Notebook, 1993-

APPROACHES - In The Words Of . . . .

From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988.

Louis Aragon

Scissors and Paper
1930 - Writings and Theories

It is a curious fact that, even today, almost no one seems to take note of a unique activity, the consequences of which have not yet been felt, an activity to which people have been devoting themselves lately in a systematic manner that may be more characteristic of magicians than painters. It raises questions regarding personality, talent, artistic property, and it challenges all sorts of ideas that make themselves at home in the minds of idiots. I am speaking of what for reasons of simplicity, we call collage, even though the use of paste is but one characteristic of this technique, and not even an essential one . . .

When and where did collage first appear? I believe, in spite of what the early Dadaists might say, that credit must be given to Max Ernst, at least with regard to the forms of collage that are the most removed from the Cubists' papier collé [pasted paper], that is, photographic collage and collage of illustrations. Initially, collage tended to enjoy a generalized practice, and German Dadaist publications, in particular, contained works signed by at least ten authors. But the procedure owed its success more to surprise than to a need to express one's self at any price. Before long, the use of collage was limited to a few individuals, and the entire atmosphere surrounding collage at that time was undoubtedly tied in with the thinking of Max Ernst, and Max Ernst alone. Meanwhile, German Dadaists were divided by serious problems. It is known that they were disunited by social problems during the Revolution of 1917, and that their work came to an end with the failure of the Revolution and growing inflation. At that time, many sought to solve the problem of the uselessness of art by adapting artistic means to propagandist ends. This was how college gave birth to photomontages, as they were called in Russia and central Europe, and the Constructivists, in particular, made use of them. It would not be right to overlook a phenomenon that, although disdained by purist painters, represents a major movement in contemporary painting and which is primarily a symptom of the quest for meaning, a current characteristic of evolving human thought . . .

All the painters that can be called Surrealist, not an insignificant group, have dealt with collage at one time or another. If many of these works are closer to papier collé than they are to the collages of Max Ernst, involving nothing more than a modification of the canvas, they are nevertheless significant, and they arise at decisive moments in the evolution of pictorial art . . . .

This procedure is an innovation, and it is pure foolishness to greet it in a blasé manner. For what use are colors now? A pair of scissors and some paper can take the place of a palette, and they do not put one back in school, as a palette does . . .

Thought is not a sport. It cannot be the pretext for small successes that draw applause. It is not detached. It is not the activity of isolated individuals. The discoveries of all of us bring about the evolution of each of us. If, at a given moment, this or that thing happens, it is not without consequences. And, if painting is no longer what it once was, painters must become aware of this. Those who do not should not be surprised if they are seen as artisans who, at great expense, make products that are rendered useless by the mere reflections of a few contemporaries.

Louis Aragon, La Peinture au défi

[An Exerpt From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988. p. 299]



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