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Colour in translation

The plane surface of the canvas or of the wall is the inescapable support of all painting.  It is a support that is inert, but which is still seen.  The eye will invest it with its own creative properties, but it will not be able either to change, or to degrade, its nature.  We showed how the operation takes place when we talked about translation.  Once the plane surface has been defined by the colour-tonality, it still remains inert.  Its nature has not in any way been changed by the decision our eye, our feeling, has made.  Now, the eye is going to stir it up, this time by defining it with a series of colour harmonies - a series of proportions organised in space by means of different displacement of the coloured plane which advances or which recedes, without losing its initial tonality.  The will of the painter guides the eye by choosing what these relations are to be.  It may want them to be supple or it may want them to be complex.  Whatever the choice, these relations in translation are, by definition, static relations, determined by the harmony, by the eye's need for a static equilibrium.  You can refer to what has been said in the paragraph 'Translation' for the schematic ordering of all those figures and combinations of figures which are susceptible to being able to assume these colour harmonies; translation, not just on the basis of the plane surface, but also on that of the rotation, when once that basis has been suppressed, when all that is left of it are certain moment of rest.  

I won't come back to this.  I will confine myself simply to trying to situate the function of colour, which - it must never be forgotten - is a function of the eye.  Colour to begin with, then tonality, finishing with intensity, those are the principle elements of that level which will attain its fullness in the accords, the harmonious relations, of the colours.  These colour relations are the lower reality of the pictorial problem.  They remain situated in space and so, consequently, these harmonies are products of the eye when it is localised, at rest - the cause simultaneous to the effect.  Putting the colours into harmonious relations one with the other is - relatively - easy, and that is why, for many painters, painting stops there.  That is also why we see children achieving with almost absolute certainty, superb and often very audacious coloured harmonies, which more hardened painters would not dare to attempt.  

In this respect, and since these days there is a great deal of interest in children's paintings, I want to say a few words to dispel a misunderstanding which seems to me to be very dangerous.  This misunderstanding consists in not sufficiently discerning those elements which, in children, deserve to be kept, from those that are without interest.  Or in failing to distinguish what, being capable of development, should be developed, from what is only accidental and unwelcome, despite certain pleasing things that may be found in it.  The aspect that is really worth something in a child's painting is that which unquestionably belongs to painting - the game of the relations between colours.  It must be said clearly that, though the awkwardness with which the child draws can be amusing, it has in truth no value in itself, neither for him, nor for others.  Unfortunately, since this drawing carries with it the usual idea of the subject, it is the naive fashion of interpreting the subject that strikes and holds most people's attention.  Once again, we can see the damage done by the Humanist state of mind.  We lose the prey for the shadow and, out of this shadow cast by childhood, we have, to the great delight of the art snobs, already produced systematic collections of 'Sunday painters', or 'painters of popular realism', as if popular painting was a product of ignorance.  This despite the witness given by the popular painted works of the entire Middle Ages, which were, in fact, objective, despite the iconography, and which, starting from the ground, rose, stage by stage, right to the heaven of the spirit.


Developing this false viewpoint further, we have, at the same time, sought, in the child's naive attempts to express the world of appearances, precepts that could serve to enrich the Humanist way of thinking - for example, in the way certain children make use of several perspective points to draw a face or a house.  I have shown that, around 1912, this was the way in which the Cubists proceeded, but it was for reasons that had been carefully thought over, and this experiment in the multiplicity of points of view was to be the starting point for a mode of drawing that would be real, objective.  It is not at all surprising that children, for psychological reasons which belong to them and which are, therefore, quite inaccessible to us, submitting to and trying to formulate the conventional and classical idea of imitation that has become indissociable from drawing, should, instinctively, multiply the points of view.  But what is truly surprising is that artists should be so entirely lacking in critical spirit that they should think of this as a source of rejuvenation and that they should fail to see the difference there is between what the child does without any deliberate purpose, and what they themselves do, intellectually and systematically.  

An innocence of this kind is quite bewildering.  And we are surely obliged to see in it a clear proof of the bankruptcy to which the classical Humanist attitude has come, especially when this evident proof of childishness follows previous works that show a perfect knowledge of classical drawing.  An order of events that reveals clearly the difference there is between the aspirations of the artist and those of the child, who wants to achieve this classical drawing of which he is still ignorant, and who accepts it willingly when his so-called teachers offer it to him.  These latter are guilty of a failure to understand what, in the child's early work, is capable of having a future - those colour harmonies which ought to have been developed in the direction they themselves suggest - towards objective painting, harmonies of lines and colours culminating in melody and counterpoint.  But do these teachers themselves suspect that painting is capable of being painting?  I do not think so, and that is why they cannot see it in the song of the child.  They are still at the stage of believing that it lies in the subject, in that parasitic element beneath which painting has been entirely lost to view.  

Finally, I would add that the ease of producing harmonious colour relations (all that is needed is a certain good taste) has led to a bizarre vulgarisation of the complex craft of the painter.  It has been reduced to the level of what one might call a 'leisure activity'  ['art d'agrément'].  That explains why so many people have taken painting up, and why the results obtained by the amateurs are neither better nor worse than those of the inveterate specialists who think they have a particular right to call themselves painters.  These latter cannot see that they are victims of their own refusal to call themselves craftsmen, and to assume the responsibilities that are implied in such a status through accepting the need to undergo a process of apprenticeship.  They have introduced the wolf right into the middle of the sheepfold, and we may well pose the question why people other than themselves should not equally have the right to operate on the basis of nothing other than their own sensibility, their personality or, even, their genus.

Nonetheless, leaving these observations and warnings aside, the fact remains as it is, a certain reality: the colour harmonies, obtained within the overall, determining tonality, are the primary structures that make up the body of the painting, a body that is immobile, at rest, an extension in space, corresponding to the nature of sight when it is situated, subject to the same conditions.