Indian art, while always looking for the hidden meaning of Things, is captured by Things, as I said a moment ago, and gives itself up to their inner vital violence and outer vital luxuriance. Busy with their nine flavors, it offers us a profusion of dancing and moving, happy, poignant, heroic or pathetic, sometimes provocative, sometimes savage forms, of exquisite details, or of majestic stone outgrowths which seem enormous vegetable productions shaped from within by the soul of tropical vines and forests. It bursts forth into a riot of ornaments and embellishings. It makes us wonder whether the conviction of the illusory nature of everything proffered by the senses does not result from, and counterbalance, a most profound sensual vitality.

So richly beautiful an art does not seek after beauty. It always remains a vehicle at the service of some practical effect, either erotic, magic, or religious. Even in its most splendid achievements it remembers the impermanence of the wooden or clay materials it used originally, as well as the impermanence of Nature (a century ago Father Huc still had the opportunity of admiring in Tibet statues carefully carved in butter). This art is not interested in the beauty of the human figure. The human figure, for it, is only a part of cosmic appearances and one of the shadows cast by the dance of Shiva.

7. Chinese art also is entirely intent on Things: but in a way typically different from the Indian way. It is not captured by Things; rather does it capture them, in the light of a sort of animist transnaturalism. This art is a contemplative effort to discover in Things and bring out from Things their own encaged soul and inner principle of dynamic harmony, their "spirit," conceived as a kind of invisible ghost which comes down to them from the spirit of the universe and gives them their typical form of life and movement.

Here we have no dash for the Absolute, the supreme, and unique Self.8 We have a cosmic faith, a sacred veneration for Tao, the primal source,9 and for heaven, in which the spirits of all that is visibly shaped pre-exist, and from which they come down into Things to hide in them and shape and move them from within. And Things exist, be it in a fleeting manner—this native, deep-seated Chinese feeling has possibly been invaded, but has never been effaced by Buddhist irrealism; Things are not a dream, they have their own reality. Then Things themselves (since they are real participations in being) can be spiritualized—in other words the spirit they conceal can be discovered and set free by our contemplative grasping. And senses, through which Things are reached, can be purified too. Such a process describes the primary intent of Chinese art. What does the first of the famous six canons of Hsieh Ho prescribe?—To have life-motion manifest the unique spiritual resonance that the artist catches in Things, inspired as he is by his communion with the spirit of the cosmos. The second canon is no less significant. If the brush strokes which render bone structure have primacy among all means of execution, to the point of making painting, so to speak, a branch of calligraphy, it is because the very vigor and alertness of these touches (together with the quality of the ink tones) express the movement of life perceived in things and its structural harmony (and they are, at the same time, a token of the value of the artist's inspiration).

The Chinese contemplative painter becomes one with Things, not to be carried along by their generative torrent, but to seize upon their own inner spirit. He draws them in; he suggests their spiritual meaning, leaving aside the whole glut of sense-satiating, flesh-and-blood forms and colors, luxuriant detail, or ornament; he endeavors to make Things more impressively themselves, on his silk or his paper, than they are in themselves, and to reveal at the same time their affinities with the human soul; he enjoys their inner beauty, and leads the beholder to divine it. Thus it is that he is busy with capturing Things, as I said a moment ago.

A second typical difference from Indian art appears in the major importance given by the Chinese artist to empty spaces, to silent times: because what matters above all is the power of suggestion of the work, and because, in the Taoist view, the nonexistent has as much significance as the existent.10 This makes Chinese painting particularly akin to music, where rests are as important as sounds—whereas the works of Indian art are filled up, packed with the irresistible offspring of life and with expressive forms that saturate the eye. There is no more anatomical science or concern in China than in India. But a running Chinese horse is the very spirit of the horse's powerful movement, while Indian horses and elephants, dancers, and dryads are sense-astonishing or enrapturing spokes of the wheel of Nature. The flowing quality of Chinese art is more of a melody, that of Indian art, of a brimful river.

Finally, as concerns the attitude of art with regard to beauty—a difficult subject, which I now only touch upon—I have already noted that Indian art is not directly concerned with beauty. Distinguishing between the conscious purpose of the artist and the vital dynamism of the virtue of art which is at work in him, one might say, more precisely, that neither Indian art (except by stealth) nor the Indian artist seeks after beauty, I mean for beauty's sake.

Nor does the Chinese artist—any more than our medieval craftsmen —seek after beauty for beauty's sake; but Chinese art, like our medieval art, seeks indeed after beauty, as its supreme, transcendent end. In other words the search for beauty does not haunt the consciousness of the Chinese or medieval artists, who enjoy the beauty of things but want only to make a "good" work, and to make it a vehicle of spiritual instruction.11 But the search after beauty for the sake of beauty, or as supreme, transcendent end, is present and paramount in the unconscious, intrinsic dynamism of Chinese art, and of medieval art as well; whereas the dynamism of Indian art itself tends, I would say, to a supreme end which is not beauty, but praxis, practical use, especially spiritual experience, either of the devouring impermanence of Becoming, or of the power of divinities. This virtue of art finds beauty by the way, without looking for it. Chinese art, however, despite its interest in portraiture, has not yet perceived the privileged beauty of the human figure. It is less interested in the beauty of the human body than in the beauty of landscapes, birds, and flowers.

