Piet Mondrian’s Neoplasticism in Painting (1917-1918)

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

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

• • •

1. Introduction

The life of modern cultured man is gradually turning away from the natural: it is becoming more and more abstract. As the natural (the external) becomes more and more ‘automatic,’ we see life’s interest centering more and more around the inward.  The life of truly modern man is directed neither toward the material for its own sake, nor toward the predominantly emotional: it is rather the autonomous life of the human spirit becoming conscious.  Modern man — although a unity of body, soul and mind — shows a changed consciousness: all expressions of life assume a different appearance, a more determinately abstract appearance.

Art too, as the product of a new duality in man, is now expressed as the product of cultivated outwardness and of a deeper, more conscious inwardness.  As pure creation of the human mind, art is expressed as pure aesthetic creation, manifested in abstract form.

The truly modern artist consciously perceives the abstractness of the emotion of beauty: he consciously recognizes aesthetic emotion as cosmic, universal.  This conscious recognition results in an abstract creation, directs him toward the purely universal.

That is why the new art cannot be manifested as (naturalistic) concrete representation, which — even where universal vision is present — always points more or less to the particular, or in any case conceals the universal within it.

The new plastic cannot be cloaked by what is characteristic of the particular, natural form and color, but must be expressed by the abstraction of form and color — by means of the straight line and determinate primary color.

These universal plastic means were discovered in modern painting by the process of consistent abstraction of form and color: once these were [37] discovered there emerged, almost of its own accord an exact plastic of pure relationship, the essential of all emotion of plastic beauty. Thus the new art is the determinate plastic expression of aesthetic relationships.

The contemporary artist constructs the new plastic expression in painting as a consequence of all previous creation — in painting, precisely because it is least restricted.  The growing profundity of the whole of modern life can be purely reflected in painting. In painting — in pictorial not decorative painting — naturalistic expression and naturalistic means become more inward, are intensified into the abstract.

Decorative art did no more than to generalize natural form and color.

Thus the feeling for the aesthetic expression of relationship was brought to clarity in and by pictorial painting.  In painting — which incorporates existing decorative art, or rather, becomes ‘true’ decorative art — the free construction of pure relationships can nevertheless remain somewhat limited; for although the essence of all art is one — and the feeling for aesthetic relationships increasingly seeks more determinate expression in all the arts — not every art can express determinate relationships with equal consistency.

Although the content of all art is one, the possibilities of plastic expression are different for each art.  These possibilities must be discovered by each art and remain limited by its bounds.

Therefore the possibilities of one art cannot be viewed from those of another, but must be considered independently, and only in relation to the art concerned.  Every art has its own emphasis, its particular expression: this justifies the existence of the various arts.  We can now define the emphasis of the art of painting as the most consistent expression of pure relationships.

For it is painting’s unique privilege to express relationships freely — in other words, its means of expression (when consistently intensified) allow extreme opposites to be expressed as the pure relationships of position — without resulting in forms, or even in the appearance of closed forms (as in architecture).

In painting, the duality of relationships can be shown in juxtaposition (on one plane), which is impossible in architecture or sculpture.  Thus painting is the most purely ‘plastic.’  The free plastic expression of position is unique to painting.  The sister arts, sculpture and architecture are less free in this respect.

The other arts are even less free in transforming their plastic means: music [38] is always tied to sound, however much sound may be tensed into ‘tone’; dramatic art employs natural form as well as sound, and necessarily the word; literary art is expressed through the word, which strongly stresses the particular.

Painting is capable of consistent intensification and interiorization of its plastic means without overstepping their limits. Neoplastic painting remains pure painting: the plastic means remain form and color — interiorized to the extreme; straight line and plane color remain the pure pictorial means.

With the advancing culture of the spirit, all the arts, despite their different expressions, become more and more the plastic creation of equilibrated, determinate relationship: for equilibrated relationship most purely expresses the universality, the harmony, the inherent unity of the spirit.

Through equilibrated relationship, unity, harmony, universality are plastically expressed amid separateness, multiplicity, individuality — the natural.  When we concentrate upon equilibrated relationship, we can see unity in the natural.  In the natural, however, unity is manifested only in a veiled way.  Although inexactly expressed in the natural, all appearance can nevertheless be reduced to this manifestation [of unity].  Therefore the exact plastic expression of unity can be created, must be created, because it is not directly apparent in visible reality.

Whereas in nature equilibrated relationship is expressed by position, dimension, and value of natural form and color, in the ‘abstract’ it is expressed through position, dimension and value of the straight line and rectangular (color) plane.

In nature, we perceive that all relationship is governed by one relationship above all others: that of extreme opposites.

The abstract plastic of relationship expresses this basic relationship determinately — by duality of position, the perpendicular.  This relationship of position is the most equilibrated because it expresses the relationship of extreme opposition in complete harmony and includes all other relationships.  If we see these two extremes as manifestations of the inward and the outward, we find that in Neoplastic the bond between spirit and life is unbroken — we see Neoplastic not as denying the full life, but as the reconciliation of the matter-mind duality.

If through contemplation we recognize that the existence of all things is aesthetically determined for us by equilibrated relationships, then the idea of this manifestation of unity already had its seed in our consciousness: unity.


When mans consciousness grows from vagueness to determination his understanding of unity will become more and more determinate.  The advanced consciousness of an age that has become determinate (the consciousness to which the time has arrived — the spirit of the age)  necessarily express itself determinately. Thus art must necessarily express itself determinately.

If unity is seen ‘determinately,’ if attention is focused purely on the universal, then particularity, individuality will disappear from the expression as painting has shown.  Only when the individual no longer stands in the way can universality be purely manifested.  Only then can universal consciousness (intuition) — wellspring of all the arts — express itself directly; a purer art arises.  However, it does not arise before its time.  The consciousness of an age determines the art expression: the art expression reflects the age’s awareness.  Only that art is truly alive which gives expression to the contemporary — the future — consciousness.

If we see man’s consciousness — in time growing toward determination if we see it — in time developing from individual to universal, then logically the new art can never return to form-or to natural color.  Then, logically the consistent growth and development of abstract plastic must progress to its culmination.

While one-sided development, lack of aesthetic culture, or tradition may oppose it temporarily — an abstract, a truly new plastic is necessary for the new man.

Only when the new consciousness becomes more general will the new plastic become a universal need: only then will all factors be present for its culmination.

However, the need for a new plastic exists because it has come into being through the contemporary artist: the essentials for the new plastic of the future are already there.

If the essential of all art, that which is characteristic in each art expression, lies in the intensification of the plastic means, then we clearly see this essential in Neoplasticism’s intensification of the means of expression.

The new means testify to a new vision.  If the aim of all art is to establish relationships only a more conscious vision can bring this aim to clear expression — precisely through the plastic means.

If the proper intensification and use of the plastic means — composition — is the only pure plastic expression of art, then the plastic means must be in complete consonance with what they express.  If they are to be a direct [40] “expression of the universal then they cannot be other than universal — abstract.

Composition leaves the artist the greatest possible freedom to be subjective — as long and insofar as this is necessary.  The rhythm of relationship of color and dimension (in determinate proportion and equilibrium) permits the absolute to appear within the relativity of time and space.

Thus the new plastic is dualistic through its composition.  Through its exact plastic of cosmic relationship it is a direct expression of the universal; through its rhythm, through its material reality, it is an expression of the subjective, of the individual.

In this way it unfolds a world of universal beauty without relinquishing the ‘universally human.’

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 1, pp. 2-6]

2. Neoplasticism as Style

The art of painting — essentially one and unchangeable — has always manifested itself in very diverse expressions.  The art expressions of the past — characterized by so many styles — differ only by reason of time and place, but fundamentally they are one.  However they may differ in appearance, all arose from a single source: the universal, the profound essence of all existence.  Thus all historical styles have striven toward this single goal: to manifest the universal.

Thus all style has a timeless content and a transitory appearance. The timeless (universal) content we can call the universality of style, and its transitory appearance the characteristic or the individuality of style. The style in which individuality best serves the universal will be the greatest: the style in which universal content appears in the most determinate plastic expression will be the purest.

Although all painting has a timeless content, it is strictly plastic art; it can reveal style only insofar as this content actually becomes plastic.

In painting style must be manifested visually: it cannot be expressed through subject-matter or representation.

The universal in style must come to expression through the individual in style, i.e., through the mode of stylistic expression.

The mode of stylistic expression belongs to its time, and represents the relationship of the spirit of the age to the universal.  This gives to each art expression its specific character and distinguished historical styles.


The universal in style, on the other hand, is eternal and makes every style style. It is the representation of the universal, which, as philosophy also teaches, forms the very core of the human spirit even though it is veiled by our individuality.  The universal expresses itself through nature as the absolute, the absolute in nature is concealed or veiled by the expression of natural color and form.  Although the universal is plastically expressed as the absolute — in line by straightness, in color by planarity and purity, relationship by equilibrium — it is revealed in nature only as a tendency toward the absolute — a tendency toward the straight, the plane, the pure, the equilibrated — through tension of form (line), planarity, intensity, purity of natural color and natural harmony.

The aim of art is to emphasize the absolute, this is the content — universal and individual — of all style.  The universal in a style makes the absolute visible through the individuality of that style.  Because individuality of style provides the mode and the degree in which the absolute is made visible, it shows the spiritual outlook of the time it makes a style appropriate to its period, and constitutes a style’s vitality.

Individuality of style therefore cannot be separated from universality of style (we discuss style as a duality to gain a pure conception of its meaning).

Painting can express the absolute in two ways: determinately (as it does not appear in the external world), or veiled in form and natural color, as it is expressed in nature.  In the first, style appears entirely in the manner of art; in the second, always more or less in the manner of nature.

In the manner of nature, for nature also shows style.  Indeed nature like art reveals the universality of style through the particular, the individual; for everything manifests the universal in its own way. Thus we can say that nature also shows individuality of style, but quite differently than art.  In nature, individuality of style is completely bound to the particular, to the natural appearance of things; whereas in art individuality of style must be entirely free from this and is bound only by time and place.  Therefore art can express style precisely, whereas in nature style remains for the most part veiled.  To express style precisely, art must free itself from the natural appearance of things so as not to represent them: only in an abstract appearance can it represent the tension of form, the intensity of color and the harmony revealed by nature.

