by Pavel FILONOV (1883-1941)
“Painting is the universally intelligible language of the artist.” A picture suggests a single conclusion, which sometimes cannot be translated into words, to the mind of the viewer. It is the result of the application of intellect and energy to materials from which it is made. A picture of the reflection or representation of phenomena of the outer and of the inner worlds in the way an artist understand these phenomena.
I am going to substitute the word `craftedness` for the old-fashioned, muddled concept implicit in the word `creative work` that, after all, in the context of picture-making means systematic and organized work with materials. As thought and labour, it is the organizational factor that transforms an artist`s intellect into form, through correct and powerful analysis; the result, i.e. the artefact, whether in process of being crafted or complete, is, no matter what it depicts, f crystallization of the processes of thought. A picture is the expression of what has been going on inside the mind of its craftsman.
A person develops and improves through study and persistent work – and this is the only way. The will to make things becomes most intense and effective when an artist has a specific understanding of the purpose of his organizational work upon himself, of the aim he sets himself in the intellectual control of his own development and of the effect that he wishes to produce on the minds of other people. The first person to benefit from an object of art is its maker. He benefits both from the process of making it and from viewing when it is finished. The viewer is the second person to benefit.
The process of working upon oneself at the same time as making an artefact and the desire to produce an effect on other minds soon become fundamental to the conception and satisfactory completion of a work. The more consciously an art work is undertaken, the more powerful an impact it will have on the viewer when it is finished. No matter what is the subject of a picture, since craftedness reflects and fixes permanently in material form the struggle of humans to become a higher intellectual species and their struggle for existence as a species, this higher psychological characteristic of art affects viewers. To put it another way, art both raises us up and calls upon us to rise higher.
The craftsman either postulates (perhaps intuitively senses) a common aim in his own and in other people`s development or he works on an authoritarian basis with a view to exerting an influence on viewers of his works. In the latter case, whatever may be the premises of an artist`s work, his purpose in influencing viewers may be, quite consciously, to deceive and corrupt.
The realist of the far right, the abstractionist of the left, and the different movements and craftsmen engaged in each and every way of working with materials – whether it be in art or in industry – are without exception working with the same, the one and only realistic form. There is no other form, nor can there be; form is indivisible and teaching about form should be integral. There is room for differentiation only in the ways in which form can be understood, in the purpose that art is intended to implement through effects on viewers and in the context, which is contained in form.
Since a picture, or an art work, is the result of some sort (it is not important of what sort) of psychic tension of the will on the part of the artist making it, the process of accomplishing this self-important task is an active one; that is, in the process of working upon materials a picture is crafted and crafted in such a way that each moment of its realization is an exact record, through and with materials, of the psychic proc
ess going on inside an artist. The completed object is a permanent record of the intellect of the artist who made it. From the completed work one can judge which elements of his psyche the maker activated, how he understood what he was depicting and how he made what he had understood, that is, the whole process of trying to understand and express through his craft.
Craftedness is the maximum exertion of inventive creation. The ability to craft is the ability to make material correspond to one`s analytic thought and to display the intended content.
A creative artist cannot operate with an old familiar form. This obliges him to invent form so that in the completed artefact the form corresponds to the result of his analysis: like a sound, a note of music, a letter, a word, speech – as flexible as dialectics. A creative artist is obliged constantly to invent form. Then invention of form will be a sine qua non of the efficacy of his work. Then science, not scholasticism, will become an inalienable part of the process of painting and it will be possible to establish an integral criterion, but until this stage has been reached, artists are left with the principle of `absolute exactness` and the `biological` craftedness of a picture.
He science of art can be reduced to the skill and system that enable an artist to represent in visual form any content that he has intellectually assimilated and understood; therefore art can, in certain cases, be the result of schooling and, in other cases, be the result of a person`s ability to work without any schooling whatever.
In my art, form is conditioned by the concept of content. During the process of the development of form, the supreme artistic significance of form is conditioned by the analytical development of the concept of content. Form is the visual expression of content, through material. Content is the form, that is, the meaning behind form and form or meaning is content or, in other words, that power by which a picture conveys something to viewers.
In my understanding of art, the form of a picture is inseparable from its content. Form and content are one whole and, in this sense, there is no such thing as formalism – for there is always content, albeit variously edited by artists.
It is essential to seek an effect through colour, simultaneously seeking the effect through form, so that from the professional point of view, the whole process of work should be reduced to seeking an effect through the invention of form – and thus through the expression of content. The only check and criterion of the effect achieved through colour is the maximum intensity of effect through form, that is, the degree in which the artist succeeds in putting across a visual expression of content.
The concept of form in a work dictates the understanding of colour – the degree of strength and intensity of the colour. Content and form are not to be thought of as opposing principles; rather the one conditions the development, given features, particularities, quality and density of the other; essentially they are an indivisible whole.
Texture is a concept that involves the significance of the properties of the surface of one material in juxtaposition with the consistency of other materials used in the making of a picture: texture is the result of the method of applying paint.
The subject is the principle content to be introduced into a picture: it is, as it were, the main clause of content among other complementary subordinate clauses.
Drawing of form, and drawing in the sense of manipulating form, is crafted form at its most intensive. A drawing shows the most characteristic features and particularities of a form or of a complex of forms in their separateness or unity, with clear delineations between the separate elements that compose its structure or that are composed by its structure.
Painting is form and the consistency from which form is composed is rendered most intense when crafted with the help of colour. As a process of work that uses colour, painting is the same process as drawing. The quality of a painting, however, is determined by the intensity, the craftedness of colour.