Some of the traits I just pointed out make Chinese art, in one sense, nearer than Indian art to our own art. It remains, nevertheless, dominated by the supremacy of Things over the human Self which characterizes Oriental art in general. According to this tendency toward sheer objectivity, the motion-giving and life-giving spirit on Which Chinese art is intent in Things was to become a kind of typical formula assigned once and for all to the various categories of things. Even the Chinese passion for codification, canonic rules, and recipes, as well as the Chinese cult for masters in whose footprints disciples must follow, and whom they must piously copy, has made Chinese art liable to the temptation of an academicism which is no less boring than our own: hence those bamboos invariably stern in their never-yielding flexibility, those plum trees invariably courageous because they blossom in winter, those orchids invariably pure because they display their beauty in solitude, those chrysanthemums invariably noble because they have the mind of a hermit, those mountains invariably smiling in spring and sleeping in winter, those farmers invariably rustic, those ladies invariably refined, and those generals invariably brave.

8. To what purpose did I submit these observations about Indian and Chinese art? What is the conclusion they lead us to? The typical difference between Indian art and Chinese art does not proceed from the Things that man contemplates. It proceeds from men who contemplate Things. All the distinctive features on which I have laid stress are but an expression of the invisible human fabric, spiritual and carnal, religious, intellectual, or emotional, depending both on nature and history, on conditioning and freedom, which is rooted in the subjectivity of the Indian people and the Chinese people. What makes Oriental art either typically Indian or typically Chinese is the fact that the particular poetic approach embodied in Chinese or Indian art—while, in both cases, turning away from the human ego to look only at Things—conveys to the work, in reality, not only an obscure revelation of Things, but also—in an involuntary, reluctant, and masked manner—an obscure revelation of the human Self as well, the collective Indian Self or collective Chinese Self.

Furthermore, let us now take into account the great diversity of schools and styles into which both Indian and Chinese art have divided, in the course of centuries burdened with an extraordinary succession of human events, changes, and experiences. The poetic approach peculiar to each one of these schools conveyed to the works issuing from them, as well as an obscure revelation of Things, an obscure revelation of a particular collective subjectivity.

And lastly let us look at the individual works themselves, at the great works which, traveling through the ages, bring to us the impact of some unforgettable creative intuition. In and through the admirable disinterestedness of the Oriental artist, in and through his pure effort toward Things to be revealed in their pure objectivity, it is also his individual soul, the unique quality of his singular emotion, the secret night of his own singular subjectivity, which are, despite himself, obscurely revealed to us, and which strike us in the dark. The more the personality of the Oriental artist succeeds in forgetting itself and immolating itself in Things, the mole, in point of fact, it is present and revives in the work.

Here is, then, the conclusion we may retain (a partial conclusion, since it refers only to the art of the Orient): it is that Oriental art is the opposite of Western individualism and never says "I." It endeavors to hide the human Self and to stare only at Things. It is primarily directed toward communion with and expression of the transnatural, particularly the sacred :content which is meant by Nature and by Things. But to the very extent to which it reveals the secret meanings of Things, Oriental art cannot help obscurely revealing also, despite itself, the creative subjectivity of the artist.12The more the poetic perception which animates art catches and manifests the inner side of Things, the more it involves at the same time a disclosure and manifestation of the human Self.

The same conclusion holds true for Greek art. I observe, parenthetically, that it is not invalidated by Islamic art, which being forbidden the representation of figures (at least in public edifices), developed along the lines of a purely abstract objectivity. Islamic art is intent on mathematical harmony and rhythmic order, and yet with all its rosettes and arabesques, garlands, palm leaves, and floral tendrils, and its delight in color, it involuntarily betrays the vivid sensuousness, burned by the intellect's refined fire, of the creative subjectivity from which it proceeds.

As regards Hellenic art, we know (this is a commonplace observation, yet true, to be sure, and sufficient for our purpose) what testimony it affords of the "Greek miracle" as an epiphany of human reason. Man and reason stand facing the crushing impetus of cosmic powers and the traps set by the shrewd ruthlessness of the gods: they are set on understanding the mystery of that implacable Nature within which they remain encompassed and of that life to which it would have been better not to be born.

Armed with invisible ideas they struggle with Things. Orpheus charms the beasts and is torn by Maenads. Fate and freedom are face to face. Art, then, while being aware of the suprahuman, divine or magic or dionysian power inherent in Things, strives after the intelligibility of Things and intends to bring out their connivance with Reason.

It was when such conflict and tension made the enigmatic and threatening significance of Things still present in the victory of reason that Greek art reached its unique, everlasting splendor. Later on, it luckily preserved in a host of incomparable works its genuine poetic approach, but it was finally to succumb to the lies both of imitation and idealism. In its period of decadence it deteriorated through submission to the separate authority of a thing-in-itself to be copied, and to the search after the canons of ideal beauty of this very thing. It became self-satisfied with those perfectly rationalized but deaf-mute melting shapes, imprisoned in themselves and mirroring nothing, which Praxiteles offers to the admiration of the historians of art.

Contrary to what we have noticed apropos of Chinese art, not only Greek art but the Greek artist himself sought after beauty, and in the most conscious and purposeful manner. This was a great event in the spiritual history of mankind: a liberation of the transcendent value of beauty, which is a participation in divine attributes, and, at the same time, an invaluable step (though naturally pregnant with those "beautiful dangers" that Plato cherished) in the progress of the human spirit in self-awareness. By the same stroke, Greek art perceived the privilege of man in the objective realm of beauty; it realized that the human body is the most beautiful object in nature: a revelation which was too much for it. Greek art bent in adoration before the human figure. Thus it was in the long run doubly vanquished: by nature and by the figure, by aesthetic submission to the external thing-in-itself and by idolatrous worshiping of the human body.

