Marcel Janco’s “Reflections of Cubism” (1928)
Translated from the Romanian by Julian Semilian.
From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European
Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002).
• • •
“Cubism” is a moniker thrown about by the press regarding a canvass exhibited by Braque in Paris two thousand decades ago. This moniker turned into the struggle’s banner.
That is why the new art has only a symbolic relationship with this title: the cube.
Cubism represents the new human being’s attempt to bring back clarity to the chaos of thought and feeling.
Chased out of life itself, replaced in its social functions by the printing press and photography, the plastic arts retain their function as plastic poetry, that is, lyricism.
This is what it gained after a difficult discord with itself and with its enemy: the academic ghost.
Public opinion, which does not follow the facts, is deadlocked and today is still perplexed over the stages of evolution, which in every work of plastic art is nothing but an instant in the motion towards the new ideal.
Cubism, for this moment of purification, had to pass from the simplification of form to the recovery of its elements: line and color. Redeeming of craft through seeking the specific of the plastic emotion and clearing away of dross left behind from its old functions.
At first destructive, even chaotic, revolutionary (see Dada and Futurism), the positive effort begins with the gigantic work of art of the greatest painter of our time, Picasso.
But craft redeemed through the gains of the young artists was insufficient; a new yearning manifests itself in the realm of the spirit, a yearning befitting the preoccupations of the new man. Art cannot imitate or copy anymore; it must create, because in truth, what directs the plastic laws are spiritual laws, which are always different than the material laws, and art cannot circumscribe itself to giving the illusion of the “real.” Art creates a new reality. These grand ideas are not the property of one man but emerge out of the evolution towards which art aspires since Cézanne, since Rimbaud and Mallarmé, and reaching fruition in today’s Surrealism.
It is the French spirit alone that is responsible for this novel and powerful orientation in the arts. These explorations and fumblings in the dark inherent to these new changes have appeared to many to be nothing but childish adventures.
All those who heaved a sigh of relief when Cubism was absent from the autumn Salon, found themselves unexpectedly dragged along in the midst of an entire current of modern life.
Wasn’t perhaps the exhibit of decorative arts a victory for the modern pulse? The whole of decorative arts, this time official, was in concert with the explorations of the plastic masters, which some of them even collaborated with: Cubism.
It was impossible that the reflection of cubist concepts in other arts, which claim an independence of inspiration and recovery of ideal craft, would not occur.
Architecture itself was “contaminated” by the decorative arts. It can certainly be claimed that the groundwork for this event was prepared by a multitude of factors; still, without the cubist experiment it would not have been brought to birth. Certainly the architects Perret and the builder of the abattoirs from Lyon were the inspired forgers of revolutions, but the one who formulated in genial fashion the time’s sentiment, its needs, was Le Corbusier — Saugnier: “The home is an machine for living. “  The shout of hatred rising against aestheticism was the unification signal that caused architectonic Europe to gather around it. Today, because of the little resistance encountered by it in France, we have many modern accomplishments in Holland, Belgium, and Russia. The guiding force emerges from the world of art. The reflection of Cubism in music occurred as a consequence the School of Seven and then the school from Auteuil [near Paris]. Erik Satie was most certainly the backbone and guiding spirit of the new music: the reduction of melody to elements, the restoration of rhythm to jazz-like cadence, the wealth of invention in coloratura leading to the invention of new instruments.
As far as Cubist theatre, its greatest development occurred in Russia as a flowering of Meierhold’s theatre and in that school where the actor’s role takes precedence over the text, decor, and the three unities.
The same emphasis of detail, the same evasion of “reality” giving rise to artistic reality.
We will not address bibliophily, poster design, printed fabric, fashion, advertising and others, where, from a superficial point of view, Cubism modified their aspect, totally or in part.
And no one can truly discern the quintessential transformation of life itself and the human spirit.
With the invention of mechanization the entire aspect of things changed; along with this our optics, causing an Americanization of the spirit to the detriment of idealism. The modern ubiquity and the sensation of time’s nonexistence brought about by the inventions of Edison, will these not contribute essentially to the modification our consciousness? An emphatic yes. It seems to us that out of today’s inebriation of the arts germinates an all-encompassing foundation of a spiritual domain upon which will rise a new culture. We close in complete agreement with Mr. Cisek, with the belief that our new style is in the process of formation, engendering at least that identification with life itself without which art will not exist.
[Originally published as “Răsfrângerea cubismului,” in Cuvântul, Vol. 4, No. 979 (January 8, 1928)]