Against Eclectic Empiricism



Painting and Sculpture

The modern revolution in the domains of painting and sculpture has led various artists and architects to believe that sculpture and painting are no longer appropriate artistic forms for our time. That is, that these arts are no longer viable forms of expression.

The downfall of classical aesthetics has plunged us into a situation of apparent chaos which requires us to discover new forms of artistic expression capable of accurately expressing the present era.

It is above all in architecture that we sense the impossibility of hanging framed paintings or installing sculptures in niches, and this has led certain people to think that sculpture and painting no longer have a legitimate position within houses constructed for everyday life.

This idea is supported by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, and it is undeniably symbolic that Wright himself, in his old age, ended up building a “seashell” museum [the Guggenheim] in New York where works of art are directly placed in their sepulcher without ever having passed through a role in everyday life.

This same idea has led the writer Dieter Oestreich, in the Swiss architectural journal Werk (#6, 1953), to declare that “it seems impossible for the people of our time to find in sculpture a valid expression; and for the same reason, it seems that painting must be reduced to the pure lines and colors of nonfigurative painting.” One might imagine that the term “nonfigurative” here refers to the break from the imitation of nature, but this is not at all the case.

It is a rejection of the existence, the true value and the autonomy of pictorial figuration itself as pure surface effect. Between the two World Wars we witnessed a purging of architecture in the name of purism, and this type of purgation is a historical phenomenon: one can find other examples in the histories of China, Egypt and the Byzantine Empire, and in northern Europe during the Reformation.

This purgation stems from a Calvinist-type spirit, which may be valuable in certain respects in the context of certain historical tasks. But to base ourselves on these same ideas at the present time brings us to the second, reactionary aspect of that spirit.

It is this second aspect that is being manifested today. The first Bauhaus, in Germany, carried out a historical task. In contrast, sticking to those same ideas now leads only to the second aspect (Max Bill’s New Bauhaus).

The analytical efforts toward distinction and independence that have preceded our era have liberated and purified a variety of human activities; but this same tendency has today ended up isolating occupations into different types of specialization.

In order to put an end to this sterility, which currently dominates science as well as the arts, it is now more than ever necessary to comprehend the interdependencies and reciprocal influences of all the activities of our culture. To succeed in this we have to find a method of holistic investigation that is applicable to all of these activities.

Architecture is “an art for forming our surrounding milieu”; painting and sculpture are “arts that create images”; but architects must come to understand that images created by man are necessarily and above all imagined. This means that painting must always precede architecture.

In the same way, images are created by ideas, which are directly expressed in words; writers are “artists of words and ideas.” Painting finds itself caught in this hostile/complicitous alternative: hostile because of the danger of becoming literary or architectural, complicitous because painting cannot exist without the inspiration of literature and finds itself uprooted if it does not obey the “intrinsic” (architectonic) laws of painting itself.

The poet strives to lead painting to establish itself within the world of signs and symbols. The architect, for his part, strives to dominate painting because the latter supports his formal language; thus, painting seeks to dominate literature and architecture for purely pictorial reasons.

It is by conserving the autonomy of these three arts that one finds, within their mutual rivalries, the creative spirit. The fact that there are tendencies toward isolation among certain painters, as well as among certain writers and architects, is of no particular importance; but if such separation becomes widespread, it may dry up the free flow of creation. Today more than ever this menace exists. It is obviously possible for architects to secretly find a practical value in Arp or Miró (for example) while ignoring their Dadaism and Surrealism except in merely artistic terms. This sleight of hand on the part of architects prevents a rational analysis of the new problems of form, because the stages of the evolution of forms are inconceivable if the imagination does not have a role within the formal research.

This is demonstrated by experience, for apart from a few Italian, American and Scandinavian ventures, architecture has remained fixated on the same old problems and principles for more than thirty years.

The poverty of the painting and sculpture caused by this ignorance can be seen in a very different sense, because it is obvious that the architects themselves have not managed to avoid the use of “images,” which have been present in social life since the age of the cave man.