In concluding these brief remarks, we must observe that beneath all essential differences, Greek art and Oriental art have a basic characteristic in common: like the art of the Orient, Greek art is entirely intent on Things; it is against the grain of this fundamental tendency that creative subjectivity is disclosed and manifested in the work, without the artist willing or knowing it. In struggling with Things and Nature, Greek art is always turned toward them. Man, privileged as his figure may be, remains an object in Nature and a thing in the cosmos, subordinate to the perfection and divinity of the universality of Things. A certain individualism starts to assert itself, it is true, but only as to the artist's individual talent or mastery, not as to his individual self-interiority. The Greek artist had less self-forgetfulness, perhaps, than the Chinese, but only in so far as he was concerned with his own excellence in the face of beholders or competitors, rather than with his own inwardness in the face of Things. The inner mystery of personality was not yet revealed to man.

The Advent of the Self

9. It is in a theological form, and at the peak of the most abstract conceptualization, that the notions of person and personality were first explicitly offered to the human mind: namely, in the dogmatic formulas concerned with Christian faith in the divine Trinity—one Nature in three Persons—and in the Incarnation of the Word—a divine Person assuming human nature. At the same time the human mind was confronted with a new idea of man—the Gospels and St. Paul disclosed to it the prevalence of the internal man over the external man, of the inner life of the soul over legal or exterior forms—and it could contemplate in the Son of Man crowned with thorns the abysmal depth of the most living and mysterious Self.

How, then, was art to go its way through the centuries dating from the birth of Christ? To make a long story short, I would say that in the course of its extraordinarily diversified evolution, our Western art passed from a sense of the human Self first grasped as object, and in the sacred exemplar of Christ's divine Self, to a sense of the human Self finally grasped as subject, or in the creative subjectivity of man himself, man the artist or the poet.

Shall indicate in a most diagrammatic way the main essential phases of this evolution as I see it? In the first phase the mystery of the Person comes into sight as a mere object, in the world of Things but transcending Things. Man emerges above Nature and has vanquished the world. Here we have Byzantine art—so close, in one sense, to Oriental art, though freer from Things—with its glorious and royal, not suffering Christs; and Rome's basilicas, and their grand mosaics, more radiant with spirituality in the barbarous centuries than at the time of Roman classicism; and Ravenna; and further Romanesque art. The immense reality of the human soul is more and more present, but not revealed, even in the manner of an object; it remains veiled behind the intellectual and universal, dogmatic significance of sacred symbols and figures. The divinity of Christ soars over everything.

In the second phase the mystery of the Person still comes into sight as a mere object, in the world of Things though transcending Things. But now—in Gothic architecture's times, and especially after St. Francis of Assisi—this mystery discloses its more human depths. This is the age of Duccio, Giotto, Angelico, of French and Spanish Pietà’s, and, in its final ardor, of Grünewald. Art is still dominated by sacred inspiration, and Christ is still at the center. But this time it is Christ in His humanity, in His torment and redeeming Passion—and around Him the Virgin in compassion and all the saints with their individual features and adventures, and mankind with all the characters who play their part in human life, and all nature reconciled with man in the grace of the Gospel. The human soul gleams everywhere through the barred windows of the objective world, the human Self is more and more present on the stage, in the manner of an object which art offers to our sight. Soon it will feel lost in its human loneliness, when the sacral order of old Christendom dissolves and man begins seeking on a hostile earth a place for his newly discovered autonomy. And we shall contemplate the dances of the dead, and the great "existentialist" distress of the later fifteenth century.

10. I would submit that in the third phase the sense of the human Self and of human subjectivity enters a process of internalization, and passes from the object depicted to the mode with which the artist performs his work. Then occurs the outburst of individualism commonly pointed out apropos of the Renaissance, baroque art, and our classical art. Here we have not only—together with a prise de conscience of the intellectual energy or virtue of art—a prise de conscience of the working ego, exceedingly stronger than in the Greek artist. This is what happened at first—a sudden beholding of the sublimity of the artist's calling and of the new power and ambition afforded to him by science, by anatomical knowledge, mathematics, perspective, and the' discovery of three-dimensional representation in painting, which intoxicated with glory the great Italians of the second Rinascimento. But I think of something much more profound, which was to last and develop in subsequent centuries, namely the fact that the unconscious pressure of the artist's individuality upon the very object he was concerned with in Nature came to exercise and manifest itself freely in his work.

No doubt the old illusion in which Leonardo himself (as a philosopher, I mean, not as an artist) believed when he praised painting as the art of offering the eye perfect simulacra of natural objects remained in the ideological background. But the fact gave it the lie. Painters did not strive for external resemblance. The external form was not to be copied, but to be interpreted—thus Michelangelo's precept, to give moving figures the form of the flame of fire,13 was long an accepted maxim. Over and above all, natural appearances, though still treasured and lovingly revered, were caught and carried along in the freedom of imagination fecundated by nature. "We painters take the same liberties as poets and madmen take," Veronese said.14 Speaking of Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: "They addressed themselves," Allston rightly observed,15 "not to the senses merely, as some have supposed, but rather through them to that region (if I may so speak) of the imagination which is supposed to be under the exclusive dominion of music, which, by similar excitement they caused to team with visions that gap the soul in Elysium.' In other words they leave the subject to be made by the spectator, provided he possesses the imaginative faculty; otherwise they will have little more meaning to him than a calico counterpane."

