Letter to Meyerhold – Kasimir Malevich
We have not managed to meet over the last year. Our conversations on the stairs of the Romanov House of culture have not clarified anything particular about the question of the new theatre.
You said to me then that my time was coming. Your confidence started me thinking about the fact that your artistic ideas are beginning to develop in the direction of looking for new forms of theatre. That you are beginning to bring to an end that whole Construedvist course of yours, and moving towards a new phase.
But listen to what I heard when I was in Moscow last April: you are planning to build a new theatre with the stage in the middle. If this is true, it suggests to me that your ideas are still stuck in that same Constructivist wheel that is rolling down the path leading to the destruction of theatre. In this way the art of theatre is developing along the same path as the art of painting, the path of Impressionism, Cezannism, Cubism, Futurism and non-objective Suprematism.
Theatre did not of course go the same logical way, and the art of theatre did not have non-objective form or painters or directors. At the time of Futurism all hope lay with the painting and literature of Kruchenykh, Khlebnikov, Kamenski and Burlyuk, and I hoped that Meyerhold would stand at the head of the theatrical movement and lead it towards non-objective form, as in painting and literature. But apparently theatre could not go all the way down this path, and got no further than inviting new artists to perform in old forms. [. . .] But sooner or later they will end up on that path. Once people come to understand that art is non-objective, they will be able to present new and interesting theatre. But at the moment, in this phase of building socialism in which all the arts must participate, art must return to backward areas and become figurative.
Painting has turned back from the non-objective way to the object, and the development of painting has returned to the figurative part of the way that had led to the destruction of the object. But on the way back, painting came across a new object that the proletarian revolution had brought to the fore and which had to be given form, which means that it had to be raised to the level of a work of art. Enriched by a new painting spectrum, by form and composition, the new arts must give this object shape on an artistic level, that is to say they must elevate every thematic subject into a painting, and that painting is the plane on which a two-dimensional and frontal development of the content takes place before the spectator. After returning to the figurative way and the way of the painting, art will end up at the frame, within which, after all, the picture comes into being.
If you destroyed the footlights, and I cooperated in that in Mayakovski’s Mystery Bouffe, then we must now stop doing that, reinstall the footlights and place objects or content before them in an artistic form. From now on the artistic sense will take first place. The main task of the Soviet artist will be to create great artistic paintings. This is why I am utterly convinced that if you keep to the way of Constructivism, where you are now firmly stuck, which raises not one artistic issue except for pure utilitarianism and in theatre simple agitation, which may be one hundred per cent consistent ideologically but is completely castrated as regards artistic problems, and forfeits half of its value; if you go on as you are (keep this letter so that you can check up later), then Stanislavski will emerge as the winner in the theatre and the old forms will survive. And as to architecture, if the architects do not produce artistic architecture, the Greco-Roman style of Zyeltovski will prevail, together with the Repin style in painting. The culture of the arts must not disappear, and they are all artists. So found your theatre as an artistic creation, don’t build it on the lines of a circus but in the same footlights as those in which the new artistic painting will stand. But if you demolish the footlights, if your elements leap out of the painting, performers who run into the auditorium or appear from it, it will amount to nothing. These are my thoughts in brief. This question could be gone into much more deeply in a discussion.