Rhythm is the illusory balance of movement in the form and the colour of the object depicted in a picture. It is achieved only though the most persistent crafting; in the professional sense of the word, this is the only possible `rhythm` in the art of painting.
The basis of my art (that which, above all, I observe, study and seek to manifest in my works) is the study of man – his intellectual, class and biological characteristics and peculiarities; the thought and the life processes that go on within him. I try to notice the signs of his intellectual development and biological evolution and to understand their deciding factors, laws and interrelationships, beginning with the environment in which he is active and ending with the aim towards which his actions are orientated. Furthermore, I am interested in the possibility of artificially speeding up the improvement of the human intellect, of the organization of being, of world outlook, of class orientation and of mankind`s struggle with nature and struggle for its beliefs.
I reject absolutely as unscientific all artistic creeds in painting from that of the extreme right to that of Suprematism and Constructivism. Not one of their leaders knew how to paint, to draw or to think analytically about `what? how? and why? he was painting.
I declare Picasso`s `reformation` to be scholastically superficial and essentially bereft of revolutionary significance. I declare that there are two methods of approaching an object and of resolving the problems it poses: the unbiased, analytical approach and the scientific approach based on intuition but constantly checked by analysis. I maintain that the criterion of an artist`s ideology and the ideology that informs his pictures, their construction, form, colour and texture should be on the same level as the scientific thought and ideology of his own time, or should anticipate future levels.
`Realism` is a scholastic tendency to abstract from a real object only two its predicates: shape and colour. To speculate in these is art for art`s sake. I find speculation in precisely `these two predicates` to be a general characteristic of the` right-left` sects and call it `essentially realistic`. Realism itself I term obsolete scholaticism.
There is no valid reason for realists to divide up into movements, take refuge in Abstractionism, apples, space, Cubo-Futurism, contre-relief, experiment, experiment, the proletariat. Tatlin`s tower, or to provide all this with verbal justification by making a philosophy of abstraction, an anecdote of colour. Analysis shows that among realists there is the same old speculation in the two predicates of Realism – only that each faction has its own way of spelling `Realism` and because of this, an artist often fails to see a whole world of phenomena, that is, life as it is. He knows neither phenomena nor himself. His ability to analyze, his intuition, his powers of critical thought and his personal initiative he has deliberately allowed to atrophy: professionally, he is an illiterate. He is mummified in a scholastic philosophy of `representational form` and `non-representational form`. He has elevated all this into a ritual; in different ways, he preaches one and the same craftedness of the same two predicates of shape and colour.
Since I know, adduce by analysis, see and intuitively feel that any object is possessed not just of these two predicates (their emanations, reactions, component parts, geneses, their being, their manifest or secret qualities), so I utterly reject contemporary Realism`s doctrine of the `two predicates` and its right-left sects as unscientific and dead. In its place I put scientific, analytic, intuitive Naturalism: the initiative of the artist who is prepared to investigate the many predicates of an object, the range of phenomena in the world, the phenomena and processes going on in humans, whether or not visible to the naked eye, and the persistence of the craftsman-inventor who follows the principle of the `biologically crafted picture`.
I repudiate the Dark Kingdom of contemporary Russian art criticism, which is a scandal before science and the proletarian way of life. It is at present considered `bad taste` to write about the right wing (why?) and at the same time the left wing is subject to boycott by these critics who have never studied it and are not even ashamed of the fact that they know nothing and have no scientific data upon which to base a study.
The Russian art of icon painting was first reduced to scholasticism on a large scale when it was injected with Byzantine concepts of form, colour and aesthetics. Then it was further scholasticized by clerics at the Moscow Church councils. Then the populist movement of the Ambulants was scholasticized by The World of Art and, finally, finished off by Benois – and all in the name of the `two predicates` of Realism. This was how a minor offshoot of French art in Russia (Hellenism) developed via Suprematist-Constructionism into the same routine of the `two predicates` and came to be called the `mainstream of Russian art.` I would define Russian art, in the mass, as an executive variety of European art, in the mass, on account of its specific textual peculiarities: weight, moisture, an unbiased approach to texture and an organic conception of aesthetics.
It is a characteristic sign that an artist achieves what he is after by his own gut-reaction and no by any canon. Here the spirit of the craftsman enters dynamically into the material of the object he is making and, as a subconscious and conscious reaction of canons, dominates the condition of representation.
The French school, in the mass, is the realism of the `two predicates` and a speculative concept of aesthetics. The Russian school, in the mass, is the Realism of the `two predicates`, plus an organic concept of aesthetics and an elemental, instinctual departure from the canon (cf. Courbet, Cézanne to Surikov, Savitsky). This is the source of the concept of a chronological tradition in a specifically Russian mainstream of left world art.
It is precisely for these reasons that I reject the contemporary concept of the mainstream of the Russian tradition and offer my own: the Ambulants, Surikov, Savitsky, `The Jack of Diamonds`, `The Donkey`s Tail`, `Luchism`, Malevich and the Bourliuks, Cubo-Fuuturism, my own works (my theoretical assumptions about pure active form and the transference [between 1915 and 1925] of the centre of gravity in art to Russia), Suprematism, Mansurov, my present (repeated) opposition to Realism.
I do not accept the `Literary Textbooks` on this question issued by European and Russian criticism and written in the name of the `two predicates`.
I am not making a rule or setting up a school (I completely deny the value of any such approach). Instead, I offer as a foundation my own purely scientific method, which is one that anybody can use.
May the first world revolution take place in the minds of artists and in art.
Translated from the original in Russian by Marjorie Farquharson in 1976
(published in Leonardo, vol.10, No.3, 1977)