Nature, then, with her sensible forms, always confronts the artist as a separate thing-in-itself. And the artist, it is true, no longer looks at her to draw from her symbols of supernatural realities, as the Middle Ages did, he no longer believes with Michelangelo that "good painting is nothing but a copy of the perfections of God and a recollection of His painting." (He added, and this is singularly close to modern consciousness: "It is a music and a melody which only intellect can understand, and that with great difficulty."16 But the artist is now very far also from seeking in Nature, as Greek classicism did, the ideal beauty of a given object grasped by the senses. Nature for him is the inspirer of an imaginary world which he draws from Things with her assistance and collaboration. And the subject on which he is intent is a fruit of imagination born of nature and permeated with nature, which he tries to make present to our eyes. Thus on the one hand he remains submitted to the primacy of the object—become, in the sense I just specified, the "subject represented." But on the other hand he definitely imprints on it the mark of his own individuality, of his own style, even if it is true that he aspires to achieving "style" rather than to "having a style."17 The work bears more openly than ever, it bears of necessity, by virtue of the typical relationship prevalent in those times between the artist and Nature, the imprint of its maker.

An external manifestation of this fact is the multiplicity of contrasting schools and techniques from the early sixteenth century on. Even the individual factor in the mode of performing the work becomes so powerful that the greatest artists cannot actually understand each other's art. Michelangelo was singularly hard on Flemish painting, "which attempts to do so many things that it does none well,"18 and El Greco said that Michelangelo "was a good man but did not know how to paint."19 When, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the perfect economy of intelligence and the creative order of a reason admirably sensitive and respectful of intuition gained prevalence, the free assertion of the artist's personality was not effaced, at least in the great achievements of classical art. Such an art has become purely human, it has got loose from sacred inspiration. But not only in Rembrandt, Zurbarán or Georges de Latour, say, in Velásquez’ portraits or Vermeer's figures, in Poussin's or Claude's landscapes or Watteau's tragic games and ballets as well, it remains open, one way or another, to that kind of religious gravity which emanates from any spiritual depth.

Yet we know too well how our classical art was threatened by the perennial enemies of creative reason: naturalism, academicism, adoration of the perfection of means. The end came when the sense of the Sign got completely lost in corrupted classicism. But even in the great epoch the dominant concern—regarded as inherent in the very essence of art—with the subject treated and the rational consistency, the objective intelligibility of the spectacle offered to sight, continued to repress or control to a large extent creative subjectivity and obliged poetry to pass through a permanent obstacle, perhaps for a greater blessing in disguise and a more powerful assertion of its native freedom.

It is curious to notice that in the last years of the eighteenth century, Chardin (in words perhaps retouched by Diderot's pen) already gave expression to that awareness of the artist's tragic condition which later the Romantic muse was to make general. Yet he had in view more the ill-effects of academic training than the inner ordeal of creative freedom. "When we are seven or eight years old," he said in his address to the jury of the Salon of 1765,20 "a pencil is put in our hands. We begin to draw from the cast eyes, mouths, noses, ears, and afterwards feet and hands. . . . After having withered for days and nights before immobile and inanimate

nature, we are presented with living nature, and suddenly all the preceding years seem wasted: we were no more at a loss the first time we held a pencil. The eye must be taught to look at nature; and how many have never seen and will never see it! It is the agony of our lives. We have been kept thus far five or six years before the model when we are delivered over to our genius, if we have any. Talent does not declare itself in an instant. It is not at the first attempt that one has the honesty to admit one's inabilities. How many attempts, now happy, now unhappy! Precious years have flown before disgust, lassitude, and boredom overcome the student. . . . What shall he do, what shall he become? He must throw himself into one of those low conditions whose doors are open to misery, or die of hunger. He chooses the first alternative, with the exception of some few who come here every two years to expose themselves to the beast; the others, unknown and perhaps less unhappy, wear a plastron on their chests in some fencing school, or a musket on their shoulders in some regiment. . .. He who has not felt the difficulties of his art does nothing that counts; he who . . . has felt them too soon does nothing at all. . . ."

11. The fourth phase of the evolution I am analyzing coincides with the latest great epoch of modern painting. It began, in rough outline, after the Romantic preparations, with the second half of the last century, and it seems to be entering a serious crisis in our day. In this phase, the process of internalization through which human consciousness has passed from the concept of the Person to the very experience of subjectivity comes to fulfillment: it reaches the creative act itself. Now subjectivity is revealed, I mean as creative. At the same time and by the same token is also revealed the intuitive, and entirely individualized, way through which subjectivity communes with the world in the creative act. While being set free, the basic need for self-expression quickens and makes specific the new relationship of the artist to Things. The inner meanings of Things are enigmatically grasped through the artist's Self, and both are manifested in the work together. This was the time when poetry became conscious of itself.