Nevertheless, If’ one way or another, painting; always brings the visible style of nature to an expression that moves man.  Painting always more or [50] less transforms the style of nature into the style of art.  The artist perceives style in nature so strongly that he is automatically compelled to express style.  Style in nature unites, as it were, with the artist’s sense of style: from the union of style without and style within, the work of art is born.  Thus style in nature is so expressed by painting as to become (relatively) perceptible and visible to all.

Artistic temperament, aesthetic vision, thus perceives style; ordinary vision, on the other hand, sees it neither in art nor in nature.  Ordinary vision is the vision of the individual who cannot rise above particularity.  As long as materiality is seen as particular, style cannot be perceived.  Thus ordinary vision obstructs all art: it does not want style in art, it demands a detailed reproduction.  The artist on the other hand wants and searches for style; this is his struggle.  But through this struggle against individuality within and without, his style conception grows: he expresses more and more consciously the universality, which, deep within him, is expressed spontaneously and intuitively, does not struggle, but effortlessly unfolds.

The universal in the artist causes him to see through the individuality that surrounds him, to see order free from individual expression.  This order, however, is veiled.  The natural appearance of things has evolved more or less capriciously: although reality shows a certain order in its division and multiplicity, this order is not often asserted clearly, but is dominated by the conglomeration of forms and colors.  Although this natural order may not be immediately discernible to unpracticed eyes, it is, nevertheless, this equilibrated order that arouses the deepest emotion of harmony in the beholder.  If profundity of emotion depends upon the degree of his inner harmony, then equilibrated order will be conscious to that degree.  When the beholder has achieved some consciousness of cosmic harmony, then he — the artistic temperament — will require z pure expression of harmony, a pure expression of equilibrated order.

If he is an artist then he will no longer follow order in the manner of nature, but will represent order in the manner of art: he transforms order, as we perceive it visually, to its utmost consequence. Equilibrated order, limited by our individuality and veiled in individuality, then appears as it actually is — as universal order: plastic expression shows universality of style determinately. At present, equilibrated order in plastic expression is still very relative; the imperfect cannot reflect the perfect.

In style in the manner of nature, on the other hand, order is always more or less bound to the appearance of nature and therefore cannot be expresafl [51] precisely as equilibrated order.  Style in the manner of nature was required in traditional painting because it directly expressed the particular together with the universal.

For instance in portraiture, a particular type cannot be expressed without naturalistic form or naturalistic color.  Neither can a particular landscape nor a still-life — all particularity.

Because all particularity-of-appearance has a particular content and produces a sensation of particularity, which, when expressed through the naturalistic appearance of things, does not move us with the force of reality itself, modern time has been obliged to adopt other modes of expression.  But as style, these modes will have vitality in the future only insofar as they assert the expression of the universal over the individual more determinately.  If this is actually achieved, then exact representation of the particular disappears.  Thus representation in the manner of nature is the painting for particular appearance, and has to remain style in the manner of nature as long as particular appearance is demanded in plastic expression.

On the other hand, if consistency of style in the manner of art excludes particular appearance from the plastic, this is not a negation of the objects themselves.  For it expresses the universal — the core of all things, and thus actually represents things more completely.

Consistency of style in the manner of art is a product of dissatisfaction with the representation of natural color and form.  Naturalistic representation, from the viewpoint of the particular, always remains inferior to actual appearance; from the viewpoint of the universal it is always individual.  No art has ever been able to express the power and grandeur of nature by imitation: all true art has made the universal more dominant than it appears to the eye in nature.

Thus, finally, there had to emerge an exact plastic expression of the universal. In order to recognize this plastic as style, it is necessary to perceive that style in art is aesthetic plastic interiorization, whereas style in nature manifests itself as plastic outwardness.

In this opposition resides art’s relationships and nature’s appearance.  What is usually seen as exaggeration of style in nature generally creates style in art.  In the old art, tension of form (line), the intensity and purity of color and natural harmony were accentuated — sometimes exaggerated.  In the new art this exaggeration grew to the point where form and color themselves became the means of expression. When the means were freed of the naturalistic they could be seen in pure light for the first time and the [52] limitations of form and natural color became obvious.  Then followed rapidly the breaking of form and the determination of color. In this way the universal plastic means were discovered.

The new plastic — consistency of style in the manner of art — begins when form and color are expressed as unity in the rectangular plane.  With this universal means, nature’s complexity can be brought to pure plastic, determinate-relationship.

Neoplasticism, the style of the future, expresses not only man’s deeper inwardness, but his maturing outwardness (naturalness).  Only this more equivalent evolution of inwardness and outwardness, a more harmonious relationship between this inseparable duality, can create the new style.  Our maturing naturalness has transcended the natural and approaches the abstract; it thus becomes homogeneous with the inward, which is abstract.  Only the maturing externality within man can produce an abstract vision of the externality outside him.  Thus is born an expression which is abstract but nevertheless real.  It is real because the content and the appearance of things are unveiled: content, because it is expressed determinately; appearance, because it arises from the natural and yet preserves the essence of the natural.

Thus the culture of the whole man was necessary to lead him to a plastic in which natural reality was interiorized into abstract reality.

Although the culture of man’s naturalness accompanies his inner life, the former does not always keep pace with the latter.

This explains why abstract-real plastic has not appeared until now. Its appearance reveals that there has only just begun to be an equilibrium between man’s outwardness and his inwardness, between the natural and the spiritual within him.  This new relationship must bring forth a new style.  Whereas style in art has always appeared more or less in the manner of nature, the latter is now decaying, now makes way for expression of style in the manner of art.

This style can appear only as the aesthetic vision of the determinately universal.  Because the equilibrated relationship of position in the newly found universal plastic means made it possible to determinately express the universal, the new style could now be established.

A certain degree of culture, a certain stage in the evolution of the universal, becomes apparent in the masses only after there has been a preparation and maturation in the individual of the preceding period: the style appears long after it has been in existence.


Style, therefore, is discernible even in an uncultivated period.  We do not need a cultured period in order to discern style in the individual.  If our time is uncultured (culture understood as unity of the masses), the basis of a culture is nevertheless already developed and expressed in the individual: ready to be manifested as culture — culture to be expressed in art as the new style.

In an uncultivated period the style of the future can be recognized as that mode of expression which is the most direct, the most clear reflection of the universal — even though it appears only in a few individuals.  In an uncultivated period, however, we must not try to see the future style in the expression of the masses: as long as culture is not general, the masses’ expression will have an obsolete character.

Only in a time of true culture can we expect a generally homogeneous expression in art.

The new culture will be that of the mature individual; once matured, the individual will be open to the universal and will tend more and more to unite with it.

The time is approaching when the majority of individuals will be capable of this.

Formerly, periods of culture arose when a particular individual (standing over and beyond the people) awakened the universal in the masses.  Initiates, saints, deities brought the people, as from without, to feel and recognize the universal; and thus came the concept of a purer style.  When the power of one of these Universals was spent, the sense of the universal decayed, and the masses sank back into individuality until new power from other Universals could again enter them from without.  But precisely because of this relapse into individuality, individuality matured within man-as-individual, and he developed a consciousness of the universal within himself.  Thus in art today the individual can be expressed as the determinately-universal.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 2, pp. 13-18]


3. The New Plastic as ‘Abstract-Real Painting’: The Plastic Means and Composition

The new plastic can be called abstract not only because it is the direct expression of the universal, but because its expression excludes the individual (or naturalistic concreteness).  We can call its exact expression of relationship abstract — in contrast to expression through natural appearance, which it abstracts.

If we call the new plastic abstract, the question arises whether the abstract can be visually represented.  If it is to be expressed determinately, it is illogical to identify the new art with the vaguely plastic — as is often done.

After long culture, the consciousness has grown in painting that the abstract — the universal — can be clearly represented.  Through the very culture of representation through form, we have come to see that the abstract — like the mathematical — is actually expressed in and through all things, although not determinately; in other words: the new painting achieved of its own accord a determined plastic expression of the universal, which, although veiled and hidden, is revealed in and through the natural appearance of things.  Through painting itself, the artist became conscious that the appearance of the universal-as-the-mathematical is the essence of all feelings of beauty as pure aesthetic expression.  (The artist developed his awareness through practice; but in the deeper sense he gives conscious expression to the spirit of his age.) As awareness grew, he learned to construct appearance through the precise plastic representation of individual things — precisely by abstracting it more and more.  He learned to represent exactly what is merely suggested in nature, he reduced and destroyed the concreteness of appearance (by simplification), yet he did no more than carry the conception of art to its logical conclusion.  And so our age came to abstract-real painting.  Neoplasticism is abstract-real because it stands between the absolute-abstract and the natural, or concrete-real.  It is not as abstract as thought-abstraction, and not as real as tangible reality.  It is aesthetically living plastic representation,’ the visual expression in which each opposite is transformed into the other.

Abstract-real painting can create in an aesthetic-mathematic way because it possesses an exact mathematical means of expression: color carried to determination.

To determine color involves: first, reducing naturalistic color to primary [55] color, second, reducing color to plane; third, delimiting color — so that it appears as a unity of rectangular planes.

Reduction to primary color leads to the visual internalization of the material, to a purer manifestation of light.  The material, corporeality, (through its surfaces) causes us to see colorless sunlight as natural color.  Color then arises from light as well as from the surface, the material. Thus natural color is inwardness (light) in its most outward manifestation.  Reducing natural color to primary color changes the most outward manifestation of color back to the most inward.  If, of the three primary colors, yellow and blue are the most inward, if red (the union of blue and yellow — see Dr H. Shoenmaekers, The New World Image) is more outward; then a painting in yellow and blue alone would be more inward than one in the three primary colors.

But if the near future is still far from this internalization, and if today the time of natural color is not yet over, then abstract-real painting must rely upon the three primary colors, supplemented by white, black and grey.

In abstract-real painting primary color simply means color in its most basic aspect. Primary color thus appears very relative — the principal thing is for color to be free of individuality and individual sensations, and to give expression only to the serene emotion of the universal.

The primary colors in abstract-real painting represent primary colors in such a way that they no longer depict the natural, but nevertheless remain real.

Color is thus transformed not arbitrarily but in complete harmony with all principles of art.  Color in painting owes its appearance not only to visible reality but also to the vision of the artist: he intensified color inwardly and interiorizes its outwardness.

If color expression results from a reciprocal action of the subjective and the objective, and if the subjective is growing towards the universal, then color will increasingly express the universal — it will be manifested more and more abstractly.

If it is difficult to understand that expression through line can be abstract-plastic, then it is even more difficult to recognize this in intensified color-as-color (as against color as white and black — light and dark).