Pictorial effects are inevitable in human ambiences. When architects avoid these effects they are doing nothing but shunting the solution of the problem onto third parties, leaving the latter to come up with some sort of pseudosynthesis, with the disastrous results for homeowners that such procedures invariably entail. In so doing, they are betraying the professional dignity of the artist.

In our individualistic society, each person who owns a home has the right to use its exterior to produce a pictorial effect designed to attract the neighbors’ attention. This violation of individual tranquility, commonly referred to as advertising, uses the most primitive, anarchic, brutal and vulgar pictorial means possible.

Artists thus end up being highly paid to create a melange of sounds, lights, colors, images and slogans that will drown out the competition. Architects may pontificate about “city planning,” but one can see that that notion is nothing but a farce, because it is clear that none of this is created for the joy or education of the masses.

Le Corbusier says that today buildings are built for profit and not for humanity. He is certainly one of the rare architects of our era who has understood that all the arts and all artistic means must be brought together to create a true ambience, created to the measure of man.


On the Present Value of the Functionalist Idea

The last few years have seen an increasingly great discontent with the rationalist conceptions of Functionalism. There is more and more talk about a revolution against its intolerable constraints, and this revolution seems to be clear and inevitable. But before we throw out the baby with the bath water, we should carefully consider the nature of a real revolution, because such a revolution cannot be brought about by indiscriminate destruction.

We need to conserve what seems to us to be the active element in the heritage of Functionalism. When Functionalism revolted against the old classicism, it proclaimed that “a house is a machine for dwelling,” “a kitchen is a machine for nourishing,” etc. These arguments triumphed because of their undeniable truth.

The Functionalists created a rational analysis of structure and functions, reducing form to the most economical means for satisfying our needs, and in this way they created an understanding of object and instrument unknown before that time. Beyond this objective functionalism, they claimed to possess a humanistic analysis of the social and ethical functions of our surrounding environment, culminating with a democratic foundation and supported by a “concept of city planning” that prescribed the right of man to a habitation that would assure him of a healthy and calm existence.

In preparing ourselves for an irrational architecture, it would be inconceivable to omit these crucially important facts. It is easy and perhaps entertaining to create new conceptions opposed to preceding ones, but culture works in the opposite manner: it is the continual development and transformation of already-existing phenomena. The Functionalist slogan can always serve us. Utility and function always remain the point of departure for any critique of forms; it is simply a matter of transforming the functional program. It is always valid to seek the most effective significant result by the most economical means. But if we are in agreement on this point, why have we declared our discontent with Functionalism? It is because of its aesthetic, which has never made any effort to see the aesthetic aspect as an autonomous function of human activity. Aesthetics is “the science of the beautiful and the ugly.” On a Platonic basis, the Functionalists have ended up denying the autonomous existence of beauty by declaring that “whatever is true and good is always beautiful”: i.e. that logic and ethics contain beauty in themselves.

Because of this false notion, they have concocted an aesthetic conception that consists of making the exterior of an object reflect the practical functions of the interior and of the constructive idea. However, these analyses of utility and necessity, which, according to their conceptions, must be the basis of the construction of any man-made object, become immediately absurd if one profoundly analyzes all the objects currently fabricated. A fork or a bed cannot be considered as necessities for human life and health and at the same time conserve a merely relative value.

We are talking here about “acquired necessities.” Modern man is suffocating under a mountain of “necessities” such as televisions, refrigerators, etc., while making himself incapable of living his true life. We are obviously not opposed to modern technologies, but we are against any notion of an absolute need for objects; in fact, we question their actual utility.

The Functionalists also ignore the psychological function of ambiences. Just as coffee has no value for human health, but only a psychological and sensorial importance, in the same way the view of the exterior of the constructions and objects that surround us and that we use has a function independent of its practical utility. The exterior of a house should not reflect its interior; it should constitute a source of poetic sensation for the observer.


