Theo van Doesburg’s “Against Imitative Artists”
Translated from the Dutch by Hans L.C. Jaffé.
In De Stijl. (H.N. Abrams. New York:1971).
• • •
Life reveals itself to be of nature and of the spirit.
Art is concerned with life.
The true subject of art (in general) is unity.
The unity of nature and spirit is reality.
The art of previous centuries (of the Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks and of the Renaissance) was characterized by the predominance of nature.
Artists took visible nature as their starting point. In the best periods they tried to penetrate more deeply into nature.
Proceeding from visible nature, they created a whole culture of exterior form. The other part of reality, that is to say, interior nature (non-visible — referred to as spirit) was symbolized by human transfiguration (angel devil, god, dragon, siren, etc.,) or by accessories: in the folds of a costume, in a flower, an animal (a dove, a lizard, etc.), an object. But the aesthetic subject was chiefly unity.
Art proceeding from unity could not reflect anything in itself but unity or harmony.
The artist copied nature increasingly (irrespective of his subject) by intuition, spontaneously or by scientific methods, more constructively.
The era during which visible nature was the starting point extended into the nineteenth century and may be regarded as the age of infantile and imitative art.
The artist’s aim was to create a harmony in the manner of nature and of science.
The art of the nineteenth century which had its seat in France and chose as its motto ‘nature seen through temperament’ is the transitional stage of subjective art. Now ‘modern’ art is trying to create a culture of interior form.
The artist’s starting point was the (speculative) content of nature, i.e., the spirit. Visible nature was an intermediary element. The artist works from within to without instead of from without to within.
The new art is more exact than ancient art because it is less naturalistic.
During previous centuries natural form was only a crutch with which art moved towards the creation of aesthetic harmony.
In the twentieth century the artist needs to destroy this crutch. He wishes to proceed unaided. The artist wishes to create an artistic harmony, i.e., by his own means of expression. He creates immediately by the balanced relationships of opposites towards a plastic unity.
Accordingly, this age which has now begun should be called: the age of a new plasticism.
If it proceeds only along this path, art may become independent.
If it proceeds only along this path, art may achieve its aim: to create a determinate expression of unity by true artistic means (color, in respect of painting; volume, in respect of sculpture; and space, in respect of architecture). The work of art will become a real and independent object.
If, to quote Michelet, the Renaissance was the revelation of the world and of man, the century of Neoplasticism is the revelation of the unity of nature and spirit.
The art of the future generation will be the collective expression by the organization and the discipline of the plastic means towards a real unity.
[From De Stijl, Vol. V, No. 7, pp. 95-96]