We shall have to discuss in other parts of this book the spiritual event which I am pointing out. It is more clearly analyzable in the poet than in the painter, for the painter, whatever happens, remains completely held in the world of the eyes. Let us indicate only a few points. It has become a commonplace to observe that modern painting has freed itself from the dominion of the subject21 (be it the imaginary spectacle of which I spoke a moment ago) and, by the same token, from the requirements for objective and rational consistency in the externals of the things shown. The object henceforth is uniquely the work. Painting is concerned with painting, and not with measuring itself to anything possessed of a separate value-in‑itself.22

All that is true, but it is only a half-truth. For what do we see in great modern painters? Men more intent than ever on Nature, though otherwise; men who seeking after themselves are by the same stroke carried along beyond the natural appearances of Things, in desperate search of they don't know what deeper reality that is obscurely meant by Things in a different way for each particular searcher. The conquest, by brush and palette, of this unnamable something is enough for a man to offer up his entire life and energy and to run any risk. It is so because creative subjectivity cannot awaken to itself except in communing with Things. Thus the relationship with Nature has been changed, but has not been abolished. Nature, for the painter, is no longer a separate thing-in-itself, but Nature, in some of her inner aspects, has reached the heart of creative subjectivity, as a germ of that object which is the work to be born. Accordingly, the painter (who henceforth is simply nothing if he lacks poetic vision) sees deeper into Things, though in the dark of Things and of his own Self. He grasps enigmatically an aspect or element of the mystery of the universe of matter, in so far as this aspect or element is meant to fructify into a construction of lines or colors.23 And because subjectivity has become the very vehicle to penetrate into the objective world, what is thus looked for in visible Things must have the same kind of inner depth and inexhaustible potentialities for revelation as the Self of the painter. As a result, modern painting at its best attains, while remaining strictly painting, to a sort of ontological vastness, and to a superior—though paradoxical for logical reason—degree of intellectuality.

So the sign and token par excellence of the advent of the Self in modern painting is the very fact that, whatever the price paid, modern !painting in its heroic period (which is perhaps now behind us) is pledged to reveal in Things not simply, as Chinese painting, a life-giving ghost concealed in them, but a much vaster and more real immanent unknown—namely some of the infinite inner aspects of visible matter and of the infinite meanings they convey, which are caught in and through the sovereign awakening of creative subjectivity to itself, according to any direction whatever in which an act of spiritual communication with the Things of the world can be brought about, and which can be expressed only by recasting those Things into a new visible fabric.

It is permissible to regard Piero della Francesca and Hieronymus Bosch as forerunners of this full liberation of the poetic sense in painting. The great witness of it remains Cézanne. More, to be sure, than Manet or any other, he has been the liberating figure in contemporary art: precisely because he was so totally, he seemed so obdurately and desperately intent on that bound, buried significance of visible Things, which he felt perpetually escaping him in proportion as he took hold of it. Hence his abiding dissatisfaction with his work, his so typical desire to refaire Poussin sur nature—recreate Poussin by painting from nature24—his longing for a consubstantial order and harmony emerging from the brute universe of the eye in the act of seeing, and that quality of emotion, echoing both being and man, which the least landscape or still life painted by him awakes in us.25

Cezanne imposes his style on Nature all the more forcefully as he was not concerned with inventing a style, but with discovering in Nature, in that world of thick, voluminous matter permeated with light and color that is the very world of the painter, a working secret as singular as his own Self. I am willing to insist that any of Cézanne's paintings is (as Andre Malraux says of van Gogh's Chair) but an ideogram of himself.26 Yet I should not like to forget—such an omission mars a good part of contemporary artists' most brilliant ideology—that it is also, and indivisibly, an ideogram of some invaluable real aspect, seized only by him, in the mystery of corporeal being, so as to convey to our eye and our heart what no word can express—yet let me try to say, though how inadequately!—the architectural authority with which Things exist and, at the same time, the austere serenity with which they confront our dreams.

Thus it is that, by carrying to achievement the progressive advent of the Self in art, the great modern painters brought about a revolution, but did not break their bonds with the great painters of the past. The poetic sense, which they set free—and the joint revelation of Things and creative subjectivity in the work, which they cleared of age-old adventitious burdens—have been at play throughout the perennial effort of art, and have animated in every time everything it has done worth remembering.

12. I do not know what the future of modern painting is, or what the next phase in the evolution of art will be. What interests me is the fact that at a given moment modern painting, in the Occident, has offered the characteristics I just tried to point out. The great protagonists of modern painting, each in his own way, Manet or Whistler, Monet or Bonnard, van Gogh or Henri Rousseau, Seurat, Renoir, Matisse, Braque or Picasso, Rouault or Chagall, give in this connection a similar testimony. For a period of about eighty years, starting in the second half of the nineteenth century, painting attained an extraordinary point of splendor and truthfulness—tearing aside one veil after another in order to become more aware of its own essence, and disclosing with unprecedented freedom its inherent poetic power. In contemplating the canvases of Cézanne or Rouault, van Gogh, Henri Rousseau, Braque, Chagall, or, to cite less resounding names, Odilon Redon, Toulouse-Lautrec, Utrillo, La Fresnaye, jean Hugo, Marin, or Paul Klee, our feeling that we are in the presence of an exceptionally great epoch comes from the fact that on the one hand never was painting so purely painting, and on the other hand never in painting was such poignant humanity united with such powerful penetration of visible things, through the simultaneous manifestation of the painter's creative Self and of the occult meanings grasped by him in reality.

We are, then, confronted with the second half of the conclusion I should like to make clear: as opposed to Oriental art, Western art has progressively laid stress on the artist's Self, and, in its last phases, has plunged more and more deeply into the individual, incommunicable universe of creative subjectivity. Disclosure of the Self has entirely superseded in point of importance the portrayal of external beauty. But to the very extent to which art has been really able to reveal and express creative subjectivity, to that extent it also, and by the same token, has been busy revealing and expressing the secret aspects and infinitely varied meanings of Things, whose visibility conceals but can, by virtue of man's spiritual power, reveal the ocean of being. Is it not in the very release of the trans-apparent reality and objective meanings inherent in Things that we just found the sign par excellence of the liberation of creative subjectivity in modern painting?

