Lajos Kassák’s “Picture-Architecture” (1922)

Translated from the Hungarian by George Cushing.

From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes,

1910-1930.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 2002).

• • •

Down with art! Long live art!

Since the disintegration of the primitive Christian concept of the world there has never been so great a need to “solve” the problems of the human way of life as today, when individual materialism has become bankrupt.  Man is born and man cannot endure his life.  There are open roads before us and yet we cannot set out because we have no goal in us to spur us on our way.  What we desire, the externals of life and their acquisition, is not necessarily indispensable, but all this would mean to us is material enrichment.  Therefore as civilized beings we are incapable of making any sacrifice — not even sufficient to rid ourselves of the forms of life today, in other words, our moral endowments — to achieve it.  This was what made the World War possible, and this is the root of the collapse in themselves of the social revolutions which undoubtedly began with a strong impulse.  Who today believes in the future as “the only sacrament”? Who is spurred to action today by the “glorification of an idea”? It is plain that it is alive somewhere in the depths of human consciousness, that he who set as his aim the conquest of the world cannot conquer the world.  In order that we may become ordinary human beings we must extend our desires to the superhuman, for along the road we shall certainly reach the human.  He who is ready to travel can only be a man with a concept/Weltanschauung of the world.  Marxian socialism as a scientific theory cannot be a concept of the world.

A Weltanschauung is not something that one knows: it is something that one, above all feels.

Science is practicalities.

Art is a Weltanschauung.

Creation atone is life, and life the materialization of the Weltanschauung of the world.

Art is creation and therefore the most complete life.

That is the end and that is the road too.

Art never had any beginning and will never come to an end.

From eternity art has been an ever-present force, like ethics, like revolution, like the whole world itself.

Thus there is no new art and no old art.

There is only art.

And since the artist is not the master but the servant of art, the art-products of certain ages show us not the face of art but only the nature of good or bad material which humanity alive at those times had to communicate art.

For art is life, while man can only develop into one who expresses this life.

Therefore art cannot be made.

[427]

The artist is like a mother: pregnant with life.  A new product of art is as valuable as a newly-born human being.

At certain times only men of a certain caliber can come to birth: at certain times only certain products of art can come to birth.

The artist is inwardly compelled to strive to express the world, in other words himself, as completely as possible.

Since the world is forever changing this aim cannot be realized yet the artist works only to realize this aim.

This is his “tragedy” and this makes him like a “god.”  The more perfect man is, the more perfect is his god.

The more perfect an artist is, the more perfect is his art.

There is no doubt that once again we have arrived closer to the constructive concept of the world, like the collective belief of the first Christians maintained through a totally disorganized wilderness out of which only one or two painful tragedies succeeded in making their tortured way to the zenith.  But our belief is not in Christian religiosity, a form which has already exhausted itself, but in communism, in whose essence totality is like Unity, but as opposed to the hierarchical structure of the Christian religion, the One is also like totality.  We feel cosmic life in ourselves and the problems of progress will solve themselves.

In our concept of the world we live life itself; we have completed the bloody vicious circle, and man has once again become capable of expressing the world.  Not imitating it, but creating it.

The artist of today, as a man with a concept of the world, again bears his art with him as a manifesto.

Not his view of the world, but the essence of the world.

Architecture.

The synthesis of the new order.

In the fine arts (but I emphasize that what is true of one branch of art as a specialty of form is also true of art itself as a creative unity) the first to desire this new synthesis were the Cubists, Expressionists and the Merz painters.  They desired it, but did not yet sense it fully.

Of the three groups it is the searches of the Cubists that point along the surest road to — art.  They misunderstood the disintegrated world and in their art searched their way back to the essence of things, to construction.  What they achieved depended entirely on their individual values.  Their creations put into forms a concept of the world that is not entirely unified.  Their synthesis is not a priori, but the result of a deep analysis.  Their composition is not the embodiment of the compulsion of an inner emotion that cannot be expressed otherwise, but the illustration of a scientific will by using artistic means.  Their pictures are not creations for their own sake, but transpositions into painting of a world recognized by optical or psychological means — though mercilessly opposed to “naturalism” and recognizing the laws of plane surfaces.  Their forms are restricted to the corporeal nature of objects seen or known, and with their colors they try to put a natural perspective on the canvas; and with this the “picture” finally loses life as a picture and becomes illusory.  As a theory, Cubism laid the foundation stone of art in the “modern” period, but the Cubists themselves only progressed beyond Impressionism in form.  With geometrical division of form they paint a human being an animal, a violin etc., three-dimensional figures on a two-dimensional plane.  Their scientific theories derived from the recognition of the plane have not been successfully transferred into forms of composition even by their most representative artists, like Léger and Gleizes.  Instead of the “psychic” depiction of man they have turned to the depiction of “monumental” compositions.  This, however, simply implies a difference of theme from the depiction of Picasso’s violinist, for example.  It is certain that today we [429] have come much closer, just because of the development of our concept of the world, to the sensory perception of machines and great cities, than did our predecessors whose mood was idyllic; but from the standpoint of artistic pretensions the symbolic “composition” of these into pictures indicates nothing more than a second-degree composition.