Critique of the “Organic” Doctrine in Architecture

Instead of relying on a free imagination to renovate present-day architecture, people have enthusiastically plunged in the opposite direction, trying, through scientific analyses of biological life, to discover the animal and plant constructions that might serve as bases for architectural constructions. But there are many reasons why these attempts to turn architecture into a pseudoscience remain of secondary importance.

In the first place, architecture is a human technique, and in fact we can consider any human technique as a sort of architecture; and we should be aware that this technique is distinctly antiscientific in its inspiration, its means and its goals.

All human techniques are inspired by man’s needs and desires, they are the direct expression of human interests. For this reason, the objective and disinterested method of science is incapable of creating any architectural techniques.

It should be understood that human techniques are purely subjective. Objectively, a house is only a pile of bricks, just as a machine is nothing but an assemblage of pieces of iron.

Man alone is capable of turning them into something alive; a machine does not move without man’s intervention and, for the same reason, it ceases to exist if man no longer bothers with it.

Naturalistic experiments in architecture are based on the idea of an organic style, modeled, for example, on the growth and development of a tree. Such concepts can serve us if we bear in mind the fact that man will never be capable of making new tires grow on his automobiles to replace those that become worn out. The internal work of nature is not only different from human techniques, it develops according to laws that are absolutely opposed to the latter because it obeys a different fundamental law. Nature creates itself from within by evolving from a microscopic germ to a large organism; it grows or “pushes” in opposition to external forces; which means that forms separate from nature cannot exist. Man can create an absolutely perfect sphere or a perfectly straight line; nature cannot. This capacity to create independent objects is considered by architects like Le Corbusier to be a sign of man’s superiority over nature. But this is a matter of contrariness, not of superiority. What makes the sphere of an orange imperfect is the stem, which gives the fruit the possibility of developing, and the seeds, which link it to the future. Man is capable of the contrary, he can link and unite two independent objects: a stone with a hole in it and a wooden stick enable him to construct the first hammer. He can also deconstruct this construction at any moment. He can unite a wheel to an axle. This is the secret of human techniques: the ability to unite two apparently independent objects. For those who understand the contradiction between the conceptions of these two types of construction (human and natural), nature is a vast field of apprenticeship. We must not forget that man himself belongs to biological life and thus has more things in common with plants and animals than with crystals, the source of inspiration for certain so-called “objective” architects. Man is one of the species of organic nature, but we should not forget that all of his technologies and arts represent a counterbiological effect formed by his imagination, his intelligence and his creative power within the current of nature. Now, anything that goes against nature is doomed to destruction; which means that man can conserve his creations only if they are adapted to nature. But he does not for all that have the right to imagine that technical evolution can take place on an empirical basis. New techniques are not taught anywhere because they represent a break from everything that exists. Here we see the laws of nature itself. Each evolution takes place through a break in three stages: experimentation — choice — adaptation. The study of nature can serve only to promote the third stage of technical evolution: adaptation.


Some Elementary Laws in the Evolution of Human Techniques

The Functionalist rationalists, because of their ideas on standardization, have imagined that they could arrive at definitive, ideal forms of the various objects that concern humanity.

Present-day evolution has shown that this static conception is erroneous. We need to arrive at a dynamic conception of form, to face the fact that all human forms are in a continual state of transformation. We must not, like the rationalists, evade this transformation; the failure of the rationalists stems from their failure to understand that the only way to avoid the anarchy of change consists of becoming aware of the laws according to which change operates, and making use of those laws. This transformation is called style. Since the rationalists have in consequence denied the raison d’être of style, we are obliged to go back to the old classical conceptions of the evolution of style. This somewhat simplistic conception of stylistic decay is modeled on ancient Hellenic evolution and distinguishes four periods in the sequence of styles. It begins with an uncertain and primitive experimental style; next comes the grand style characterized by a sustained force; then a noble style characterized by a total refinement; this latter declines into a (decadent) style characterized by formal excesses and imbalances. This schema collapses when confronted with reality: historical facts can be fitted into this schema only by violating them. The evolution of forms is much more complex than all that, and constitutes a problem that must be carefully studied. Archeologists have been forced to deepen the study of style because no idea has been transmitted to us from a prehistoric era and nothing speaks to us but the objects themselves; and this study has been able to develop freely because archeology does not conflict with any current vested interest. We can glean certain laws from this study, laws that can be applied to human formations, not only in the evolution of architectural styles but also in spiritual and social and political evolution, because they are applicable everywhere where style is concerned.

