Theo van Doesburg’s “elementarism” (1930)
Translated from the Dutch by Hans L.C. Jaffé.
In De Stijl. (H.N. Abrams. New York:1971).
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what is the supreme state for the painter? to feel himself as color, to be color, without that, the work is colorless, even though it is a medley of colors, to be color, to be white, red, yellow, blue, black, that is to be a painter, it is not sufficient for today’s and tomorrow’s painter to think in color, he must be color and eat color and make a painting in himself…as form, a single element is sufficient, the square, for example, line is divisive and binding at the same time, it gives the work direction and force, composition is not the highest thing, it is the transition to a universal form of plastic expression, the only ones capable of really great work are those who do not hesitate to distrust their visual impressions and are able to destroy, perfect work is first created when we also surrender our ‘personality,’ the universal lies behind our personality, impulse has never produced a work of lasting value and importance, the approach to universal form is based upon the calculation of measure, direction and number, the same approach lay at the basis of the pyramid, as far as the compositional stage, personality still has some validity, beyond composition personality becomes ridiculous and a hindrance, preference for color is like preference for a particular dish — it equates art with the kitchen, to feel oneself as color means carrying the whole spectrum within one, not as a treasure, but as a cross, the spontaneous method does not produce great art, since it is based upon a fleeting inspiration, only what has been long worked over, well-considered and matured is of value, by working quickly and hastily one is able to retain only transient impressions, but the work does not compel one to depth or contemplation, the cool surface is of greater importance than the nervous method of working or the warm palette, spiritual fulfillment finds completion in grey, yellow or green, rather than in red or brown, i have no objection to the use of ochres provided they are really understood as material, one must always paint in opposition to nature and its ‘temperament,’ to surrender, to let oneself go in the work is weakness [239-240] feeble-mindedness. if you are full of red, choose green or blue, if you are full of yellow, choose grey or black, in this constant opposition lies the secret of true visual creation and of all great art. visual creation presupposes an a priori oppositional relationship between ourselves and our material, between ourselves and nature and our environment, otherwise visual creation is pointless, one must know how to make oneself small so that the work may be great.
white, always a lot of white and black, because only in this way does color obtain its full significance, a painting might consist of only one color if it could evoke in us all other colors by means of measure direction and position.
the best handwork is that which betrays nothing of handwork, this perfection is dependent upon our environment: an absolute purity, a constant light, a clear atmosphere, etc., are the qualities of our environment which became qualities of the work, your studio must be like a glass bell-jar or hollow crystal, you yourself must be white, the palette must be of glass, your brush sharp, square and hard, always free from dust and as pure as a surgical instrument, there is certainly more to learn from medical laboratories than from artists’ studios: the latter are cages smelling of sick monkeys.
your studio must have the cold atmosphere of the mountains at an altitude of ten thousand feet, the eternal snows must lie there, cold kills the microbes.
paris, 13 july 1930 [From De Stijl, Final Number, pp. 15-16]