Neoplasticism’s abstract color is meaningless to subjective vision: for abstract color leaves out individual expression of emotion — it still expresses emotion, but an emotion dominated by the spirit.


Neoplasticism succeeds in universalizing color for it not only seeks the universal in each color-as-color, but unites them mutually through equilibrated relationships. In this way each single color’s particularity is destroyed: color is governed by relationship.

In nature no less than in art, color is always to some degree dependent upon relationships but is not always governed by them.  In naturalistic expression, color always leaves room for subjectification of the universal; although color becomes tone through relationship (tonal or value relations), color remains dominant.

Color can be governed only through the exact expression of equilibrated color relationships so that the universal can appear determinately.

If the emotion aroused by colors themselves is linked to feeling, and conscious recognition of relationship is linked to the spiritual, then spiritual feeling will make relationship increasingly dominant over color.

As an exact plastic expression of intensified color as well as relationships, Neoplasticism can express complete humanity, that is, equilibrium of mind and feeling.  Equilibrium in plastic art, however, demands a most exact technique.  Although Neoplasticism appears to have given up all technique, its technique has actually become so important that the colors must be painted in the precise place where the work is to be seen: only then can the effect of the colors and relationships be precise.

For they are interdependent with the entire architecture; and the architecture in turn must harmonize completely with the plastic.  As the time is not yet ripe for its complete unification with architecture, Neoplasticism must continue to be manifested as painting: this must influence today’s abstract-real plastic. Each artist must find his own color-expression according to time and place.  If he does not reckon with today’s surroundings, his work will be disharmonious whenever it is not seen simply in and for itself. Perhaps this disharmony will open people’s eyes to our actual surroundings —  with all their traditionalism or arbitrariness.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 3, pp. 29-31]


Natural color in Neoplasticism is intensified not only because it isbrought to primary color but also because it appears as plant.

Habitual vision does not perceive color in nature as plane: it perceives things (color) as corporeality, as roundness.


Actually things take their visual shape from a complex of plants which express plasticity through angularity, form always appears more or less as a confluent angularity. The angularity is not directly perceptible, however; sometimes it hardly exists visually, as a photograph or veristic picture shows.  The technical development of the painter, even in academic teaching, consists largely in learning to see the planarity in the appearance of forms, and thus in the plastic, and to exaggerate it in representation.

Modern art follows ancient art in accentuating the planarity of natural-reality; it is only a more consistent expression of the same idea: the plastic conception.  After the accentuation of planarity there began the breaking-up of the visual corporeality of objects in the painting (Cézanne — Kandinsky; the Cubist school — Picasso).  Here the plastic conception already becomes more structural.

Neoplasticism, finally, is the manifestation of this idea, the manifestation of the purely aesthetic idea.

In general, then, painting creates plastically by accentuating angularity.  The plastic is necessary in painting because it creates space. Because painting expresses space on a flat surface it needs another plastic than the natural (which is not perceived on one plane).

Painting has found this new plastic by reducing the corporeality of things to a composition of planes which give the illusion of lying on one plane.

These planes, by their dimensions (line) and their values (color), create space without the use of visual perspective.  Space can be expressed in an equilibrated way because the dimensions and values create pure relationship: height and breadth oppose each other without foreshortening, and depth is manifested through the different colors of the planes.

Neoplastic expresses the essentials of space through the relationship of one color plane to the other; perspective illusion is completely abolished, pictorial devices (such as the rendering of atmosphere, etc.) are excluded.

Because the color appears pure, plane and distinct, Neoplastic directly expresses expansion, i.e., directly expresses the cause of spatial appearance.

Expansion — the exteriorization of active primal force — creates corporeal form by growth, annexation, construction, etc.  Form results when expansion is limited.  If expansion is fundamental (because action comes from it) it must also be fundamental to plastic expression.  To be consciously recognized as such it must be represented clearly and directly. If the time for this has come, then the limitations of particularity must he abolished in the plastic [58] expression of expansion; only then can expansion be expressed in all its purity.

If, in form-expression’ the boundaries of form are established by closed line (contour), they must be tensed into straight line.

Then the most outward (the appearance of form) comes into equilibrated relationship with the exact plastic expression of expansion which becomes perceptible to the senses as straight line.

Thus by expansion and limitation (the extreme opposites), an equilibrated relationship of position is created — the perpendicular relationship.  Thus, expansion is realized without particular limitation, purely through differences in the color of the planes and the perpendicular relationships of lines or color planes.

Perpendicularity delimits color without closing it.

Thus, finally, the rectangular plane determines color a third time, completely.

Just like the expression of color as plane color, rectangular delimitation of color grew out of the attempt to express the planearity of visual reality, as found in the old art.

Neoplasticism has realized the old idea of art: to make color determinate.

Indeed, art before Neoplasticism determined color only to a degree: by intensification, by planarity, by firm stroke or surrounding line (contour).  Form was delineated and filled-in with color, or it was built up through color (Cézanne).  The value of a work before our time can be measured by its (relative) determination of color.  In times of intense inward (or spiritual) life, color was plane and line tensed.  But even in other times, when color was modeled and line capricious, art gave color its definiteness and line its tension in order to express inner force plastically.

The early modern school of painting is distinguished by strong linear expression (contour) — Van Gogh; and by planar use of color — Cézanne.  Later, when color appeared as color, and form as form in its own right (Cubism, etc.), color became even more determinate.  The precise expression of form resulting from color’s determination led, through the breaking of form, to the complete determination of color.  The breaking of form (contour) did not lead to vague or flowing color, but to its essential determination: the straight.

Thus color became the plastic means of abstract-real expression, because form (the concrete) is dissolved into color, and color is freed from the naturalistic.


This plastic means is already inherently universal because it expresses the basic relationship of position and intensified color, but abstract-real plastic can become realized only through composition.  Through composition, exact space-expression becomes both possible and real.

If Neoplasticism is dualistic through its composition, its composition also is dualistic. The composition expresses subjectivity, individuality, through its rhythm — which is formed by the relationships of color and dimension, even though they are mutually opposed and neutralized; and it expresses the universal through its relationships of dimension and color value by continuous opposition of the plastic means themselves.

It is precisely this duality of composition that makes abstract-real painting possible.

The universal plastic means would reappear as its own kind of particularity if it were not abolished by the composition itself; otherwise, being individuals ourselves, we would tend to see individuality again in the universal plastic means.  That is why in Neoplasticism, composition itself demands full attention.

In all art it is through composition (as opposed to rhythm) that some measure of the universal is plastically manifested and the individual is also more or less abolished.  Although composition has always been fundamental to painting, modern painting has generally been distinguished by a new kind of concern with it.  In modern art, especially in Cubism, composition now comes to the forefront; and as the final consequence, in abstract-real painting composition itself is expressed.  While in the art of the past the composition becomes real only if we abstract the representation, in abstract-real painting, composition is directly visible because of its truly abstract means of expression.

Through the plastic expression of composition, rhythm, proportion and equilibrium (which replaces regularity or symmetry) can be perceived clearly.  The exactness with which Neoplasticism expresses these laws of harmony allows it to achieve the greatest possible inwardness.  True, the old painting is also based on these laws, but it does not give them clear plastic expression. Whenever the old art stresses these laws, immediately there is a great inner intensification (as in the art of ancient India, China, Egypt and Assyria; early Christian art).

While their composition is in the manner of nature it nevertheless is strongly emphasized.


But the new art no longer realizes the laws of harmony in the manner of nature: they are manifested more independently than in nature.  Finally, in Neoplasticism, they are manifested entirely in the manner of art.

In Neoplasticism the law of proportion leads the artist to realize properly the relationships of size and color on the picture plane: purely and simply through universal plastic means and not by any pictorial device.  Rhythm becomes determinate: natural rhythm is abolished.

Rhythm interiorized (through continuous abolition, through oppositions of position and size) has nothing of the repetition that characterizes the particular; it is no longer sequence but plastic unity. Thus it renders more strongly the cosmic rhythm which flows through all things.

Individuality typically manifests the law of repetition, which is nature’s rhythm, a law characterized by symmetry. Symmetry or regularity emphasizes the separateness of things: it therefore has no place in the plastic expression of the universal as universal.

Abstract-real plastic has to transform symmetry into equilibrium, which it does by continuous opposition of proportion and position; by plastically expressing relationships which change each opposite into the other.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 4, pp. 41-44]

4. The Rationality of Neoplasticism

Although Neoplasticism in painting is revealed only through the actual work — the work of art needs no explanation in words — nevertheless much about Neoplasticism can be expressed directly in words and much can be made clear by reasoning.

Although the spontaneous expression of intuition that is realized in the work of art (i.e., its spiritual content) can be interpreted only by verbal art, there is also the word without art: reasoning, logical explanation, through which the rationality of an art can be shown.

This makes it possible for the contemporary artist to speak about his own art.

At present, the new plastic is still so new and unfamiliar that the artist himself is compelled to speak about it.  Later the philosopher, the scientist, the theologian or others will, if possible, complement and perfect his words.  At present the practice is perfectly clear only to those who evolved it through practice.


While it grows and matures, the new must speak for itself, must remain self-explanatory — but the layman is justified in asking for an explanation of the new art now, and it is logical for the artist, after creating the new art, to try to become conscious of it.

For consciousness in art is another new contemporary characteristic: the artist is no longer a blind tool of intuition.  Natural feeling no longer dominates the work of art, which expresses spiritual feeling — that is, reason-and-feeling in one. This spiritual feeling is inherently accessible to understanding, which readily explains that intellect becomes as prominent as feeling in the artist.

Thus the contemporary artist has to work in a double field; or rather, the field of artistic activity, formerly vague and diffuse, today becomes clearly determinate.  Although the work of art grows spontaneously, as if outside him, the artist has to cultivate the field — before and after growth.

Having become conscious of the newly discovered laws of growth, he has no choice but to defend their lawfulness: consciousness strengthens his intuitive feeling for these laws so that he can define them with certainty.

These laws of growth are an aesthetic manifestation of truth, and it is characteristic of truth that it should prove itself — even in words.  Truth is self revealing, says Spinoza, but the knowledge of truth can be speeded and strengthened by words.

Truth, then, reveals itself — and it is the beauty of life that truth is always unconsciously recognized, and its every manifestation is finally acknowledged — even when it seems otherwise.

That is why the contemporary artist gives explanations about his work but not of it.