1. The evolution of forms proceeds by abrupt breaks

In order for a form to have a collective importance, it must be transformed from a unique phenomenon to a typical phenomenon. The formation of a “type” takes place by a leap. Each functional “type” has a limiting point where the “type” arrives at its greatest active possibility, where all its possibilities are exhausted. This represents the ideal form that is capable of no further improvement. Moreover, such a form cannot be surpassed without its functional value diminishing to the point where one passes to another matter, another “type” serving the same function.

2. The use creates the ideal form

All human creation is imagined. We can dream about new types of function and then implement them by means of experimentation. But we can never imagine the ideal and definitive form of new types, nor arrive at that result by laboratory experiments. The definitive form is found by adaptation and attentive analysis of this “use.”

3. The conservatism of forms

When one invents a new “type” to satisfy some function, the form of the latter is influenced by the “type” that it is replacing or by the form of other known and familiar types. Known forms are always given to unknown objects. For example, the first clay bowls were modeled on the woven baskets or gourds or leather pouches that had previously been the suitable forms for serving those functions. In the same way, the first bicycles featured horse’s heads, a remnant of the previous form of transportation. It is important to understand that such conservatism of forms is totally illogical: it is not caused by the fact that man does not yet know the definitive and ideal form of the object, but rather by the fact that man is uneasy if he does not find something familiar within unknown phenomena. For example, the first diesel motor boats were made without a smokestack, but passengers did not want to ride them until false smokestacks were added so that they resembled steam boats.

4. The radicalism of forms

If a newly created model achieves great success because of its greater efficacy over the previous form, it gives rise to the creation of a formal radicalism among certain neighboring forms, which strive to take on the appearance of the new form. For example, bronze tools pushed to their extreme utility had a disastrous influence on stone tools by causing them to be deformed toward an elegance that could only be obtained with bronze. Today, aviation has imposed an aerodynamic form even on baby carriages and electric irons. This radicalism of forms is caused by the fact that people become bored if they don’t find within the known some element of the uncommon. We may find this radicalism illogical, as do the advocates of standardization, but we should not forget that this human need is the only thing that engenders new discoveries.


Analysis and Synthesis in the Process of Formation

Human techniques are created by a process contrary to that which produces evolution in the biological world. The study of the biological world has led to an important liberation in our concept of structure. The first Functionalists adopted the classic conceptions of Perret (for example), with the logical distinction between supporting elements, covering elements, insulating elements, etc. Naturalistic researches demonstrated that the functions and elements of construction are not identical and that different functions could be fulfilled by an interplay among several elements of construction. Who can say if it is the fibers or the sap that makes possible the vitality and verticality of a plant (or if the skeleton, the muscles or the blood serves the same purpose for man), since each of these elements collaborates in producing the overall result (verticality in this case)?

This is the fundamental problem of the new architecture. All modern architects recognize that we are currently witnessing “a total upheaval of the classic conceptions relating to support and load.” Certain architects see this upheaval as a dematerialization of architecture, but it’s actually quite the contrary.

