Abstraction and Adventure in Contemporary Art – Jean-Michel Atlan

1 Contemporary painting, being essential adventure and creation, is threatened by two forms of conformity which we absolutely oppose:

a) Banal realism, vulgar imitation of reality;

b) Orthodox , new academicism which tries to substitute for living painting an interplay of solely decorative forms.

We believe that it is at the margin of official , and only there, that the most valuable works develop; just as it was at the margin of Impressionism during the last century that the greatness of the works of those great heretics, van Gogh and Gauguin, was established.

2 The fundamental pretension of theoreticians of abstract academicism, which is that painting is a spiritual progression of forms excluding all reference to nature, cannot stand up to clear analysis. All the works of current psychology tend on the contrary to establish that human vision is itself a creation, in which the imagination and nature participate equally. (The example of the ink blots and the Rorschach tests.)

It is just the same when these theoreticians assert that abstraction consitutes a new language which breaks with the aims and techniques of the past. This pretension is also ill-conceived.

a) Constructivism, Neo-Plasticism, etc. are examples of movements already fairly well advanced in age, years before the war.

b) The analysis of essential elements of pictorial language: form, light, colour, matter show that painting, whether it be figurative or not, is organized according to the same fundamental rhythms.

3 The forms which appear to us today as the most valuable, as much through their formal arrangement as by their expressive intensity, are not properly speaking either abstract or figurative. They participate precisely in these cosmic powers of metamorphosis where the true adventure is located. (From where there arise forms which are themselves and something other than themselves, birds and cacti, abstraction and new figuration.)

4 The creation of a work of art cannot be reduced to formulae, nor to some construction of more or less decorative forms, rather it supposes a presence, it is an adventure in which a man commits himself to struggle with the fundamental forces of nature.

To see this through to the bitter end, some of us today risk our necks. We turn our backs on vain quarrels about doctrine, resolutely committing ourselves to those directions which fashion and the public can barely follow.


Published between 1948 and 1951

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