Clarification demands strenuous effort, but at the same time it furthers one’s own development.  Explaining means that one has reached clarity along the path of feeling and intellect, by working and thinking about what has been achieved.  To explain means to have gained consciousness, even through clashing thoughts — through conflict.  Thus explanation about plastic expression indirectly makes it more profound and more precise.

Foremost to be stressed about Neoplasticism is its reasonableness. For the main question that modern man asks of anything is whether it is rational. He must see clearly the rationality of Neoplasticism as art in general, as well as its rationality as an art for our time.

If we define Neoplasticism as a plastically determinate aesthetic expression [62] of the universal, or as a direct (aesthetic) expression of the universal through subjective transformation of the universal (see Introduction), then it satisfies the requirements of all art.

An art is more or less direct aesthetic expression of the universal.  This ‘more or less’ implies degrees, and it is precisely this difference of degree (deriving from the subjective transformation of the universal) that raises Neoplasticism to the purest manifestation of art.

The subjectivization of the universal is relative — even in art.  A great heightening of subjectivity is taking place in man (evolution) — in other words, a growing, expanding consciousness. Subjectivity remains subjective, but it diminishes in the measure that objectivity (the universal) grows in the individual.  Subjectivity ceases to exist only when the mutation-like leap is made from subjectivity to objectivity, from individual-being to universal-being, but for this there must first be a difference in the degree of subjectivity.

This difference in degree in the work of art makes Neoplasticism the most direct aesthetic manifestation of the universal possible in a period that is subjective.

The subjectivization of the universal in art brings the universal downward on the one hand, while on the other it helps raise the individual towards the universal.

Subjectivization of the universal — the work of art — can express the consciousness of an age either in its relationship to the universal, or in its relationship to daily life, to the individual. In the first case, art is truly religious, in the second, profane. A high degree of the universal in the consciousness of an age, even if it is spontaneous intuition, can elevate its art above the commonplace; but truly religious art already transcends it by its very nature.  For the universal — although its germ may be in us — towers far above us; and far above us is that art which directly expresses the universal.  Such an art, like religion, is one with life at the same time as it transcends (ordinary) life.

This unity and separateness are made possible through unity and separateness of individual and universal in the consciousness of the age: the equilibrated relationship of the inseparable dual-unity, the inward and outward in man can produce only a pure art — a direct plastic expression of the universal.

As long as individuality is predominant in the consciousness of an age, its art remains bound to ordinary life, and remains primarily its expression.


However, when the universal dominates, the universal will permeate life so that art — so unreal in comparison to chat life — will decay, and a new life — which realizes the universal in fact — will replace it.

The universal finds its purest, most direct plastic expression in art only when there is equilibrated relationship of individual and universal in the awareness of an age.  For in plastic expression the individual can embody the universal: in art, the universal can become visually perceptible without being tied to the individual (to individual being).

Art — although an end in itself — like religion, is the means through which we can know the universal and contemplate it in plastic form.

Since contemplation springs from the universal (within as and outside as), and completely transcends the individual (Schopenhauer’s contemplation), our individual personalities have no more merit than the telescope through which distant objects are made visible.

The artist, then, is only the more or less appropriate instrument through which a culture (i.e., the degree of universality in the consciousness of an era) is expressed aesthetically.  Aesthetically, because all people — insofar as they have matured in this respect — are part of the spirit of an age and, in one way or another, all represent it. Thus modern art, when it appears completely in the manner of art; is finally nothing other than the exact plastic expression of a more inward culture.

In this art, manifested as style, there subsists no particular expression of the individual: vision starts from the universal, and is colored and subjectivized by the culture — whether this is generally apparent or not.

For at the beginning of a new cultural era, the new consciousness is concealed by the diversity of different awarenesses concealed behind a lingering past and an unrealized future.  Yet it is clearly discernible: ft actually manifests itself as living reality.

If art is to be a living reality to modern man, it has to be a pure expression of the consciousness of the age.  Art can become a living reality for him only if, by contemplation, he can become one with the universal it expresses; but art has not yet become one with his whole being.

For an art to be discernible as style, it has to be one with our entire human nature, and therefore also with the natural in us.  Our entire humanity is expressed in life and must be reflected in art.

If Neoplasticism is to interpret the new spirit, it must show itself homogeneous with the new spirit’s every manifestation in life.

Can these be called abstract-real?


Can our age of material reality be simultaneously an age of abstract reality?

If we fail to see in today’s awful turmoil a storm that will bring our outer life into harmony with our inner life, whose rebirth began quietly long ago; if we fail to perceive concrete reality as an opposition to that which is not concretely manifested — then ours is not an abstract-real age.  But if we can detect the true life behind the tumult, if we can see the consciously abstract spirit at work behind all concrete phenomena, then our age is indeed abstract-real.  Modern life is no longer natural — but abstract-real.  And it reveals this in fact.

All modern life bears the stamp of abstract-real life: its whole outward manifestation plastically expresses the abstract spirit.

The man of truly modern culture lives in concrete reality, which his mind transforms into abstractions; his real life moves into the abstract — but in turn, he makes the abstract real.

The artist also does this, and thus creates abstract-real art.

Despite all external opposition, the true life of modern man shows the deeper thought which is the sign of culture.  It shows the more determined awareness of our time, shows that the universal can be seen and known with greater clarity.

In all fields life grows increasingly abstract while it remains real.  More and more the machine displaces natural power.  In fashion we see a characteristic tensing of form and intensification of color, signifying the departure from the natural.

In modern dance steps (boston, tango, etc.) the same tensing is seen: the curved line of the old dance (waltz, etc.) has yielded to the straight line, and each movement is immediately neutralized by a countermovement — signifying the search for equilibrium.  Our social life shows this too: autocracy, imperialism with its (natural) rule of power, is about to fall — if it has not fallen already — and yields to the (spiritual) power of law.

Likewise, the new spirit comes strongly forward in logic, science, and religion. The imparting of veiled wisdom yields to the wisdom of pure reason; and knowledge shows increasing exactness.  The old religion, with its mysteries and dogmas, is increasingly thrust aside by a clear relationship to the universal.  Purer knowledge of the universal — insofar as it can be known — makes this possible.

All expressions of life manifest this same concept — and this is formulated by logical thought.


Long before the new was manifested determinately in life and in art, the logic of philosophy had clearly stated an ancient truth: being is manifested or known only by its opposite.

This implies that the visible, the natural concrete is not known through visible nature, but through its opposite.  For modern consciousness, this means that visible reality can be expressed only by abstract real plastic.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 5, pp. 49-54]


It might seem old-fashioned to illuminate the rationality of a new truth by citing an ancient one but it only seems so: new truth is nothing other than a new manifestation of universal truth, which is immutable.

This enduring truth was given various formulations in ancient times.  One of them perfectly defines the true meaning of art: opposites are best known through their opposites.  We all know that nothing in the world can be conceived in or by itself; everything is judged by comparison with its opposite (Philo of Alexandria; Bolland, Pure Reason). Only in our time — with its maturing and growing equilibrium between the inward and the outward, the spiritual and the natural — has the artist come consciously to recognize this ancient truth already re-emphasized by logical thought (Hegel).  The artist came to this awareness through the way of art, an outward way.

Art — as one of the manifestations of truth — has always expressed the truth of oppositions; but only today has art realized this truth in its creation. We recognize the division between old and new painting as soon as we see that naturalistic painting manifested this truth in a veiled and disequilibrated way, whereas Neoplasticism represents it plastically, determinately and in equilibrium.

Painting has always transformed the visible (from which it proceeds) into a beauty that moves man — by bringing to plastic expression within the naturalistic the very opposite of the visible. But not all painting has shown this opposite in equilibrated relationship with the natural.

Clearly, the plastic opposite of the natural concrete cannot be the most extreme thought-abstraction: the plastic opposite of the most outward cannot be the most inward; it appears in nature by means of the natural (the most outward) relationships of position, size and value — as a plastic expression of [66] relationship which is nothing in itself, but manifests the plastic core of all things.

Relationship, indeterminate in nature, is basically exact, abstract; but consistent with this character, can be purely expressed only by an exact, abstract plastic means. Only then can the mutual interaction of the opposites inward and outward, attain equilibrated expression.

The most external manifestation of things, the natural, veils the pure and direct externalization of the inward (the universal), and so veils exact relationship.  The latter can find clear plastic expression only in an outwardness which — although not the extreme opposite of the natural — is free enough of (individual) limitation to express purely plastically both the direct externalization of the most inward and the essence of the most outward.

Exact relationship can find plastic expression only through the abstraction of natural form and color — color brought to determination. This universal plastic means destroys the naturalism of the plastic: the natural is crystallized into exact relationship, which conversely can be seen as crystallized inwardness.  Thus both the most outward and the most inward are neutralized in an exact plastic of relationship, and these opposites are plastically expressed as unity in a single outwardness (the work of art).

If we see this unity, then we clearly see the unity of Abstract-Real plastic with visible reality: then we see this plastic, not as an aimless array of color-planes and lines, but as an equilibrated expression of man and nature, of inward and outward, in their deepest, their most beautiful and external significance.  Ancient wisdom represented the fundamental inward-outward relationship by the cross.  Neither this symbol, however, nor any other symbol, can be the plastic means for Abstract-Real painting: the symbol constitutes a new limitation, on the one hand, and it is too absolute on the other.

In moving from Naturalistic painting to Abstract-Real painting, art has realized the law of opposites.  All Naturalistic painting served this evolution from an expression of the natural to an expression of the abstract and thus to an equilibrated plastic of extreme opposites (see Introduction).

Seen in its evolution in time, the plastic means of painting were at first out of harmony with the law of opposites, for the (most) outward was expressed through the (most) outward; then the naturalism of expression was gradually destroyed; and finally, we see the (universal) plastic means in complete harmony with the law.

The truth contained in the law of opposites manifests itself in space [67] and time: in time the inward (within man) grows through the outward (in space): in time the more outward conception of space grows into a more inward one; in time, opposite becomes known by opposite.

If we see the necessity of Naturalistic painting (as preparation for Abstract-Real painting), we will not regard it as an error — no art, no true artist has ever erred: the universal (the source of all art) does not err.  The universal is independent of time: seen objectively it manifests itself according to the law of opposites.

And now painting attains what has always been its essence, but which has never before found clear outward expression: plastic realization of the unity of the mutual interaction of opposites. Just as the plastic of Abstract-Real painting is not abstract in the ordinary (scientific, intellectual) meaning of the word, so its expression of relationship is not the opposite of naturalistic plastic.  For the exact plastic expression of relationship is also an outwardness, and as such still part of the outward. But as the least outward, it is the opposite or antithesis of the most outward (natural appearance).