The integral conclusion must, therefore, it seems to me, be set forth as follows: On the one hand, as we have seen apropos of Oriental art, when art only intent on Things succeeds in revealing Things and their hidden meanings, it does also reveal obscurely, despite itself, the creative subjectivity of the artist. While endeavoring to catch and manifest what matters most in Things and the secret significance on which they live, the poetic perception which animates art does involve at the same time a disclosure and manifestation, unintentional as it may be, of the human Self. On the other hand, when art primarily intent on the artist's Self succeeds in revealing creative subjectivity, it does also reveal obscurely Things and their hidden aspects and meanings—and with greater power of penetration indeed, I mean into the depths of this Corporeal Being itself and this Nature that our hands touch. While endeavoring to disclose and manifest the artist's Self, the poetic perception which animates art catches and manifests at the same time what matters most in Things, the transapparent reality and secret significance on which they live.

What does this mean? What is the philosophical impact of this factual conclusion? Our descriptive and inductive inquiry suggests that at the root of the creative act there must be a quite particular intellectual process, without parallel in logical reason, through which Things and the Self are grasped together by means of a kind of experience or knowledge which has no conceptual expression and is expressed only in the artist's work. Are we to think—but how can this be possible?—that in such an experience, creative in nature, Things are grasped in the Self and the Self is grasped in Things, and subjectivity becomes a means of catching obscurely the inner side of Things? Are we confronted at this point with that poetic knowledge or poetic intuition which is the very subject-matter we shall try to elucidate in our further discussions?

Let us look at those deer and bison painted on the walls of prehistoric caves, with the admirable and infallible élan of virgin imagination. They are the prime achievements of human art and poetic intuition. By the virtue of Sign, they make present to us an aspect of the animal shape and life, and of the world of hunting. And they make present to us the spirit of those unknown men who drew them, they tell us that their makers were men, they reveal a creative Self endowed with immortal intelligence, pursuing deliberately willed ends, and capable of sensing beauty.


1. "Among the Romans a Poet was called Vates, which is as much as a Diviner, Foreseer, or Prophet, as by his conjoyned wordes Vaticinium and Vaticinari, is manifest: so heavenly a title did that excellent people bestow upon his hart-ravishing knowledge. . . . And altogether not without ground, since both the Oracles of Delphos and Sibillas prophecies, were wholy delivered in verses. For that same exquisite observing of number and measure in words, and that high flying liberty of conceit proper to the Poet, did seeme to have some divine force in it." Sidney, An Apologie for Poetrie (published 1595), in The Great Critics, ed. J. H. Smith and E. W. Parks (rev. ed.; New York: Norton, 1939), pp. 193-94.

2. Coleridge used the word poesy with the same universal meaning: ". . . poesy in general, as the proper generic term inclusive of all the fine arts as its species." Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare and Other Dramatists (New York: Harper, 1853), pp. 181-82 (on Othello).

3. The word intentio, in the Aristotelian. Thomist vocabulary, refers to an esse which is both immaterial and purely tendential. See infra, pp. 119-20.

4. "What a marvelous thing it is," Tieck observed, "to plunge oneself really into the contemplation of a color, considered simply as color! How is it that the distant blue of the sky stirs our nostalgia, that the purple of evening moves us, that a clear golden yellow can console and appease us? And whence comes that inexhaustible pleasure of looking at fresh greenness, where the eye can never completely slake its thirst?" Ludwig Tieck, Phantasus (in Sämtliche Werke, Paris, 1837, Vol. I), p. 347; cited in Albert Béguin, L'Âme romantique at le Réve (Marseille: Cahiers du Sud, 1937), Vol. II, p. 152.—Yet here not only the "simple color" is involved, but also, as Tieck himself went on to remark, an impact of the "internal dream we bear in ourselves."

5. Cf. my Art and Scholasticism (New York: Scribner, 1930), pp. 165-66, n. 55.

6. I mean we modern Western people.

7. "There, concrete reality itself is known as unreal and in this knowledge it is painted as it is known. It abides in the mind and is beheld by it." Stella Kramrisch, A Survey of Painting in the Deccan ( Hyderabad: Archaeological Department, H.E.H. The Nizam's Government, 1937), p. 15.

8. ". . . The activity of the artist approached that of the mystic in so far as Taoism may be called a kind of natural mysticism. Only instead of seeking union with God or the Absolute while ignoring this world, the Chinese artist sought harmony with the universe by communion with all things. In the choice of subject matter, themes from nature acquired new meaning because everything partook of the mystery of the Tao. To us a rock is an inert, inanimate object; to the Chinese a rock must be a living thing." George Rowley, Principles of Chinese Painting (Princeton University Press, 1947), p. 5.

9. "There was something formless yet complete that existed before heaven and earth, without sound, without substance, dependent on nothing, unchanging, all-pervading, unfailing. One may think of it as the mother of all things under heaven. Its true name we do not know. Tao is the by-name that we give it." Tao Tê Ching, Chapter XXV.