And in the long run how much more does this indicate than impressionism? At most, the one transposes with discernment, the other without it.

Art, however, is a creative act with strict inner laws.

Of the Expressionists it was Kandinsky who went farthest.  His forms have scarcely any optical bases; he calls his art absolute painting.  And is Kandinsky’s painting really absolute painting? Yes.  But are Kandinsky’s pictures absolute pictures too? No…

A picture as a creation on a flat plane cannot bring to mind any foreign body (such as a body not present in the picture! and cannot exhibit anything.  No, not even a psychic process.  But Kandinsky’s pictures have a story to tell.  From his first story-pictures right to the compositions of 1920 one can survey the whole process; the same emotional motifs which appeared on canvas in the first period with dwarfs and fairy queens are still present in his latest creations, though without borrowed forms.  Thus the artist has not created a new world: he has merely abstracted himself from the “real” world.  There is no doubt that even today he paints not pictures but sensations.  He transfers life that is living in some other area to the area of the plane.  It is certain, however, that he does it with magnetic intensity, just like a good actor who gives “colossal” life to the prescribed role.  And both of these are just secondary creations.

Art, however, is simply bringing something into existence out of nothing.

And Kurt Schwitters, the Merz-painter, says in one of his articles that Merz paintings are abstract creations.  What does he mean by “abstract”? The abstract does not exist.  Transforming something out of its most characteristic form into something or into some quality — this procedure is called abstraction.  In other words from something into some kind.  Schwitters, just like Kandinsky, forms emotions into pictures.  Only in the choice of the material needed to express their emotions do the two artists differ from each other.  Kandinsky, the absolute painter, expresses himself with paints and colors; Schwitters on the other hand carries his emotions through the totality of materials (and here is his unconscious collective significance as opposed to Kandinsky) into plastic art.  It is his emotions that he transfers.  His pictures have defined titles: Franz Muller’s wire-spring, The Great I, etc.  Can these pictures be any different from the conscious elaboration of some memory or invention of the artist? No.  And what can these pictures give to us? The illusion of a world that exists, once existed or may exist.

But in the best instance illusion can only be what creation is.

But art is creation.

A man of unreality lives with illusions.

The concept of the world is the sense of security: the greatest reality.

The only scale of values to the artist is his concept of the world.

The artist with a concept of the world can create anything.

Creation is the constructive good deed.

Construction is architecture.

The absolute picture is Képarchitektúra.

The material revolutions, if they have not achieved anything else, have brought home to the thinking man the truth that it is impossible to solve the problems of modern life by relying solely on organizations of violence or solely by economic revolution.  The capitalist order of society possesses not only militarism, which is good for patricide, and a conservative bureaucracy, but also a fearful moral strength, and for this reason the hunger-riots of the oppressed will always prove too little to oppose it.  For unfortunately this hunger, which is opposed to a more humane fear of life on the part of the capitalists, can be satisfied at any time with a larger slice of bread.  The revolution [430] which sets out to change the world trips up on a crumb of bread and dies as a rebellion.  It dies because it has no concept of the world to support it.  The mass did not set out because it could not put up with the life it has today, but because the prospects of a better life were set before it.  And in order that humanity may be able to redeem itself it is not enough to have just a desire for a better life: first and foremost it is necessary to be completely unable to bear with life as it has been hitherto…Let there be no way back any more! And this can only be completely achieved by means of a psychic liberation either beforehand or in the best instance at the same time.  And it is a mistake to believe that man is seriously capable of doing something for “the future.”  We are alive and we wish to live.  Anything beyond this truth may be a revolutionary catchword and it may be a counter-revolutionary catchword.  And only the artist can be the one who particularizes and revolutionizes our emotions.

The artist is one who does not command us to do anything but who makes us able to do the greatest things.

Art transforms us, and we become capable of transforming our surroundings.

And as has always been so, in the present world-cataclysm too art has come nearest to the point from which the new concept of the world will be formed.

Applied knowledge tends to revert to the service of reaction, and art has arrived wholly at its own, in other words at the essence of the world, in architecture.

Now we can clearly see that art is Art, and no more and no less than this.

And not according to the interests of tendentious classes or parties, but it is itself a pure life-tendency.

Of all artistic creations hitherto it is architecture alone that demonstrates this life-tendency.