We are witnessing the consequences of a new and more profound comprehension of the real nature of matter, obtained by scientific and philosophical researches, both nuclear and general. Our conception of the world has shifted into a four-dimensional perspective, and the consequences are beginning to appear in the future; in the future of art and of technologies, which represent, as we have already seen, the subjective and the interested aspect of human activity. All human technologies are created as elements of human “function.” This is why humanist philosophy now contains the key to future construction. It is no longer possible to ignore this inevitable confrontation between technology and philosophy. Architects try to avoid this confrontation by speaking of “three different bodily sensations: the structural and angular sensation, the sensation of plastic rotundity, and the sensation of muscular tension.” We can see that these three different sensations correspond to three different forms of architectural construction, which have up till now been insolubly contradictory. The architects acknowledge that a synthesis now appears to be possible; but why not admit right from the start that these three sensations correspond precisely to the sensations of logic, ethics and aesthetics, those basic concepts of classical philosophy; i.e. that in the domain of human techniques they correspond to the three basic functions: STRUCTURE — FORM — SURFACE. We are approaching a synthesis of these three functional elements, but we would be gravely mistaken if we thought that this synthesis will be obtained by blurring the three elements together. On the contrary, we can create a synthesis by opposing each of the three functional elements to the others in a system of complementary contradiction. Knowledge of the inferior complementary value of every existing phenomenon is a new reality, even if it is applied to the old dialectical tradition, and we are now presenting a few possibilities that are offered by a systematization of architectural philosophy on the basis of this idea of the linking of contraries (oppositions/complementarities). Let us not forget that our conception of life, our human philosophy, is far from classical science; it is effectively limited to a single dimension of judgment: high and low (Heaven/Hell, Good/Evil). The break from this one-dimensional perspective of the Middle Ages is for this reason much  more difficult than the transformations of current scientific philosophy involving a transition from three to four dimensions based on the relativity of different centers. The former break entailed violent and traditional objections, whereas we are now seeing the necessity of a new morality relative to centers of interest. It is therefore necessary to break with the old conception of a difference between what were referred to as superior and inferior interests. This corresponds to a transformation of the idea of a superiority and an inferiority of different occupations and social activities of man. If we base our philosophy in the heart of each activity, we can distinguish three different aspects. First of all, the passive and static or neutral aspect (logical aspects); then the centralized aspect of circulating activities (the ethical aspect of balanced movement); and finally, the peripheral, noncentralized, radiating aspect (the aesthetic aspect). This new conception gives a new variant to the old ideas of surface, form and structure, because any particular thing can be considered as surface or structure or form. It is simply necessary to specify the character of these three aspects.


The Three Definitions of Art

Since the Renaissance, the natural sciences have developed with lightning speed while the human sciences [sciences humaines: roughly equivalent to “social sciences” in English] have remained attached to Medieval concepts. There is no truly modern human science; it doesn’t exist. It is only with the latest vision of the world that human science can find its true basis. Updating the human sciences has henceforth become a necessity for the future evolution of the natural sciences. The importance of this evolution for art is considerable, because the human sciences are the sciences of the arts. “Man is his art.” Recognition of the complementary interlinking of phenomena also reveals the element of contradiction that is necessary for understanding artistic activity. It is only by a “spiral” movement from one point of observation to another that one arrives at the truth, which is a synthesis of several irreducible truths. As we have already shown, we will group our observations in a three-stage system:


We are dealing here not with evolutionary stages toward a higher summit, but with stages of a “perpetual motion” of the evolution of forms. By beginning from these three points of observation, art and human activity acquire characteristics and values that are different from what was given in their time by the three fundamental definitions of art, definitions that are in continual contradiction and that struggle with each other. Each of these points is as true as the others, but no single one of them can serve as a “sole” valid definition of art. This complete definition operates thanks to the dialectical synthesis among the three definitions.

1. The aesthetic definition of art:

     art is the realization of the unknown;
     art is realizing the unrealizable;
     art is the ideal point of man and his total potentiality;
     or to put it another way, art is what cannot be done, because, as the humorist Storm P. put it, “if it could be done, it would not be art.”

2. The ethical definition of art:

     art is subjective reality;
     art is the capacity of a being or a community;
     art is the expression of a vital manifestation;
     or as Ruskin put it, “art is the expression of man’s pleasure in accomplishing his work.”