10. " 'For, though all creatures under heaven are products of Being, Being itself is the product of Not-being.' " (In Rowley, op. cit.) "The Chinese," Rowley observes, "transformed the neutral voids of early painting into the spirit voids of the Sung period. Finally, in the thirteenth century the painters had become so aware of the significance of the nonexistent that the voids said more than the solids." Op. cit., p. 8.—"The vastness of nature was no longer conveyed by a multiplicity of solids but by the quality of the void,—a void which was never mere atmosphere but the vehicle of the Ch’i spirit. Speaking of the old pictures, Li Jih-hua said: `Such pictures may contain a great many things without being crowded, or only a few things without being scattered or thin; they may be thick without being muddy or dirty, or thin without being empty or unreal. That is what may be called spiritual emptiness or the mystery of emptiness.' Qualitatively the void is here the symbol of 'that nonexistent in which the existent is,' and quantitatively the voids have become more important than the solids." Ibid., p. 72.

11. "The Chinese did not attempt to rationalize the beautiful; that is, they did not explore the western concept of the beautiful as a supreme value, associated with the good and the true. Beauty, when considered as a separate aesthetic delight, was called a flowery embellishment, which was quite secondary and which might be definitely harmful to the essential spirit. In China formal beauty was not isolated but resided in the whole content, and therefore the Chinese do not speak of beauty or aesthetic value but of the spirit, or ch’i." Ibid., pp. 31-32.

12. Chinese philosophy was quite aware of that. In the words of Chuang Chou, the Taoist philosopher of the fourth and third centuries B.C., "Without a that there would be no I; without an I there would be nothing to take hold of [the that]. This is near enough [to the truth], but we do not know what sets this acting." Quoted by E. R. Hughes, The Art of Letters: Lu Chi's "Wen Fu," A.D. 302 (Bollingen Series XXIX; New York: Pantheon Books, 1951), p.225.

13. "Michelangelo is reported to have once given the following advice to the painter Marco da Siena, his pupil: that he should always make his figures pyramidal, serpentlike, and multiplied by one, two and three. In this precept, in my opinion, the whole secret of painting consists. For the greatest charm and grace that a figure may have is to seem to move, which painters call the 'fury' of the figure. And there is no form more fit to express this motion than that of the flame of fire." Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, On the Art of Painting (Milan, 1584); in Artists on Art ( New York: Pantheon Books, 1946 ), p. 112; cf. Elizabeth Gilmore Holt, Literary Sources of Art History (Princeton University Press, 1947), pp. 260-61.

Antoine Coypel, in the eighteenth century, remembered this precept: "La forme ondoyante, et celle qui ressemble à la flamme, anime les contours, y jette du grand, de l'élégance et de la vérité." Discours prononcés dans les Conférences de l'Académie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture; these Discourses, where Coypel commented on his Epistle in verse to his son, were published in 1721 chez Jacques Collombat, rue Saint‑Jacques, au Pélican—according to Henry Jouin, Conférences de l'Académie royale de Peinture at de Sculpture (Paris: A. Quantin, 1883), p. 285.

14. That was one of his answers to the Tribunal of the Holy Office, July 18, 1573. In Artists on Art, p. 106.

15. Jared B. Flagg, The Life and Letters of Washington Allston (New York: Scribner, 1892), p. 15. Cf. Ossip Zadkine's remark: "Whether it be Masaccio, Giotto, Greco, Cézanne, or Picasso, each had to 'fashion' the natural appearance of objects and their forms, and give them a quality of an imaginary world." In Artists on Art, p. 429.

16. Conversations with Vittoria Colonna, as recorded by Francisco de Hollanda (Four Dialogues on Painting) in Elizabeth Gilmore Holt, op. cit., p. 209.

17. André Malraux, Museum without Walls (The Psychology of Art, Vol. I; Bollingen Series XXIV; New York: Pantheon Books, 1949), p. 60.

18. "Flemish painting, slowly answered the painter [Michelangelo], will generally speaking, Signora, please the devout better than any painting of Italy, which will never cause him to shed a tear, whereas that of Flanders will cause him to shed many; and that not through the vigour and goodness of the painting but owing to the goodness of the devout person. It will appeal to women, especially to the very old and the very young, and also to monks and nuns and to certain noblemen who have no sense of true harmony. In Flanders they paint with a view to external exactness or such things as may cheer you and of which you cannot speak ill, as for example saints and prophets. They paint stuffs and masonry, the green grass of the fields, the shadow of trees, and rivers and bridges, which they call landscapes, with many figures on this side and many figures on that. And all this, though it pleases some persons, is done without reason or art, without symmetry or proportion, without skilful choice or boldness and, finally, without substance or vigour. Nevertheless there are countries where they paint worse than in Flanders. And I do not speak so ill of Flemish painting because it is all bad but because it attempts to do so many things well (each one of which would suffice for greatness) that it does none well." Holt, op. cit., pp. 208-9.

19. Francisco Pacheco, The Art of Painting (1649); in Artists on Art, p. 143. Delacroix spoke of Michelangelo in a still worse manner (Journal, 1854).

20. Diderot, Salon de 1765. (Oeuvres complétes, Paris: J. L. J.Briere, 1821; Vol. VIII, pp. 81-83.)

21."As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or of color" (Whistler). — "Remember that a picture—before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or any anecdote whatever—is essentially a plane surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order" (Maurice Denis). — "A picture is primarily the animation of an inert plane surface by a special rhythm of forms and colors" (Wadsworth). — "A work of art must carry in itself its complete significance and impose it upon the beholder even before he can identify the subject-matter. When I see the Giotto frescoes at Padua I do not trouble to recognize which scene of the life of Christ I have before me, but I perceive instantly the sentiment which radiates from it and which is instinct in the composition in every line, and color. The title will only serve to confirm my impression" (Matisse). — "Formerly it frequently happened to me that: when questioned regarding a picture I simply did not know what it represented. I had not seen the subject, so to say. Now I have also included the content so that I know most of the time what is represented. But this only supports my experience that what matters in the ultimate end is the abstract meaning or harmonization" (Paul. Klee). — All from Artists on Art, pp. 347,
380 ( English version mine), 458, 413, 443.