Thus Képarchitektúra does not “represent” a powerful god, a fearful war or idyllic love: it is a power that demonstrates itself!

Képarchitektúra does not resemble anything, tells no story, has no beginning and no end anywhere.

It simply exists.

It is like unwalled cities, an ocean that can be traversed by ships, a rambling wood or the creation that is closest to it — the Bible.

Wherever we enter it, we may sense the whole at any point.

So it simply exists, for it had to come to birth by its own power.

And in this existence it is merciless.

It is one of the characteristics of modern schools of art that they try to assimilate, just like their predecessors.  For example, if we wanted success for an expressionist picture, we had to search for a suitable and preferably “pleasant” milieu for it.  If we placed it in a bad milieu, it died like a broken flower, its colors faded or became mottled and its forms became blurred.  The “expert” said it could not bear these surroundings.  With Képarchitektúra the reverse is true.  It appears in its surroundings as a fundamental force living on its own reserves, and what surrounds it does not command it but is subjected to it.  Whoever comes to like Képarchitektúra must become nauseated by his petty bourgeois surroundings and consequently by his bourgeois self.  Képarchitektúra is not illusory but realistic, not abstract, but naturalism in the strictest sense.  So much so that beside the imitative painting christened “Naturalism” it appears as nature to be imitated, and is no different from trees, men or any other “natural marvels.”

Thus Képarchitektúra is no longer a picture in the academic sense of the word.

It is an active companion in our life, the symbol of the universe to whom I must attach myself or against whom in the interests of my life I must struggle.  It is enrichment and a force compelling to enrichment.

Through the blur of colors and labyrinth of lines is the galleries Képarchitektúra has come to meet us like a trinity of simplicity, security and truth.  It has come as the [431] representative of the age and presented us with a knowledge of the plane as a realistically usable space and with the forms of a collective belief in life.  Up to now the artist stood before the canvas full of inspiration, and the happiest of them was the one who was so able to receive the influences of the world that he could sweat or foist on to the plane surface “perspectives” that deceived himself and the public.  We know that if we are painting a picture we are not boring a tunnel or building a house.  But we are building a picture.

Képarchitektúra is constructed not inwards from the plane but outwards from it.  It takes the surface simply as a given foundation and does not open perspectives inwards, which may be illusory at all times, but with its layers of color and forms steps out into real space, and thus the picture is given natural perspective, the unlimited potentialities of the life of a picture.  Képarchitektúra, like architecture in general, counts on the laws of gravity and chemistry.  The perspective between forms and colors originates not from the apparent construction of bodies depicted behind each other, but from the corporeality of the colors actually present and the flat forms themselves.  Thus these colors and forms live; they live their own real lives, as opposed to the decoration of color and form, as the good critics will term this kind of art.  Decoration is filling up the flat surface, Képarchitektúra is building on the flat surface.  Its pictures are therefore not “like,” but are what they are.  They have a direct impact and their impact cannot be as if an imitative portrait or landscape or an illusory construction showing the latest machine were about to talk or begin to move.  And for this reason our art is a primary creation and we, like all building, set out from our own region on the flat surface, as from a foundation into the air, as men who wish no longer to dance attendance but to transform the world in our own image.

And not by means of tactics like politicians and not by technique, like the chewers of pencils and slaves of the brush.

For technique is not necessary for art.  Technique is routine and routine is skimming the surface.  It is precisely the opposite of art.

Képarchitektúra rejects all schools — including the schooling of ourselves.

Képarchitektúra does not confine itself to particular materials and particular means; like Merz-art it regards all kinds of materials and means as useful to express itself.

Képarchitektúra does not dabble in psychology.

Képarchitektúra does not want anything.

Képarchitektúra wants everything.

Képarchitektúra has liberated itself from the arms of “art” and has gone beyond Dadaism.

Képarchitektúra believes of itself that it is the beginning of a new world.

Képarchitektúra truly does not wish to be situated in a room.

Képarchitektúra wants to be the room itself, the house itself, indeed it wishes to be your own most intimate life.

Képarchitektúra is as simple as the sole of a boot and yet it is the root of perfection.

Képarchitektúra is the enemy of all art, because only from it can art set forth.

Képarchitektúra is 2 x 2 = 4.

Képarchitektúra has killed mawkish zigzags and idyllic variety.

Képarchitektúra sees an endless spiral even in a straight line.

Képarchitektúra professes itself to be the human zenith.

Képarchitektúra does not wish to die on the wall.

Képarchitektúra wishes to be a town of American caliber, a look-out tower, a sanatorium for consumptives and a popular entertainment.

For Képarchitektúra is art, and art is creation and creation is everything.

[Originally published as “Képarchitektúra,” in Ma vol. 7, no. 4 (March 25,1922)]

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 22, 2010.

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