3. The logical or scientific definition of art:

     art is the true image of an object;
     art is disinterested observation;
     or as Zola’s famous definition put it, “art is nature viewed through a temperament.”

These are the three conceptions of art — Idealist, Realist and Naturalist. All three of them are false, but as a set they are indispensable for finding artistic truth, even when such art is manifested as architecture, technology, or applied art.

All the works of man must pass through these three analyses:

1) The aesthetic analysis of the immediate sensory and spontaneous effect of the object, of its shock value, dramatic value, surprise value or novelty value. This it the useless value, a value that is superfluous and independent of any purpose (i.e. an imagined value).

2) The ethical analysis of its utility relative to human interests, its social and personal function.

3) The scientific analysis of its innate and objective structure independent of any human interests, i.e. the analysis of the possibilities of its construction, as opposed to its goals.

This is the ideological point of departure for the creation of a new world.


Arguments Concerning the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus
(as Opposed to an Imaginary Bauhaus) and Its Present Purpose

“The Bauhaus has become a fixed conception for all those who take part in the creation of architectural forms, applied arts, and other useful forms. Its influence spans countries and continents. Its spiritual atmosphere, rich with tension and élan, continues to act. Its influence will never be extinguished, and the guarantee of this permanence is the innate spirituality, enthusiasm, magic and seriousness of its creators. There will always be youth who will follow, in their own new manner, the path blazed by the Bauhaus.”

—Peter Rohl, in Baukunst und Werkform
(Supplement to the journal Frankfurter Hefte #1-2, 1954)

“I was standing before my twenty-four students. One of them, who came from a college in southern Germany, said to me: ‘This debate about the past, about the Bauhaus, and all these explanations are somewhat interesting, but we young people can only view them as disinterested spectators. In the final analysis, all that has no relevance for us. What interest can ossified architectural theories from 1930 have for us?’ I must confess that this manner of speaking caused me great uneasiness.”

—Peter Gundwin, Ibid.

“Bauhaus is the name of an artistic inspiration.”

—Asger Jorn (letter to the architect Max Bill, Director of the New Bauhaus at Ulm, January 16, 1954)

“Bauhaus is not the name of an artistic inspiration; it signifies a movement that represents a well-defined doctrine.”

—Max Bill (letter to Asger Jorn, January 23, 1954)

“If Bauhaus is not the name of an artistic inspiration, it is the name of a doctrine without inspiration, i.e. a dead doctrine.”

—Asger Jorn (letter to Max Bill, February 12, 1954)

All new cultural evolutions, even the most practical and utilitarian ones, must begin with mental visions and artistic inspirations. It is a historical fact that the Functionalist language of forms had its origin in Cubist painting. This sequence is quite natural. It is obviously easier to draw than to build, and one has to imagine before being able to create. Architecture is always the end result of a mental and artistic evolution; it is the materialization of an economic stage. Architecture is the culmination of every artistic venture because creating an architecture means creating an ambience and determining a mode of life. The conditions of life have changed profoundly since the last war. This is manifested above all in the free arts. We are now entering a mental and artistic revolution that is violently rising up against the dead language of Cubism and Constructivism. Certain architects thus find themselves obliged to defend a weakened position, a position that is increasingly approaching a state of total anemia. In his letter to Asger Jorn of January 14, 1954, Max Bill states: “We do not understand by art any sort of ‘self-expression,’ but a true art. We are not in agreement with the Cobra group nor with any similar groups.” This viewpoint logically corresponds to the one Bill expressed in a previous text (December 1, 1953): “For us at Ulm, the art in question must be considered in a manner different than it was in the old Bauhaus, where self-expression was considered an integral aspect of form.”