If, however, we see the exact plastic of relationships as a direct representation of inwardness (the universal), then it is an (exteriorized) part of inwardness, and as such a plastic opposite of the natural.

In order to understand Neoplasticism’s exact plastic relationship, it is necessary to see the exact plastic of relationships as the (exteriorized) opposite of naturalistic plastic expression.  This is possible because the inward, which is not visible in the plastic nevertheless takes form in it. (Thus a radius which is inward and not actually visible becomes a vertical line in the plastic).

Starting from the visible: space is expressed in Neoplasticism not by naturalistic plastic but by the (abstract) plastic of the plane; movement is expressed by movement and counter-movement in one; naturalistic color is expressed by plane, determined color; and the capriciously curved line by the straight line.  Thus the relative finds plastic expression through the determined — a direct externalization of the absolute.  Starting from the non-visible, from the inward: expansion is expressed by a (new) space expression; rest, by equilibrated movement; light, by plane pure color.  Thus in Neoplasticism, the absolute is manifested through the relative (in the composition and the universal plastic means).

Although every age has expressed the law of opposites, the cultivated man of our rime, the true modern man distinguishes himself by being conscious of the truth of this law: Irv endeavoring to realize himself. [68] By seeing the outward purely, the contemporary artist learns to express the inward purely. Thus by seeing the universal in the outward, he learns to express it plastically, obscuring it as little as possible by the (individual) self.

Thus he learns to perceive that the apparently unbeautiful can be beautiful — that outward beauty is not the highest beauty.  He learns to see this after having cultivated the natural.  It is a mark of the uncultivated man, of the man attached to individuality, to seek the highest beauty and good in what appears as beautiful and good to him. This is due to disequilibrium between the inward and outward, between spirit and nature.  And this disequilibrium forms the obstacle to a true understanding of Neoplasticism: in an age that does not know equilibrium between inward and outward, an equilibrated plastic of relationship cannot exist as style.

To appreciate Neoplasticism completely one must know something of the nature and interaction of inward and outward (within us and outside of us); only then do we perceive how inward and outward can be plastically manifested as a unity of equivalent duality.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I No. 7, pp. 73-77]

5. From the Natural to the Abstract: From the Indeterminate to the Determinate

The reciprocal action of the opposites, inward and outward (spirit and nature), can lead us to see life — and therefore art — as a constant recurrence (in different ways) of the same thing, as continual repetition.

Such a vision of life and art impedes development, for it excludes every idea of growth as evolution, as ascending development. While not denying change in life and art, this vision denies their continuous tendency to depart from the natural: their evolution to the abstract. Precisely the firm belief in the spirit’s rising development through the maturing of the natural in man (a belief based on observation) is necessary in order to see life and art purely.

However, a true conception of the meaning of inward and outward, of spirit and nature, shows this perpetual return as the recurrence of one and the same thing: the universal inward which, although perfect, matures in man precisely through the reciprocal action of nature and spirit.  It permits us not to despair of the evolution of the human spirit even if each stage of its development founders on outwardness.  Conversely, it tells us not to despair for the preservation of the outward (the physical, the natural) [69] in man — for it is precisely the human spirit that keeps it intact.  While becoming less primitive, the outward remains strong enough to become equilibrated with man’s spiritual life.

A true conception of the essential meaning of spirit and nature in man shows life and art as a perpetual sacrifice of inward to outward and outward to inward; a conception which enables us to recognize this process as exclusively in favor of the inward and serving to broaden man’s individual inwardness (spirit) toward universal inwardness.

Thus understood, the opposition of spirit and nature in man is seen as constantly forming a new unity — which constantly reflects more purely the original unity out of which the opposites, spirit and nature, manifest themselves — in time as a duality.

Pure vision shows us this original unity as the enduring force in all things, as the universally shared force that permeates all things.  This deepest universal element was termed by Aristotle substance — that which is; the thing-in-itself existing of itself, independent of those accidents of size, form, or qualities, which constitute only the outwardness by which substance is manifested. It is only substance that makes externality into what it is for us.

If substance is the enduring force, then a direct representation of the universal (or direct plastic expression of substance) is not merely justified but required. For the constant force is the valuable one.

In nature the accidents of substance — size, form, qualities — are indispensable, for substance is not directly perceptible to the senses.  In nature, form (corporeality) is necessary: in nature everything exists for us through form which is made visible through (natural) color.  Thus nature misleads us into thinking that form is necessary in art too; nature makes us forget that substance is actually expressed by means of the universal, manifested through form and through color.

In art we have direct plastic expression of the universal (the equilibrated plastic of relationships), non-corporeal in its manifestation, free of the temporal that obscures the eternal.  Although this manifestation is not form, it can nevertheless be plastically expressed.  In art the accidents of substance can be dispensed with: they must remain outside of plastic expression if we are to achieve pure expression of the universal, i.e., of substance.

Properly understood, the reciprocal action of the opposites, inwardness and outwardness, shows life and art as recurring stages of growth on the one hand, and of decline on the other.


To discern this general truth, we must extend our observation over long periods, go far back into the past and look far into the future, in fact we must see life as not beginning or ending with this universe.  But since in this physical world the physical does not change significantly once it has matured, and since spirit develops only in man, we can limit ourselves to tracing the evolution of spirit [i.e., of consciousness) in man.

The evolution of consciousness creates form after form — in life as in art.  In its evolution of form, art can precede life: so that its form becomes manifestation the natural becomes abstract.  If the natural in our consciousness is ripening, if man’s individual inwardness is becoming more determinately conscious — then consciousness is growing from the natural to the abstract, and the expression of art will necessarily be abstract.  When the individuals consciousness expands into the universal, then the natural — although it remains unchangeable in nature — will change for man.  The artist is no longer content with the most outward means of expression: he needs a universal means. He achieves it by intensifying form and color — consistent with the intensification of consciousness.  Thus, he reduces the natural to the abstract; thus — so far as it can be plastically expressed — he consciously expresses the opposite of the natural.  In Abstract-Real Plastic man has an opposition to the natural through which he can know nature and so gain knowledge of the spirit.  In this way art becomes truly religious.

June 1918 [From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 8, pp. 88-91]


If we see that the trend to abstract plastic expression in modern painting results from the evolution of the consciousness of our time to the abstract, then the striving of modern art in general, and of Abstract-Real painting in particular, will not be seen as a degeneration, but we will then recognize that from this striving a new style must be born.

If modern painting is generally permeated by an intensifying and accelerating quest for freedom from individuality — and (in Neoplasttcism) is becoming a clear expression of the universal, then Neoplasticism is the plastic expression of the contemporary age — although it is in advance of its time.

Our age has reached the climax of individualism: the mature individual can now increasingly find equilibrium with the universal.  When our [71] mentality actually attains this equilibrium, it will also be clearly expressed in every aspect of outward life too, just as it is expressed abstractly in Neoplasticism.

Evolution from the naturalistic to the abstract causes man to see nature differently: he may unconsciously reject the individual in nature, but this does not cause him to reject the natural.

Although he may destroy nature’s most outward appearance in his plastic expression, it is still through nature that the universal becomes living in man.

By reducing the natural to the abstract in the plastic, modern man expresses the natural in all its fullness: for thus both inward and outward find plastic expression. Thus he shows himself to be truly modern man, who sees the outward as inward and penetrates the inward through the outward.

Formerly one only perceived either the outward or the inward: the world was divided into the profane and the so-called believers.  Modern man, however, is capable of seeing the inward in equilibrium with the outward, and conversely; through relationship he knows both opposite.’  Precisely in this way the truly modern man sees things as a whole and accepts life in its wholeness: nature and spirit, world and faith, art and religion — man and God, as unity.

The evolution of consciousness causes beauty to evolve into truth. We can say that beauty is truth aesthetically-subjectively perceived.  If beauty is subjectivized truth, then art would be destroyed if its subjectivity were completely destroyed.  Likewise, the ideas of plastic expression would be destroyed, for plastic expression implicitly assumes subjectivization (and therefore beauty).

Plastic expression of the purely objective (of truth) is an other beauty: a beauty that transcends art.  The truth that is manifested subjectively in art is the universal. It is therefore true for everyone in opposition to that truth which, in every pure search, forms the true way for each individual. Neoplasticism exists as style, as universality, since it clearly expresses universal truth.  Art must stress this universal truth if it is to plastically express beauty-as-truth.

‘The beautiful is the true in the perceptual mode.  And truth is a multiple unity of opposites: if we can find the beautiful in the true, then it must he found us a unity-in-diversity of opposites.  We find the beautiful inherent in the unity of linguistic and mathematical (essences) in proportional relationships’ (Bolland, Pure Reason), in Neoplasticism it is precisely the proportional relationships [72] (of line and color) that are manifested purely.  In Neoplasticism beauty consists of the equilibrated, equivalent expression of the opposite,’ inwardness and outwardness.

The concept of beauty is a relational one — of aesthetic relations, of perceptually agreeable and thus emotionally satisfying relationships, and consequently not a mere linguistic or mathematical concept, but something more, commensurable in a variety of relationships or principles, etc’ (Bolland, Pure Reason).

Thus we see that rational thought is in accord with the actual goal of the new painting — whether rational thought recognizes it or not.  Both seek beauty not for the beautiful feelings it may arouse, but for beauty as truth, i.e., as plastic manifestation of pure aesthetic relationship.

Neoplasticism, while strongly emphasizing truth, nevertheless continues to express beauty. Therefore, like all art, it remains relative, and to some degree still arbitrary, if it were to become as absolute as the universal plastic means allow, it would overstep the limits of art; it would pass from the sphere of art into that of truth.

Neoplasticism expresses beauty as truth through the absoluteness of its plastic means: it expresses truth as beauty (i.e.  relativized by beauty) through the rhythm of its composition and the relativity in which its plastic means are manifested.

Art remains relative, even though, the consciousness of our time is rising toward the universal, from which intuition — the source of all art — derives; the artist, because he unites inward and outward, always remains human and cannot completely transcend the subjective.

The adult no longer possesses the objective vision of the child.  Children and primitive peoples can still objectify their inwardness (their unconscious) purely; however, they lack the consciousness of the adult, for they lack culture.

Through their unconsciousness they intuitively express the general, but not the abstract — or what is here called the universal, i.e., the most profound manifestation of all things.

Beauty as truth, then, cannot be expressed determinately by naturalistic means: form and natural color limit expression to the individual, and veil the truth to such an extent that it can only be expressed vaguely.

