Paul Gauguin: Sous les Palmiers
Paul Gauguin: Sous les Palmiers

If CÚzanne is a descendant of Greco by artistic affiliations and Gauguin from the South American and Tahiti primitives, the art of Matisse seems to be of Etruscan and Persian origin. The resemblance of his work to the specimens of Etruscan art in the Museum of the Louvre, with which he is very familiar, shows this.

The painters and sculptors of this new movement appear to wish to do in their art what they have seen accomplished in other manifestations of the fine arts, namely: what Wagner did in Music, what Ibsen did in Dramatic Literature, what Rodin did in Sculpture, what Tolstoi, did in the Novel, what Maeterlinck, Nietzsche and other thinkers have realized in their different fields.

But it seems to me that they forget that these revolutionaries are "true personalities'' and that they have worked spontaneously; that they have not walked backwards; that they have not sought the ideal outside of themselves, but in their own souls, and have carried it within themselves, as the torrent does not seek motion, but carries it within itself and communicates it. In the work of these men there is not premeditation, but inspiration. They do not especially desire to break with anything or anybody, but they are consequent with their own spirit.

Now individuality is that quality particular to a thing or person by which it is known and singularized. That being the case it follows that it is not transmissible. This person who has the gift of individuality is original, for this originality is just what charcterizes it, and one of the conditions of originality is its spontaneity, which is not sought, but is wholly unconscious, a kind of trade mark that nature has impressed in the individual to establish his differential.

Those who follow the original man as desciples are nothing but counterfeiters of that trade mark, and as they lack the genius of the master, in their avidity for originality, they imitate and exaggerate his defects without assimilating his virtues, and they fall into ridicule and die in oblivion.

These disciples do not understand that in the master, in the original man, there exists a close relationship between the defects and beauties of his work, as if they would complete each other, or as if they would complete his individuality. This is the very thing the followers of any master have not understood, and least of all those who follow the trail of CÚzanne and Gauguin, and their vain endeavors to walk in the footsteps of these two masters of modern art has resulted in a multiplication of such confusion and futility as we have scarcely ever seen before in the whole history of art.

However, it is quite possible that many of these men proceed in good faith, with a deep conviction that they are on the right path, that they are redeeming art and enlightening Humanity, and like Don Quixote they establish the Golden Age in the past and not in the present nor in the future. But it occurs to me to ask: Is not Art a manifestation of the spirit of the epoch in which it is produced, and must it not correspond to the hopes, doubts, sufferings and ideals of that epoch? If so, do these sentiments make us regret the past and oblige us to look into the future and to struggle for it?

To my understanding the further removed we are from the past by time, the further we are from it in our manner of being. The form of man has modified itself, and his senses and his organs of perception have suffered the same modifications. It seems to me quite impossible that we should see and regard Nature today in the same way that, not only the primitive men but those of the last century, saw and regarded it.

The great phenomena of Nature no longer are to us expressions of the anger of Heaven; nor do we regard epidemics of Disease as the visitations of the Gods; nor are the natural forces of the universe represented by Gods. The people of to-day do not feel like the men of yesterday; life reacts differently upon them; they have not the same aspirations, nor the same preoccupations. No, even the atmosphere of today is not the same as that of thousand years ago, scientists tell us.

What will be the result of all these attempts to recreate a new art out of the art of a period so remote that we can hardly envisage the circumstances of its creation? It is quite impossible to predict. We must consider the chief exponents of this movement as investigators and not as expounders of new doctrines, and their chief service to their generation may well consist in their revelation of the fact that what has hitherto been regarded as belonging solely to the domain of anthropology must henceforth be considered also as art and that the latter is always conditioned by the state of civilizations in which it is produced. And after all, this movement which appears to us so anomalous and order less may be the precursor of something we are as yet unable to suspect. What it seems to lack is the crystallizing force of a superior genius who will bring into solution all these contrary elements, who will pronounce the Fiat Lux that shall bring order out of chaos.