The Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations, 1913

The Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations, 1913

The Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations, 1913

The Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations, 1913

Excerpt

Some speak as if all cubism had been a mode of showing an object from four sides. Apollinaire saw more deeply: 'The canvas should present that essential unity which alone can elicit ecstasy.' He understood that the unity of a work depends on its internal relations, and consequently why the cubists were led to deny the claims of representation in favor of structure. His own sense of poetical structure had been liberated by reading Mallarmé, especially perhaps by A Throw of Dice -- published in 1897, the year before Apollinaire arrived in Paris at the age of 18 -- a subtle, intricate, inexhaustible poem, in which words tumble down the page typographically as though thrown in a game of dice. The cubists' adventure was understood by Apollinaire; he moved among them as an equal -- experimental, 'modern,' lyrical -- animated by feelings identical with their own: 'O inventive joy, there are men who see with these eyes!' Whatever its faults, The Cubist Painters still breathes, nearly forty years later, with the immediacy of life. But Apollinaire's enthusiasm was not blind; he saw cubism's inner structure with great clarity for his time; he wrote his book after discussions with the painters; and many of his generalizations hold true, not only of cubism, but of the various modes of 'abstract' painting that keep appearing again and again, in 'waves,' as a scholar has recently noted. Apollinaire was able to say, for instance, that cubism was 'the art of painting new structures borrowed not from the reality of sight [réalité de vision], but from the reality of insight [réalité de connaissance].' He adds, 'All men have a sense of this interior reality.' Another passage finds him speaking of 'a pure art,' 'a structure which is self- evident,' anticipating an aesthetic notion of A. N. Whitehead's. Certainly The Cubist Painters might have been more perfect, perhaps as beautiful as Apollinaire's own poetry, if he seemingly had not been in a hurry to record the moment, before it . . .

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