Gropius wrote to the contrary: “The creative artist chooses, in accordance with his own feelings, among a plurality of possible solutions on the same economic plane. For this reason, art reflects the spirit of its creator.” This point of view explains the interest and sympathy in the relations between the old Bauhaus and Expressionist artists like Kokoschka and Marc Chagall. Today the situation has entirely changed. The new Bauhaus, which has sunk into a doctrinaire and conservative formalism, is manifesting its hostility toward any attempt at self-expression, and its goal is limited to putting already existing elements into order. This is a serious mistake because today we need a new, living Bauhaus, rich with tension and élan, a Bauhaus that can fertilize and fortify the experiences of all the free arts. It is a mistake above all because new and important ideas concerning personal expression are appearing at this time, ideas that are revealing countless creative possibilities.

What is the importance of personal expression in form? Gropius makes this importance clear, but does not define it. Is his statement merely perfunctory? Isn’t personal expression absolutely useless in form? He writes: “It is erroneous to consider it necessary to emphasize individualism at all cost,” and “in the art of modern construction one clearly recognizes a tendency toward objectivizing personal and national interests. Architecture is always national, and always individual also. But of these three concentric circles — individual, people, humanity — the latter is the greatest and encompasses both of the others.”

“Gropius did not know how to think,” observed the architect Rudolf Schwarz in a perfidious critique of the old Bauhaus, and the previous quotation seems to confirm that statement. The most dangerous point in all this is that Gropius’s confusion is shared by all modern architects. The three designated concentric circles have nothing to do with an objectivization; on the contrary, objectivizing means excluding, isolating, abstracting, i.e. the contrary of encompassing. Moreover, the three circles do not represent circles of objectivity, but circles of interests, circles of subjectivity that are mutually inseparable. Humanity exists thanks to individuals, and the interest of the individual surpasses his own existence. The interests common to humanity represent a collective subjectivity. We are now witnessing a new conception of present-day subjectivity. It is revolutionizing the theoretical and ideological basis of future arts and technologies. We have linked phenomena together and they have entered into a living synthesis; we have created a dynamic conception of art and technology, and the ultimate aim of all arts and all technologies is to create common human values, to serve human interests. But up till now no art or technology has begun in this way because it is impossible: every enterprise begins as a useless game in a circle closed off from any interests, even the interests of personal satisfaction. But individual satisfaction and its personal expression are not without interest for other individuals, insofar as they represent new possibilities or experiences. This is the case even when the interest is manifested only in the form of passive admiration. Personal expression involves the synthesis of two phenomena: a human interest and a new or original solution; which amounts to saying that subjectivity and individualism are two distinct and independent elements. A “self-expression” can be absolutely conventional and insignificant if it is the expression of a limited being; and a new and original thing may be of no interest if it does not satisfy any human desire. This is why the conception of art prevalent among theorists of modern art like Herbert Read is false and reactionary. For them, art is composed of two elements: self-expression and order. The Constructivists, by abolishing personality, reduce art to a pure question of order. We, on the contrary, are adding to those two elements an “autonomous third one”: experimentation, i.e. renovation. What is the importance of experimentation in art? It is at the same time essential and elusive; experimentation in art and technique is like the leaven for bread; without adding anything at all to the work itself, it nevertheless inspires it and augments it to a dramatic degree. We have discovered with modern science that evolution does not operate on the basis of a doctrine but on the basis of several contradictory doctrines, with a complementary action. The activity of Functionalism between the two World Wars was intimately linked to the complementary artistic tendencies of that era (Dada and Expressionism). We are neither Dadaists nor Expressionists. Since that time, Surrealism has made its presence felt and it would be stupid to ignore it.



This text was originally written in Italian and published in Milan (Imagine et forma, 1954), then translated into French and included in Pour la Forme: ébauche d’une méthodologie des arts, a large collection of Jorn’s writings published by the Situationist International (Paris, June 1958; reprinted by Éditions Allia, 2001). Translated from the French by Ken Knabb. This translation has been included in a large anthology edited by Ruth Baumeister: Fraternité Avant Tout: Asger Jorn’s Writings on Art and Architecture, 1938-1958 (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2011).

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