From the plastic point of view, form and natural color bind expression to the individual and shackle the pure vision of the universal.  Moreover our particular sensations and thoughts (in turn based on particular experiences) become associated with what we see.


Although the observer partially determines the impression of what he sees, what is seen also says something specific because of the form of its appearance.

Even the most perfect, most general geometrical forms express something specific.  To destroy this limitation (or individuality) of expression as far as possible is the task of art, and forms the essential content of all style.

Art, then, is a field of combat against the individual.  In life, as in visible nature, there is struggle between universal and individual; but — in time — the universal remains more closely bound to the individual in outward life than it does in abstract life, of which art is the plastic manifestation.

The union of the universal (as far as it has developed in man) with the individual (as far as it has matured in man) gives rise to the tragic; the struggle of one against the other forms the tragedy of life.  Tragedy arises from inequality in the appearance of the duality by which unity manifests itselfin space and time.

The tragic exists both in inward and in outward life.

Although the greatest tragedy is due to the inherently unequal dualism of spirit and nature, there is tragedy also in outward life.  Due to disequilibrated mutual relationships, the tragic exists between male and female, between society and individual.

The premature union of opposites causes the tragic.  Yet only the continual and repeated union of opposites can bring about the new progress; for new form arises from opposites dissolving into each other.

Thus plastic expression of pure (exact) relationship is possible only when the natural in man and the spiritual in him dissolve into each other: his vision of the natural is transformed, i.e., it becomes abstract.

If the tragic can be destroyed only through (final) unification, this is far less possible in outward than in abstract life.  Art can realize the union of opposites abstractly: that is why art precedes real life.

Unity in real life must await the equivalence of opposites.  By equivalence we mean the equivalence of (relatively) pure opposites.  Only after this equivalence develops are the opposites resolved into one another and true unity is really attained.

In advance of its time, Neoplasticism plastically manifests the turning point of human development — the era of equivalence of opposites.  When this time actually comes, art will be transformed into real life.

Until then, even in art, universality will continue to be dominated by the individual (the subjective) — even though art (through intuition) already expresses equivalence.


If beauty is truth (the universal) subjectively apprehended, then beauty must always express the tragic.  And if truth (as universal) is objective — then truth must be free of the tragic.  Although in Neoplasticism subjective vision is reduced to a minimum, it nevertheless remains subjective and still must express something of the tragic.  It does this through the rhythm of the composition, etc.

We experience beauty, and therefore the tragic, through emotion but its actual manifestation is plastic.  Because it is manifested plastically the human spirit, which is expressed by aesthetic plastic, seeks its visual manifestation free of the tragic.

The human spirit, then, seeks truth (which is free of the tragic), but in beauty it finds it always relativized, and therefore more or less tragic.  Art nevertheless leads us along the path of beauty toward truth, to visual manifestation free of the tragic.

Art has the intention of plastically establishing complete freedom from the tragic: but its expression, the plastic, created by and for man, lags behind art’s intention.  How far behind, depends on the culture — on the stage of development that the universal has reached in the masses.  Culture, then, determines how far individuality is actually annihilated in expression.

So long as art continues to use natural appearance as its plastic means, its expression will emphasize the tragic. Whereas style in the manner of art results in the least tragic, style in the manner of nature results in the most.  As much as naturalistic painting may try to neutralize the individual in it by establishing equilibrated relationships, natural appearance will always constitute a limitation through form — and therefore express the struggle of inwardness for freedom, the struggle of expansion and limitation.

The tragic adheres to all form and natural color, for the struggle for freedom is expressed by the tensing of line and the intensification of color as a striving against a stronger counter-striving.  Only when line is tensed to the rectilinear and naturalistic color is intensified to pure plane-color — only then can tragic expression be reduced to a minimum.

Culture, then, (more or less) opposes the natural, just as the universal opposes the individual.

The natural — in time — stands opposed to the spiritual; from the plastic viewpoint, natural appearance stands opposed to man’s spirit.  The former acts on the latter through emotion. Emotion will therefore remain subordinated to the natural until man’s spirit becomes more conscious.  Only then will [77] it become spiritual emotion, and be able to represent outwardness purely.  The outward will be in equilibrium with the inward in consciousness, and conversely; and then the tragic will be transcended.

Where natural emotion dominates plastic expression, art always expresses the tragic in a pronounced way.  Art expresses the tragic whenever it stresses sorrow or joy, as in the art of Van Gogh.

Culture transforms emotion and therefore nature: it brings unity between spirit and nature.

The natural, the visible in general, expresses the tragic to the extent that it has not been transformed (to universality) by the human spirit.  The tragic in nature is manifested as corporeality — and this appears plastically as form and natural color, as roundness, naturalistic plastic, the curvilinear, capriciousness and irregularity of surface.

The atmosphere in which we see corporeal things veils their planar character and heightens their tragic expression.  But even when the corporeal is clearly expressed in art, when it is made more inward by an exaggerated tension of natural line, and somewhat neutralized by flatness of color, etc. — even then the visible expresses the tragic through form, position and size.

The plastic expression of natural appearance — like visible nature itself — is therefore always tragic.

No matter how the duality of inward and outward is manifested — as nature and spirit, man against man, male and female, or in art as the plastic gainst representational content — so long as this duality has not achieved equilibrium and recovered its unity, it remains tragic. If this duality in art requires equivalent plastic expression, then the artist must be able to abolish tragic expression (so far as this is possible).

Only unity in the expression of content and its appearance can abolish the tragic in the work of art and this unity is approached through the exact, equilibrated plastic of relationship.  Exact expression of relationship (through universal plastic means) is necessary, since relationships expressed through form and through natural color still have tragic expression; equilibrated expression of relationship is necessary, for only the equilibrium of position and size (through the universal plastic means) can diminish the tragic.

All painting has endeavored to plastically express the universal, but has not always achieved it to the same degree.

All painting has sought to abolish the individual in expression, but has not succeeded to the same degree.


Disequilibrated expression of the universal and individual gave rise to tragic plastic throughout all painting.  Naturalistic painting has the strongest tragic expression; Neoplasticism is already almost free of it.

If abolition of the tragic is life’s goal, it is illogical to reject Neoplasticism.

Then it is illogical to always demand the expression of form in painting —  naturalistic form at that — to insist that it alone can express the spiritual.

To the contrary when one observes the continuous development of the expression of relationships in art, it is hard to imagine how the evolving element in painting could ever revert to the plastic of form which obscures relationships.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 9, pp. 102-108]


Neoplasticism as manifested in Abstract-Real painting (as the expression of abstract-real life) is on the one hand only a different vision of the natural, and on the other a determinate plastic expression of the universal.  Similarly, abstract-real life itself is only another stage of natural life on one hand, while on the other it is conscious spiritual life.

Abstract-real life, which vitalizes life in its wholeness and fullness — in actuality, that is abstractly — and in turn realizes this life, is almost unnoticed today amid intellectual-abstract and outward life.  Life today generally centers around outwardness and merely remains on the surface of life; whereas abstract-real life experiences the outward (the individual) universally (abstractly) — that is, in its most essential nature. Abstract-real life, then, by its very nature realizes itself as the plastic expression of the universal — whatever form it may take.  It has manifested itself as such in Abstract-Real painting; and by Abstract-Real painting, the characteristics of abstract-real life are made perceptible.

Abstract-Real painting reveals the abstract vitality of full and complete life, by intensifying the naturalism of its plastic to the really abstract, i.e., by making it determinate f and by establishing equilibrated composition (or proportion); its vitality becomes real through the rhythm of the composition and through the relativity in which abstractness appears.

It plastically expresses the interiorization of nature through the duality which forms the essence of the natural (matter and spirit).  It plastically expresses the unity of this duality, through its equilibrated composition.  Thus it expresses man’s natural individuality in equilibrium with his spirituality, his universality.


Abstract-Real painting, therefore, expresses purified nature and purified spirit in one. In it we see the transition from the naturalistic to the abstract as a transition from (outward) impure nature to pure inward nature, and from impure spirit to pure spirit (the universal). Furthermore, Abstract-Real painting shows that although this duality contains unity it remains — in time — relative, and is a very distinct duality. For in the duality of position of the straight (line), we see exact opposition; in the duality of perpendicular opposition we see the most extreme opposites: the natural (female) element and the spiritual (male) element.

Thus we see that because the duality contains two distinct elements, their unity can come into being only through their equal manifestation i.e., the degree of equal purity in which the two extremes are opposed.

Equality cannot exist as an element — in time.  Therefore — in time — in life too, unity (or equilibrium) must be found in the manifestation of the elements, i.e., in relatively pure nature and relatively pure spirit. In time, however, the elements transform each other into final unity; in other words, since they evolve in time, even the equality of their manifestation is always very relative.  Their unity can be really enduring only if the elements continue to transform one another in the same degree.

Yet Abstract-Real painting shows that unity — difficult as it may be to realize in life — has to be sought through purification of the elements, nature and spirit.

In time these elements are confused in the unconscious; only through consciousness can their purity be restored.  If the new mentality is characterized by greater consciousness, it must be capable of reflecting the elements more purely.

Thus the new life can better equilibrate nature and spirit, and greater unity will become possible in the state, in society and in all of life’s relationships.  For this, it is only necessary that the new mentality develops freely: that it annihilates the old mentality and domination by the individual, natural (or female) element,’ that it frees itself of tradition and dogma and sees only pure relationships by seeing the elements purely.

So long as the old mentality is the dominative influence, nations must continue to destroy each other — there must be conflict and suffering: only pure manifestation of the elements (in equilibrated relationship) can reduce the tragic in life and in art.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 10, August 1918, pp. 121-134]



Outward life must evolve into abstract-real life if unity is to be achieved.  Today it forms the transition from the old era to the new.  Abstract-real life is no longer exclusively natural life, although if is not unnatural Nor is it exclusively spiritual life, although its content is the spiritual.  It is the state of contemplative realization after a protracted dinging to nature, and a premature striving toward the spiritual.  Abstract-real life is not found exclusively in art, science or religion: it can be realized in them, but can also be lived in any of life’s activities.

Because equilibrium between nature and spirit can be realized in abstract-real life, it can be the phase in which man will become himself. He will be equilibrated and completely human both in his own duality and in relation to the life around him.  He perceives and experiences this life abstractly and is therefore not tied to its limitations.