22.Nature is a Thing-in-itself for the philosopher, inasmuch as through reason intent on being he attains in nature intelligible objects which transcend sense-experience. But for modern art nature is rather a Thingin-man, inasmuch as through poetic or creative intuition the artist, as we shall see in Chapter IV, grasps in nature the reality of things as resounding in his own emotion and subjectivity. (And for modern science nature is rather phenomenon, inasmuch as through reason intent only on the observable and measurable the scientist draws from nature systems of symbols that are grounded on reality.)

As an application of views expressed-elsewhere (The Range of Reason, New York: Scribner, 1952, Chapter IV), it might be suggested that Kant's prime insight in relation to the theoretical field finds its locus naturalis--aftercomplete conceptual recasting—not in philosophy but in empiriological science; and that his prime insight in relation to the practical field finds its locus naturalis —after complete conceptual recasting—not in ethics but in art, which reaches transapparent reality not through any "postulate of practical reason" but through poetic knowledge.

23. So as "to treat a flower as his key, not his model." James A. McNeill Whistler, from a letter dated at London, May, 1878; in Artists on Art, p. 348. (Italics mine.)

24. ". . . my project of doing Poussin over entirely from nature, and not constructed piecemeal from notes, drawings, and fragments of studies; in short, of painting a living Poussin in the open air, with color and light, instead of one of those works imagined in a studio, where everything has the brown coloring of feeble daylight without reflections from the sky and the sun." From a letter to Emile Bernard, Aix-en-Provence, March, 1904; in Artists on Art, p. 363.

25. The primacy of visual sensation in Cézanne's art gets clear of the rational grammar of painting (see infra, p. 74), especially of classical perspective, but in order to assert more forcefully the power of direct apprehension of corporeal existents, the realist (in the philosophical sense) knowledge-value which- is inherent in sensation as such. Cézanne's painting strives obscurely after a reality in things which is deeper, more mysterious, and more significant than things themselves as offered in their logically interpreted appearances. So it is that this painting is intent on "the spectacle that the Pater Omnipotens Aeterne Deus spreads out before our eyes" (see p. 133, note 38; and p. 269, note 80). On the other hand, the real incentive for Cézanne's fervor for sensation was in him the intensity of an emotion and concentration of the entire soul, and the inner pressure of subjectivity bent on grasping and disclosing itself through creative vision. Thus it is that Cézanne's painting conveys such a moving charge of humanity.

Those who, under the pretext that Cézanne's painting is a painting of reines Sehen, fail to recognize these basic things —obvious as far as the sense of poetry is concerned—and who detect in Cézanne "chaotischen Raum" and the "Ausbruch des Aussermenschlichen" (cf. Fritz Novotny, Cézanne and des Ende der wissenschaftlichen Perspektive, Vienna, 1938; Hans Sedlmayr, Verlust der Mitte, Salzburg: Otto Müller, 1948 ), are biased doctrinaires who have fallen into a trap that a bit of intuition would have been enough to make them avoid. Mr. Sedlmayr may be right in pointing out the dehumanization of our age of culture (which has of course a repercussion on the weaknesses of our art and on mediocre modern artists). But he is seriously mistaken in seeking proofs and signs of that dehumanization of culture in great modern artists and in the very creativity of modern art (which, being spiritual creativity, transcends the cultural environment). There is no more misleading and unsound literary genus than ideological systematization of human history intent on disregarding the essentials of art, and its intrinsic laws of development, for the sake of a so-called cultural diagnosis and prognosis of art as amoral symptom.

In contrast to the above-mentioned blind judgments on Cézanne, see the excellent article by Theodore Rousseau, Jr., "Cézanne as an Old Master," Art News, April, 1952. The author analyzes the remarkable connection between Cézanne's pictures and those of the masters he ceaselessly studied, and he concludes with this quotation from the painter: "Our canvases are the milestones of Man—from the reindeer on the walls of caves to the cliffs of Monet—from the hunters, the fishermen who inhabit the tombs of Egypt, the comical scenes of Pompeii, the frescoes of Pisa and Siena, the mythological compositions of Veronese and Rubens, from all these the same spirit comes down to us. . . . We are all the same man. I shall add another link to the chain of color. My own blue link."

26. As concerns van Gogh, no Self was more haunted by the reality seized in Things and Beings. To understand this it is enough to look at his pictures. And if we are not capable of such an obvious understanding, let us at least read what he wrote. (See infra, p. 132). Meyer Schapiro points simply to the truth of the matter when he says: "In all the elements of his art we experience the force of his conviction and his exaltation before things. . . . In Van Gogh the opposites of reality and emotion are united and reconciled. The familiar objects he paints belong both to nature and to loving, desiring, suffering man. His art has helped to educate our eyes and to unloosen our feelings." Meyer Schapiro, Van Gogh (New York: The Library of Great Painters, Harry N. Abrams, n.d.).

On Malraux's views see the telling remarks of Huntington Cairns in "The Artichoke and the Acanthus Leaf," Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1950.

Texts without Comment for Chapter One
Chapter II. Art as a Virtue of the Practical Intellect

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