Neo-Plasticism: the General Principle of Plastic Equivalence – Mondrian
Although art is the plastic expression of our aesthetic emotion, we cannot therefore conclude that art is only ‘the aesthetic expression of our subjective Sensations/ Logic demands that art be the plastic expression of our whole being: therefore, it must be equally the plastic appearance of the nonindividual, the absolute and annihilating opposition of subjective sensations. That is, it must also be the direct expression of the universal in us – which is the exact appearance of the universal outside us.
The universal thus understood is that which is and remains constant: the more or less unconscious in us, as opposed to the more or less conscious – the individual, which is repeated and renewed.
Our whole being is as much the one as the other: the unconscious and the conscious, the immutable and the mutable, emerging and changing form through their reciprocal action.
This action contains all the misery and all the happiness of life: misery is caused by continual separation, happiness by perpetual rebirth of the changeable. The immutable is beyond all misery and all happiness: it is equilibrium.
Through the immutable in us, we are united with all things; the mutable destroys our equilibrium, limits us, and separates us from all that is other than us. It is from this equilibrium, from the unconscious, from the immutable that art comes. It attains its plastic expression through the conscious. In this way, the appearance of art is plastic expression of the unconscious and of the conscious. It shows the relationship of each to the other: its appearance changes, but art remains immutable.
In ‘the totality of our being’ the individual or the universal may dominate, or equilibrium between the two may be approached. […] In all the arts objective fought against subjective, universal against individual: pure plastic expression against descriptive expression. Thus art tended toward equilibrated plastic.
Disequilibrium between individual and universal creates the tragic and is expressed as tragic plastic. In whatever exists as form or corporeality, the natural dominates: this creates the tragic . . .
The tragic in life leads to artistic creation: art, because it is abstract and in opposition to the natural concrete, can anticipate the gradual disappearance of the tragic. The more the tragic diminishes, the more art gains in purity.
The new spirit can manifest itself only in the midst of the tragic. It finds only the old form, for the new plastic is yet to be created. Born in the environment of the past, it can be expressed only in the vital reality of the abstract. . . .
Because it is part of the whole, the new spirit cannot free itself entirely from the tragic. The New Plastic, expressing the vital reality of the abstract, has not entirely freed itself from the tragic but it has ceased to be dominated by it.
In contrast, in the old plastic the tragic dominates. It cannot dispense with the tragic and tragic plastic.
So long as the individual dominates, tragic plastic is necessary, for that is what creates its emotion. But as soon as a period of greater maturity is reached, tragic plastic becomes insupportable.
For let us not forget that we are at a turning point of culture, at the end of everything ancient: the separation between the two is absolute and definite. Whether it is recognized or not, one can logically foresee that the future will no longer understand tragic plastic, just like an adult who cannot understand the soul of the child.
At the same time as it suppresses the dominating tragic, the new spirit suppresses description in art. Because the obstacle of form has been destroyed, the new art affirms itself as pure plastic. The new spirit has found its plastic expression. In its maturity, the one and the other are neutralized, and they are coupled into unity. Confusion in the apparent unity of interior and exterior has been resolved into an equivalent duality forming absolute unity. The individual and the universal are in more equilibrated opposition. Because they are merged in unity, description becomes superfluous: the one is known through the other. They are plastically expressed without use of form: their relationship alone (through direct plastic means) creates the plastic.
It is in painting that the New Plastic achieved complete expression for the first time. This plastic could be formulated because its principle was solidly established, and it continues to perfect itself unceasingly.
Neo-Plasticism has its roots in Cubism. It can equally be called Abstract-Real painting because the abstract (just like the mathematical sciences but without attaining the absolute, as they do) can be expressed by plastic reality. In fact, this is the essential characteristic of the New Plastic in painting. It is a composition of rectangular color planes that expresses the most profound reality-It achieves this by plastic expression of relationships and not by natural appearance. It realizes what all painting has always sought but could express only in a veiled manner. The colored planes, as much by position and dimension as b\- the greater value given to color, plastically express only reldtionships and not forms.
The New Plastic brings its relationships into aesthetic equilibrium and therebv expresses the new harmony.
The future of the New Plastic and its true realization in painting H es j n chromoplastic in architecture … It governs the interior as well as the exterior of the building and includes everything that plastically expresses relationships through color. No more than the ‘New Plastic-as-painting,’ which prepares the way for it, can chromoplastic be regarded as ‘decoration.’ It is entirely new painting in which all painting is resolved, pictorial as well as decorative. It unites the objective character of decorative art (but much more strongly) with the subjective character of pictorial art (but much more profoundly). At this moment for material and technical reasons, it is very difficult to foresee its exact image!
At present each art strives to express itself more directly through its plastic means and seeks to free its means as much as possible.
Music tends toward the liberation of sound, literature toward the liberation of word. Thus, by purifying their plastic means, they achieve the pure plastic of relationships. The degree and mode of purification vary with the art and the epoch in which they can be attained.
In fact, the new spirit is revealed by the plastic means: it is expressed through composition. Composition must express equilibrated plastic as a function 0 f the individual and of the universal. Dominating tragic must be abolished by composition and plastic means together: for if plastic appearance is not composed in constant and neutralizing opposition, the plastic means would return to the expression of ‘form’ and would be veiled anew by the descriptive.
Thus Neo-Plasticism in art is not simply a question of ‘technique.’ In the New Plastic, and through it, technique changes. The touchstone of the new spirit next to composition, is precisely what is so often lightly called ‘technique:
‘It is by appearance that one judges whether a work of art is really pure plastic expression of the universal’. . . .
Because sculpture and painting have been able to reduce their primitive plastic means to universal plastic means, they can find effective plastic expression in exactness and in the abstract. Architecture by its very nature already has at its disposal a plastic means free of the capricious form of natural appearance.
In the New Plastic, painting no longer expresses itself through the corporeality of appearance that gives it a naturalistic expression. To the contrary, painting is expressed plastically by plane within plane. By reducing three-dimensional corporeality to a single plane, it expresses pure relationship. * * *
… the new spirit must be manifested in all the arts without exception. That there are differences between the arts is no reason that one should be valued fess than the other; that can lead to another appearance but not to an opposed a Ppearance. As soon as one art becomes plastic expression of the abstract the others can no longer remain plastic expressions of the natural. The two do not $o together: from this comes their mutual hostility down to the present. The New Plastic abolishes this antagonism: it creates the unity of all the arts, Sculpture and architecture, until the present, destroy space as space by dividing it. The new sculpture and architecture must destroy the work of art as an object or thing.
Each art possesses its own specific expression, its particular nature. ‘Although the content of all art is one, the possibilities of plastic expression are different for each art. Each art discovers these possibilities within its own domain and must remain limited by its bounds. Each art possesses its own means of expression: the transformation of its plastic means has to be discovered independently by each art and must remain limited by its own bounds. Therefore the potentialities of one art cannot be judged according to the potentialities of another, but must be considered independently and only with regard to the art concerned . . . ‘.
‘With the advancing culture of the spirit, all the arts, regardless of differences in their expressive means, in one way or another become more and more the plastic creation of determinate, equilibrated relationship: for equilibrated relationship must purely express the universal, the harmony, the unity that are proper to the spirit.’
. . . through the new spirit, man himself creates a new beauty, whereas in the past he only painted and described the beauty of nature. This new beauty has become indispensable to the new man, for in it he expresses his own image in equivalent opposition with nature. THE NEW ART IS BORN.