Abstract-real life is the life of truly modern man through whom the new mentality is expressed.  Truly modern man consciously experiences the deeper meaning of individuality; he is the mature individual. Because he sees the individual-as-universal, he combats the individual-as-individual.  Triumphant over outward individuality, be is thus the independent individual; the conscious self.

If Abstract-Real painting is the expression of abstract-real life, this life is based on the truths brought forward by Abstract-Real painting.  These are very ancient truths, but their exact realization has only become possible today.  To those thoroughly convinced of these truths through observation, they appear no more dogmatic than they do to those who evolved Neoplasticism out of Naturalistic painting.  To them they are irrefutable truths — truths which they became conscious of through the process of working.  For them these truths can never be preconceived dogma, since they were arrived at only by way of conclusion.

Thus Abstract-Real painting has shown that if equilibrium and therefore unify are to exist in life, the spiritual must be manifested determinately and the natural must be interiorized so deeply that it reveals its pure essence.

External life must be interiorized to the abstract: only then can it become one with inward life, which is abstract, spiritual, universal.  This is possible because life itself transforms the natural in man to relatively pure naturalness, releases the spiritual (universal) in him, frees is of individuality — thus creates relatively pure spirituality.


Only purified naturalness and purified spirituality can create pure relationships of opposites; only purified duality can make life enduringly harmonious.  Thus human duality can evolve to unity.

To know unity in all of life, we must acknowledge duality.  For whoever sees unity — in time — as a single phenomenon, still sees it as vague and undetermined.  Only by seeing it as duality can we see how unity (or equilibrium) is achieved.  Therefore Neoplasticism does not express a dualistic view of life: to the contrary, its expression of a matured, conscious sense of unity, forms the basis of the new awareness.

In perceiving man’s duality, we distinguish, besides his spiritual and natural life, the life of the soul — although they all interpenetrate.  The life of the soul is related on one hand to nature, and on the other to spirit: it acts both through emotion and through intellect.  To the extent that nature dominates it, soul is outward emotional life; to the extent that spirit predominates, it is deepened or spiritual, emotional life.  Abstract-real life is the deepened life of the soul becoming one with spiritual life, but nevertheless colored by the qualities of the soul.

All life has its outward manifestation through which it is known, and conversely, through which it exists.  Abstract-real life finds abstract manifestation in Abstract-Real painting, but has yet to find its palpable manifestation in life.  The (superficially) abstract life of modern society has its own outward manifestation — it forms the appropriate ground upon which abstract-real life can grow, but on the other hand it is exactly what stands in the way of its pure exteriorization.  Social and cultural life find their most complete outward expression in the metropolis. Abstract-Real painting developed under the influence of the completely modern cultural life of the metropolis: logically immature life could not engender this art.

If man matures through reciprocal action of outward and inward life, his environment must be extremely important.  The artistic temperament is particularly sensitive to the impact of life’s visual manifestation — through which the artist comes to know life and thereby truth: it constantly transforms visual outwardness to abstraction — coming constantly closer to truth.  The plastic artist realizes visual insight: he constantly destroys it — he constantly realizes truth more purely.  He lives by perception — by inward as well as outward perception.  By nature and training, therefore, he is most capable of rapidly evolving toward the abstract. Thus painting attains what the new mentality has yet to realize in outward life.


[Continued in separate sub-chapter in De Stijl listed as Part IV]

The transition from the natural to the abstract will be seen either as progress or as regression, according to whether one views nature or spirit as the goal of evolution.  With Voltaire among others, one may hold that man perfects himself in the measure that he removes himself from nature, or that one may view the trend to abstraction as a progressive disease.  Understandably, the abstract seems abnormal when we fail to discern the unity of nature and spirit; or if we fail to see that (in time) spirit does not exclude nature but can only be realized through it.

Neoplasticism most clearly shows that the abstract spirit takes both into account, nature and spirit, that unity of the two is the ideal of those in whom the new mentality is developing.

The conception of unity implicit in the new mentality and stressed in Neoplasticism, is not understood by the masses — who fail to see nature in its totality. They fail to see the natural as the most outward manifestation of spirit, as the unity of spirit and nature.

If a determinate vision of the unity of nature and spirit is characteristic of the new mentality, we find it manifested by groups, and these groups form around individuals.  Consciousness is generally advanced by groups, and even among them there are various degrees of developing consciousness.  Each group goes its own way, supporting or contesting the others, even consciously or unconsciously they all have the same aim.

Even within groups, there are diverse paths, and, although common progress is certain, it is often impossible to avoid misunderstanding the ways of others.  Because of individual differences in temperament and experience a single way is hard to agree upon — even among more or less equally advanced minds.  Thus a common conception of art would be virtually unachievable — except for the fact that it is possible to examine rationally what has been achieved in art.  Anyone similarly attuned — even not an artist — will have more or less the same aesthetic capacity and therefore the potentiality for artistic insight into art.

By cultivating their capacity to experience the purely (abstract) plastic, vital plastic vision, the whole group can succeed in following a single path despite the differences of their lives.

Therefore unity is no longer an unattainable ideal in life and in art.

In earlier times everyone followed the same path, for — in each cultural era — a single religion was dominant.  Today the image of God no longer lies [83-85] outside man: the mature universal individual emerges, who, perceiving the universal more determinate^ is capable of pure plastic vision. Thus the new era will differ from the old by its conscious perception, which will spontaneously realize itself everywhere as universal.

If art manifests the universal clearly then it will establish itself as universal art.

Plastic vision is not limited to art: basically, it penetrates all expressions of life.  Thus the general unity of life is possible.  Pure plastic vision leads to the comprehension of the structure that underlies existence: it enables us to see pure relationships.  Thus the new mentality is based on fundamental relationships that are veiled in nature but which are nevertheless visible.  If this more inward plastic vision is the content of the new mentality, then it must manifest itself increasingly, because man’s consciousness is evolving and it automatically destroys every obstacle such as tradition, etc.  We can be sure that the future will bring greater unity in the expression of art: the unity of abstract-plastic that is nevertheless real.

Abstract-Real plastic evolved through and from naturalistic plastic: it emerged directly from an art that was still of the previous generation.  The modern artist carried out the arduous task of creating a mode of expression for the future generation, after destroying that of the previous one.  The artist of the future will not have to follow the path of gradual liberation from natural form and color: the way has been cleared for him; the mode of expression is ready; he has only to perfect it.  Line and color as plastic means in themselves (i.e., free from particular meaning), are at his command so that he can express the universal determinately.

Increasingly, then, the artist of the future will be able to begin from the universal, whereas the artist of today had to start from the natural (the individual).  Our age forms the great turning point: humanity will no longer move from individual to universal, but from the universal to the individual through which it can be realized. For individuality becomes real only when it is transformed to universality.

If it begins with the universal, the expression of art must necessarily be abstract. So long as it begins with the individual, it can only approximate abstract expression and can even relapse into comparative naturalism — as we see historically. Moreover, man lives alternately in the universal and in the individual as long as his individuality remains immature.  Only when his life becomes an unbroken progression, just as life — the life we cannot see — is an unbroken progression, only then can art become permanently abstract.


Evolution from the naturalistic to the abstract was fulfilled in painting when it developed from natural (unfree) to free (abstract) plastic expression.  Once free, painting gradually departed from naturalistic appearance gradually, by abstracting natural form and color, it achieved its consequence: abstract plastic.  It can be observed that the earliest efforts of free painting are already being recognized as established art. Its most extreme outcome — Abstract-Real plastic — is now far from universally accepted as ‘painting’; how could it be acceptable at a time when the old still thrives and the new is still so poorly known?

What made free painting possible was the unique vitality of modern life, which was strong enough to break with form. Since pure destruction is impossible, modern life had to construct the new: a pure, equilibrated plastic expression of relationships.  Free painting was able to develop because our time brought with it the recognition that every expression manifesting life including art — is good and justified; that all expressions of real life are completely justified, even in their imperfection. Rightly so — for man spontaneously takes the right way, the way of progress.  In art too: the artist is always a pure reflection of the new consciousness.  Each artist is the consequence of another before him, whom he thus completes.  If today the artist speaks in riddles, so far as the masses are concerned when the modern spirit cloaks the work of art in an unfamiliar appearance — even then he is completely justified.

Until the modern era, the plastic means of all painting were the natural appearance of objects rather than natural form and color. This was transformed by the prevailing sense of style, but always in such a way that the natural remained recognizable.  Thus we can understand the astonishment and anger aroused in recent times, when form and color began to be used autonomously, and natural appearances were no longer recognizable.  One was confronted with the necessity of accepting a new way of seeing a more conscious vision, which saw form and color as means in themselves, resulted from conscious perception of what was previously perceived unconsciously: that beauty in art is created not by the objects of representation but by the relationships of line and color (Cézanne).  Despite its more conscious nature, even the new era was slow to accept this so deeply rooted was naturalistic vision.

The increasingly thorough transformation of naturalistic form and color rendered each new expression of modern painting more and more incomprehensible to traditional feeling.


Already the Impressionists had begun to deviate from ordinary visual appearances.  The Neo-Impressionists followed, and Pointillists and Divisionists went even beyond them in breaking free of ‘normal’ vision.  Perception seemed to be moving deeper and deeper within.

Once painting was freed from the imitation of nature, it automatically sought further freedom.  It has liberated itself somewhat from natural color — and also to some extent from natural form: now the breaking up of natural color and natural form had to follow • — Expressionism, Cubism, Orphism, etc.  Finally form came]to its dissolution in the straight line, and natural color in the pure color-plane (Abstract-Real painting).

Throughout modern painting we see a trend to the straight line and planar, primary color.  Shortly before Cubism we see the broad outlines emphasized as strongly as possible and the color within them made flat and intense (Van Gogh and others).  The technique of painting was correspondingly transformed: the work took on a new appearance, although the inner; impulse came from the same source.  Naturalistic plastic was increasingly intensified: form was tensed, color strengthened.  This art often shows less affinity with the art of its direct predecessors than with the old Dutch and Flemish, with the Renaissance art such as Mantegna, with early Christian, ancient Eastern or Indian art.  But among the ancients, intensification had a deeper character.  In fact the modern age rapidly abandoned the old way of intensifying nature and tended rather to start from the decorative.

