Piet Mondrian’s “Is Painting Secondary to Architecture?” (1923)

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

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

• • •

As a consequence of today’s growing concentration on practical life, painting is regarded by many as play,’ as ‘fantasy.’  In contrast to architecture, which is regarded as having practical and ‘social’ importance, painting remains an ‘amenity of life.’  This is a quite common view; the Larousse dictionary lists under ‘amenity’ (agrément): ‘arts of amenity: music, painting, dancing, riding, fencing.’  This definition overlooks the plastic element in [184] art which logically follows from the cloaking of the purely plastic.  Thus it is a reaction to the misuse of art.

The obscuring of the purely plastic by form or by capricious rhythm turns art’ into ‘play.’  The beauty thus created is ‘play,’ lyrical’ (i.e., it sings or describes).  Lyricism is a vestige of the childhood of mankind, of an age more familiar with the lyre than with electricity.  If one wishes to preserve lyricism in painting, one turns it into a pleasant game both for those who wish or choose the practical,’ as well as for those who require ‘purely plastic’ art.  The former ‘wish’ for play and fantasy alone with the starkly practical; the latter are not moved by capricious play in art.  Has not the time come for those who want play and fantasy in art to find them in the cinema, etc., if they do not see it or find it in life itself? Is it not time for art to become purely art?

In our time, architecture, although not regarded as play, is also treated as mere amenity but in a different way.  Architecture is seen as the practical, and painting as the ideal expression of man’s subjectivity — rather than as expression of plastic emotion.  Plastic emotion thus appears secondary rather than primary — as it does throughout the old art: all morphoplastic subordinates the purely plastic.

The purely plastic is not the imitation of life but is its opposite.  It is the immutable and the absolute as opposed to the changing and the capricious.  The absolute is expressed in the straight.  Painting and architecture in the new aesthetic, are consequent executions of the composition of the straight in self-annihilating opposition: a multiple duality of the constant rectangular relationship.  A new aesthetic and a new art are prerequisites for the realization of universal beauty.

Architecture was purified by utilitarian building, with its new requirements, technology and materials.  Necessity, therefore, is already leading to a purer expression of equilibrium and to a purer beauty.  But without new aesthetic insight, this remains accidental, uncertain; or it is weakened by impure concepts, by concentration upon non-essentials.

The new aesthetic for architecture is that of the new painting.  A purer architecture is now in a position to achieve the same consequences that painting, purified through Futurism and Cubism, realized in Neoplasticism.  Thanks to the unity of the new aesthetic, architecture and painting can merge into a single an and can resolve into each other.

[From De Stijl, Vol. VI, No. 5, pp. 62-64]

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 18, 2010.

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