Mieczysław Szczuka’s “An Attempt to Explain the Misunderstanding Related to the Public’s Attitude to New Art” (1924)
Translated from the Polish by Wanda Kemp-Welch. From Between
Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes,
1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002).
• • •
Every new phenomenon finds people ill-equipped to receive it in the proper way. Depending on the category of the phenomenon, on the framework in which it occurs, and the degree of its influence in life, getting accustomed to and understand it as well as assuming a decisive attitude towards it, happens quickly or slowly, is easier or more difficult, with greater or lesser interest.
Familiarity with phenomena such as New Art occurs very slowly, with great difficulty and the interest of the public is not too great. One notes that especially the public that is interested in art, on the whole treats New Art with mistrust and bias.
This is for the following reasons:
1. Lack of aesthetic education (concerning both old art and contemporary art).
2. The urban dwellers’ lack of contact with nature. Since contemporary man is detached from nature as a result of the development of cities, he passionately yearns for nature and mistakenly thinks that art can replace it.
3. Excessive, monotonous and routine work. Man has no time and desire to follow developments in art, so he demands sensations within the grasp of his mentality, sexual stimulation, and narration, but never plastic values.
4. The incommensurability of the development of science and technology and the democratization of their achievements. In their research science and technology, which have lately acquired a landmark significance par excellence, are ahead of the society’s cognitive ability. Art as a superstructure of life, following its own line of development but at the same pace [as life’s], is even more inaccessible and incomprehensible.
5. Liberation of plastic art from Suprematist naturalism, literary anecdote, and other accretions alien to its essence. At present, art restores and follows its own laws and in this way offers plastic values.
6. The laboratory working method and the qualities of this method in the work of art. The laboratory method results from a collective search for forms suited to the expression of new artistic principles with new means. The argument that laboratory experiment should not go beyond the artist’s studio is wrong. Such work has been done always and everywhere. So, for instance, painters’ problems with perspective and anatomy during the Cinquecento had the same character of laboratory research (which found its perfect expression only in the 16th century) and, nevertheless, were displayed on the walls of churches, palaces, etc.
New art will make its mark on the external appearance of the products of technology and of the building industry.
Thanks to this there will be a turning point in mass psychology, and there will be the demand for the work whose forms are being constructed today.
[Originally published as “Próba wyjaśnienia nieporozumień, wynikajacych ze stosunku publiczności do Nowej Sztuki,” in Blok no. 2 (1924)]