At the same time the ideas that Cézanne had already stated — that everything visible has a geometric basis, that painting consists solely of color oppositions, etc. — were increasingly stressed, and cleared the way for Cubism.  The plastic of Cubism is no longer naturalistic: it seeks the plastic — the-plastic above all — but in an.  entirely new way.  Cubism still represents particular things, but no longer in their traditional perspective appearance.  Cubism breaks forms, omits parts of them and interjects other lines and forms: it even introduces the straight line where it is not directly seen in the object.  Form is brought to a more determined expression, to its own expression: far more than the old art, Cubism expresses composition and relationship directly.  In Cubism the work of art therefore actually becomes a manifestation which has grown out of the human spirit, and is thus integral with man.

Cubism broke the closed line, the contour which delimits individual form; but because this breaking is plastically expressed, it falls short [88] of pure unity.  While it achieves greater unity than the old art, because composition has strong plastic expression, Cubism loses unity by following the fragmented character of natural appearance.  For objects remain objects despite their broken form.

This breaking of form had to be replaced by the intensification of form to straightness.

But, in order to achieve this, Abstract-Real painting had to follow the same path as Cubism: by abstracting natural appearance.

The path of partial or complete abstraction was followed by the entire Cubist school, although in very diverse ways.  Perhaps the closest forerunner of Neoplasticism was a plastic of more or less homogeneous (abstracted) forms, with tense curved lines rhythmically composed (Léger).  Its line had only to be made more tense — until it became straight. (This straightening also resulted logically in a more equilibrated composition.)

Alongside Cubism, many other expressions arose, more or less using line and color exclusively (some based entirely on color), and all free of natural appearance.

Thus by learning to perceive nature more and more purely, painting came to abstraction.  By representing the visible, painting came to plastically express determinately that which manifests itself through the visible — pure relationship.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 11, pp. 125-135]

6. Conclusion: Nature and Spirit as Male and Female Elements

The extreme opposites which find their plastic expression in Abstract-Real painting can be seen not only as outwardness and inwardness, as nature and spirit, as individual and universal, but also as female and male elements.  With regard to art, it is important to see the duality of all life in this way, for this duality is then perceived from the viewpoint of life itself and thus the unity of life and art are clearly discerned.  Conversely, the concept of female and male elements, as they are manifested in life, become alive in us when they are seen plastically. Anything concerning inwardness and outwardness that Neoplasticism makes perceptible through its plastic manifestation, also clarifies the female-male relationship and its significance — in life too.

If Neoplasticism expresses determinately the content of the new [89] consciousness (greater equilibrium in the duality of life), then it also shows determinately what makes this equilibrium in life possible: it shows how the male element must become related to the female element and conversely; and what appearance they must assume.

In Neoplastic means and composition, we see the male element represented in whatever expresses the universal, the inward; and the female in whatever expresses the individual, the outward.  In Neoplasticism we see that equilibrated relationship is achieved by interiorizing the individual and determining the universal — that is, by intensifying the natural (or female), and by bringing forward the spiritual (or male).

If the plastic of equilibrated relationships is the purest expression of harmony, then this expression of harmony consists of the interiorization of the female and the determination of the male. If we see the female and male as two forces in one, which determine life, Neoplasticism demonstrates that — outward as they may be — by interiorization, both reveal their original unity in life; and thus determinately bring to the fore the inner harmony of all life.  It can then be seen that only purified female and purified male elements can bring this about in all of life’s relationships.

The purified female element is the interiorized female element, but remains female: never — in time — does it become male.  It is only stripped of its most outward character; or rather, the most outward female is crystallized to a more pure female.

The purified male element is the male element free from the dominant influence of outwardness — of the female element.

Exteriorization therefore diminishes the purity of both female and male elements.

Exteriorization is necessary for the growth of inwardness; but the most outward exteriorization becomes increasingly weakened as the inward becomes more determined.  As the male develops in man, the female in him is deepened; and conversely.  By its very nature, however, the female element remains essentially outward. Therefore it can only mature through culture of the outward.

If we see, plastically, that the purified female is purified outwardness, and it clearly cannot — in time — become inwardness, despite its interiorization.  Interiorization of the female is made perceptible in Neoplasticism by intensifying naturalistic color and increasing the tension of form to the extreme.  It is, therefore, the controlling and tensing of the capricious, the determining of the fluid and vague. Just as intensified natural color, and fully tensed [90] naturalistic line remain outward, despite their deepening, so the interiorized female remains outward despite its memorization.

It is important to understand this — for only as outwardness can the female element oppose and unite with the male.

The male element, on the other hand, remains inwardness despite its exteriorization.  The most purified male comes closest to the inward; while the most purified female shows the least outwardness.  In this way both express inwardness most purely.

If the female element is to mature within us, it must be through cultivation of the outward in us.  It is the male element that cultivates, and by so doing cultivates itself; realizing itself, it is wrecked each time on the outward.  Thus outward culture keeps pace with the inward.

Now that the consciousness of our age has attained greater maturity, the era of a more equilibrated culture of outward and inward is beginning. Throughout the ages attention alternated between the two.  The outward was expressed in purely Realistic painting, the inward in Idealistic painting and Romanticism. Had man always confined himself to outward culture, evolution would have taken much longer; whereas if the reverse had occurred, the universal would never have firmly realized itself.

One cannot cultivate the inward exclusively.  Whoever tries this, discovers its sterility — as we see in much of our so-called religious and social life.  True social life involves outward culture in the first place, but also contains culture of the inward.  This means that the outward must be constantly in process of cultivation: life does not tend to the outward for the sake of the material, but only as a means for its development. Thus true socialism signifies equilibrium between inward and outward culture.

If art, like society, is an outwardness which has to be cultivated, or rather, which cultivates itself then there is one necessity: not to go against this culture.  Just as female outwardness becomes purified in life, so art develops from the naturalistic to abstract-real plastic.  But whoever concentrates solely on culture of the inward inevitably comes to negate the evolution of art — a sign that life is only being half lived.

External life, however, compels man to take part in culture; this is what reconciles us with life.

If the female element in man becomes more pure by interiorization, it becomes more pure by growing towards the male, so that it can then oppose the male more freely. And if the male element in man becomes purer by interiorization, it becomes purer by turning towards the female, so [91] that it can oppose the female more freely. This growing freedom of both elements creates a new vision of nature.  Neoplasticism manifests this insight through the perpendicular duality of its plastic means.  (In naturalistic painting, female and male elements are confused — in form).

Thus the mutual action of opposites brings about a new unity of a higher order: the purified female and the purified male.

If female outwardness, in passing from female to male, remains the deepened female, it can remain as such even while absorbing the male —  for the male, or spirit, is pure.  It can become impure only by absorbing male outwardness, i.e., the male veiled by female outwardness.  And the male does not become obscured by uniting with the purified female — but only by uniting with the outward female.

Seen plastically, the purified male can be called abstract outwardness, for this comes closest to the inward, which is not manifested.  Abstract outwardness is determined inwardness, equivalent with the most intensified outwardness.  The impure male, on the other hand, is manifested as the outward female.

The male is completely pure only when it realizes itself through the deepened female.  If, consequently, this is abstract, then only the realization of the male in the abstract is completely pure.

The female and male elements, nature and spirit, then find their pure expression, true unity, only in the abstract. This is attainable, relatively, in abstract-real life, just as it can be plastically expressed, relatively, in Abstract-Real painting. Relatively since — in life — time always upsets complete equilibrium; and — in art — rhythm relativizes the pure expression of relationship.

Complete equilibrium, unity, becomes determinate expression only through purified female and purified male elements, for only then does this duality appear in its equivalent character, and in complete mutual opposition.  When unity is manifested as a (closed) unity — as form — as in the naturalistic appearance of things, then unity can merely be felt.  Just as natural harmony exists in the visible in life, harmony exists between nature and spirit, between female and male; but it is oppressed by the individual.

Natural harmony is only the most outward manifestation of pure equilibrated relationship, which is not expressed in the visible (nature); for in nature both pure female and pure male are manifested in a very veiled way.  Harmony exists, however — precisely because both elements are equally [92] veiled.  But in nature, the female element (as outwardness) has the strongest plastic expression, so that harmony is felt rather than seen.  The task of art give the felt harmony a more or less direct plastic expression.

In life, too, harmony is possible between the unpurified female and the impure male elements — again because of relatively equal degrees of impurity.  In the course of their purification, disharmony arises due to the differences in their relative degree of purification.

Because harmony in the visible (nature) and in outward life is very relative, man is compelled to bring it to a constant and determinate expression — in one way or another.  Thus in Abstract-Real painting harmony found determinate expression as pure equilibrated relationship.

The new mentality is marked on the one hand by the maturing consciousness of the natural, the individual, and on the other by the maturing of the female element.  If another sign of this is the greater determinateness of the universal, then the male element is indeed becoming active in our consciousness as spirit, as the universal. In the new mentality, there is therefore a unity of evolution which must realize itself.

But in our time the universal has been manifested as little in the male element as mature individuality has been manifested in the female.  The old mentality continues to be influential, notwithstanding the presence of the new consciousness.

By viewing art historically we see most clearly that the old mentality not only contained impure masculinity, but that it was also dominated by the outward, immature female.  This is revealed in its plastic expression — as well as in its representation (or subject-matter). In naturalistic painting, the plastic expression was predominantly female outwardness, for natural color and the capricious undulating line were the expressive means.  Only during periods of intense inner life, inspired from without, did color become more plane and primary, line more tense, the composition more equilibrated.  In the representation (already female by nature), woman had an important place, and almost always woman was a vehicle for the concept of beauty.  However, her portrayal changed only with the prevailing spirit of the rimes: she is seen, for example, as a worldly beauty or as a madonna.  Although the expression of woman was typical, this was not what made the representation expressive of the outward female; representation of any kind, the portrayal of nature in general whether landscape, interior, still-life, etc.  — can be defined as predominantly female in character.  If it is argued on behalf of naturalistic painting that the inward male element finds its expression [93] precisely through the female, this — today — is an inverted truth.  Pure plastic vision recognizes that the inward, the male element, can never find pure plastic expression when veiled by the female, as it is in natural appearance.  Female outwardness can animate the male in our spirit, but it is the male, once purified, that expresses the outward female as the purified female! Because the male element is not expressed determinately in female outwardness (the natural appearance of objects), the latter must be annihilated in the plastic, and replaced by a plastic of deeper female and more determined male character.

As long as the female element dominates, the male has not yet become determinate, the female can dominate only if the male element is indeterminate. In painting, domination by the female element was abolished when the male element in our mentality became more determinate.  Then art changed its expression: representation faded and the plastic itself grew increasingly towards female-male equilibrium.

[From De Stijl, Vol. I, No. 12, pp. 140-147]


~ by Ross Wolfe on October 17, 2010.

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