J.J.P. Oud’s “Art and Machine” (1918)

Translated from the Dutch by Hans L.C. Jaffé.

In De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York:1971).

• • •

Paradoxically, it may be said that the struggle of the modern artist is a struggle against feeling.

The modern artist strives to attain the universal, while feeling (the subjective) leads to the particular.

The subjective is the arbitrary, the unconscious, the relatively indeterminate, which can be sublimated through the conscious mind to relative determinateness.  To this end, the subjective must be ordered by the conscious mind so that, in its relative determination, style is achieved.

The aim of the modern artist is to carry out this organization and obtain this determinate style.

If we understand by ‘monumentality’ the organized and controlled [97] relationship of the subjective to the objective, it follows that, in a higher sense, the struggle of the modern artist will lead to a monumental style.

Two principal trends may be distinguished in the effort to achieve style.

The one is a technical and industrial trend, which may be called the positive trend, and which tries to give aesthetic expression to the products of technical skill.

The second trend which, for purposes of comparison, may be called negative (although its manifestations are equally positive), is art, which tries by means of reduction (abstraction) to arrive at functionalism.

The unity of these two trends is the essence of the new style.

Great art stands in a causal relationship with the social striving of the age.  The longing to make the individual subservient to the social is to be found in everyday life as well as in art, reflected in the need to organize individual elements into groups, associations, confederations, companies, trusts, monopolies, etc.  This parallelism of intellectual and social striving which is a necessity for culture, forms the basis for style.

In each period, the universal element in art has its own outward form, which is a reflection of three factors: spirit (seen as a unity of intuition and consciousness), material and method of production.

Much has been written about the spirit of the modern work of art, but we shall have to give equal weight to the two other factors, material and method of production, for in order to give determinate plastic expression to the spirit, the means must first of all be made determinate and what means is more determinate and more of this age than the machine? Must the spirit be realized in this age by the hand or the machine? For the modern artist the future line of development must lead inevitably to the machine, although at first the tendency will be to regard this as heresy.  Not only because the machine can give more determinate plastic expression than the hand, but also from the social point of view, from the economic standpoint, the machine is the best means of manufacturing products which will be of more benefit to the community than the art products of the present time, which reach only the wealthy individual.

Where architecture has already long been achieving plastic expression through the machine (Wright), painting is being impelled inevitably towards the same plastic means and a unity in the pure expression of the spirit of the age is making a spontaneous appearance.

It was the cardinal error of Ruskin and Morris that they brought the machine into disrepute by stigmatizing an impure use of it as its essence.


As soon as the machine is used to imitate another method of production, a sin is committed against the factors which determine pure form (which, because it appears in purity, is always able to achieve aesthetic results) and it is committed not only against the method of production, but also against the spirit and the material.

Impurity in art, as in religion, arises whenever the means are mistaken for the end.  Thus painting was able to give representation without art; architecture, detail without art; religion, ceremony without belief; philosophy, pure reason without wisdom.

The artist of the past thought too much in sham values.  It can be said of the modern artist that he proceeds too much from the essence to be able to put on an external artistic display.

That the pure application of the machine can lead to aesthetic results has already been proved by buildings, the aesthetically designed book (printed by machine), textile work, etc.  Severini says of the spirit of the modern work of art: ‘The precision, the rhythm, the brutality of machines and their movements have, without doubt, led us to a new realism which we can express without having to paint locomotives.

Summarizing, we come to the conclusion (although this is for the future) that the two other form-determining factors can also be brought into harmony with the modern way of life and that the work of art will be produced by the machine, although with quite different materials, and the unique article, as we know it, will no longer exist.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 3 (4), pp. 25-27]


~ by Ross Wolfe on October 17, 2010.

2 Responses to “J.J.P. Oud’s “Art and Machine” (1918)”

  1. […] artist the future line of development must lead inevitably to the machine.”  Oud, J.J.P.  “Art and the Machine.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 97.  […]

  2. […] artist the future line of development must lead inevitably to the machine.”  Oud, J.J.P.  “Art and the Machine.”  Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé.  De Stijl.  (H.N. Abrams.  New York: 1971).  Pg. 97.  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: