Painting and the Problem of Architecture
Vol. 3, №. 2 (1928)
If we examine the painting of the first quarter of the 20 century we immediately notice two trends: “objective” and “non-objective.”
These two trends differ both formally and in their Weltanschauung and attitude to art.
Corresponding to the different types of Weltempfang there arise various artistic classifications.
In the “objective” trend there exist various stages: the first stage is figurative; it perceives the model as such. In this stage we see objects in their artistic expression “as they are.”
In the second stage the subject or model is only a means of communicating the artist’s experience in works of art. What is more, all the objects, or nature, are artistically unified by the tone passing through them.
In the third stage we see how as the result of a particular artistic Weltempfang there occurs “artistic deformation of phenomena”; hence follows the disintegration of the object into separate pictorial elements. They create a new order which is called “the cubic form of revealing artistic expression.”
At this stage the object itself is not considered “as such,” and “as such” it is not the content of artistic skill; it exists only as the sum of unorganized painterly elements.
Next come two variants of the fourth stage of communicating Weltempfang: they are called “non-objective.”
In one of these types we see the total eclipse of the object and have a work of pure painterly Weltempfang.
The other “non-objective” type is not only the revelation of artistic Weltempfang but also of a whole series of the dynamic, static, magnetic, and other elements which exist in nature.
These two figurative stages deal exclusively with the form of objects, i.e. forms with the help of which objects are created on the canvas “as such.”
In the “non-objective” stages, on the other hand, form plays an important role, since without form it becomes impossible to convey any kind of Weltempfang.
In the “non-objective” stages one is not dealing with the representation of phenomena “as such,” but with the communication of definite sensations which exist in the phenomenal world.
In the “non-objective” stages there comes to the fore the question of creating the “forming element” with which to communicate sensations.
Thus the problem of form arises only in the new “non-objective” art. This is why the “non-objective” arts have had to rid themselves of the contents of various ideologies and also of the entire material side of everyday life, the system of which has been developing on a basis harmful to painting. Thus, for example, the table, house, motor, wedding, marriage did not develop as a result of people’s perceiving life artistically and expressing elements of this perception, as a revelation of artistic Weltempfang, in the form of a table.
The table, in common with all objects of a technical purpose, has practical utilitarian functions, and therefore the content of such objects is functionality; and all the elements of the world’s material constitute a firm functional order.
Thus the system of artistic perception of the functional order of the object may happen not to correspond to the artistic perception of the object, as one is dealing not with the functional content of a table but with its artistic content.
The critics have regarded this trend as “abstract,” at the basis of “abstract” art, parting from practical, concrete life.
To this “non-objective” type belongs Suprematism.
From this short analysis we see that in the first two stages of revealing sensations “form” is not a problem and does not have the same importance as in the third stage and, particularly, in the “non-objective” stages.
But in reality “non-objective” arts cannot be abstract, as they are the most concrete of all, both by their very nature and in their expression of a particular Weltempfang.
On the contrary, from the point of view of an artistic Weltempfang, every object is abstract and demands concrete artistic definition in a work of art.
Thus the “non-objective” category consists of several trends or forms of expression: Cubism, Futurism, Suprematism, and others, which may in turn be subdivided into a considerable number of groups.
Cubism, for example, already has five formal types of “non-objective” artistic perception.
These five types can be divided into two means of expression: spatial and that of easel-painting. In the spatial method actual space serves as a means of expression.
The spatial method of expressing artistic perception begins at the fourth stage of Cubist culture. This stage has immense importance for us, since here is revealed a new relationship between artists and the elements around them that influence the solution of architectural problems. Besides, the artist begins to perceive all materials, without exception, as artistic elements, i.e. glass, wood, roofing, iron, etc., are all regarded in the same way as the artist’s palette.
The search for the abstract and for a clearly expressed Weltempfang have led the artist-painter to a study of the interrelation of materials, to a desire to exploit their natural contrasts; thus is explained the principle of the collage in Cubism.
The addition to the palette of various materials made the artist enter the dimension of space, where he could unite all the materials in one manifestation.
Thus it can be seen that three-dimensional work with various materials demands the study of technology and in particular of the principles of construction.
Now a term is appearing in painting — “to construct” rather than “to compose.”
One may say that construction has acquired paramount importance in the work of artists of the fourth type of Cubism. It was necessary to find constructive methods for each type of artistic form, since without this it is impossible to define the elements of materials.
Hence a number of artists have been called “Constructivists”; they are expected to create constructions for the functions produced by life.
Thus the question of artistic form in painting seems to become irrelevant, as the questions of form “as such” and form “as a reflection of artistic perception” are not discussed.
Hence in the fourth stage of Cubism one path is open: that of abstract Constructivism. It reveals both the artistic world of perception and the functional world of construction.
When one considers art from an exclusively functional point of view, i.e. with regard to its utilitarian role in life, the first thing that clearly defines itself is the formal interrelation of functions. And if this is so, then one must see the functional, constructive role of art as an exclusively applied one.
And because this role is applied, questions of the problem of form recede and the interdependence of functions comes to the fore.
Since constructivism considers that its expression can only be developed “when regarding the role of function — in the everyday sense — in life,” it is purely applied and as such cannot exist. Its artistic production is limited by the working role of a particular function, but as it recognizes artistic work there arises the question of artistic form; for this reason the new journal SA [Modern Architecture] appeared not as an art journal or a journal of purely functional mechanics but as an architectural journal, that is to say a journal of a new artistic form.
The pure expression of a particular Weltempfang is another type of non-objective-constructive art.
One cannot use this type of art for any functions appearing in human life, but only for its immediate purpose.
Now let us examine yet another group representing an aspect of artistic form known as “Suprematism.” This non-objective group confirms the fact that only after liberation from certain functions of life that do not belong to art can one create an artistic form as such, and that utilitarian functions have one role in life, the functions of art a different one. Both have the right to their own non-objective existences alongside the existence of objects in museum collections.
Suprematism has two methods of revealing the elements of perception: the “spatial” method and the “easel” method: space and canvas are the places where they appear…
The problem of form has played and still plays an immense part in Suprematist art. Without it, it is impossible to reveal any of the elements of perception: color, dynamic, static, mechanical, motive, etc.
It can thus be seen that the first essential is to create one objective element of form, with the help of which one can express perceptions by changing the relation of one to another.
Thus in Suprematism there exists an element which has various names depending on circumstances.
For example: the invariable forming, the supplementary forming, the deforming. It is called deforming if the relations of the elements in Cubism are reconstructed into Suprematism. Each such term expresses an action of some kind.
The objective invariable forming element acquires enormous importance in the general development of Suprematist form. Many individualities can work on this form. They help to reveal their sharpened sensation to others and to create a diversity of form characteristic of a particular individuality, without abandoning the Suprematist style.
It seems to me that to understand the architectural face of a period, if one is dealing with the form of a period, one cannot do without such an invariable element; throughout history all architectural epochs have always had “an invariable forming element” of Weltempfang and architectural form. Many architects revealed it whilst at the same time retaining individual characteristic in their different ways of creating the invariable forming element. In any field of art a trend having its own “forming element” can lead to a school, a current style.
But schools and trends cannot depend on any individual, nor on the functional role of life.
On the contrary, the functional aspect ideally, once linked with any such trend, becomes the form of the latter. Linked with Suprematism it becomes a Suprematist form — or antique, Romanesque, gothic, etc.
Art and the functional side of utilitarian life will not merge into one image or form. They are two entirely different human functions. Today we can create a building in the form of antique architecture, without regard for the fact that the functional side of life has changed.
The examples of antique architecture which have been preserved speak of their great art but do not speak of the functional perfection of life of those that lived in them.
The value of art is great, not because the functional side of life played a part in it, but because this form of pure art s now set aside from life and preserved in museums, as a non-objective, invariable treasury of art as such. One can say that the unchanging values of forms of art is the only thing that continues to be valued regardless of changes in economic conditions.
On the contrary, all types of economic relations are devalued by a new form revealing their imperfections. Changes in economic relations take place because they have no invariable forming element.
The political and academic economists have not yet managed to find an economic objective element to form relations. This is because none of the functions of life, with the exceptions of art, are constant, and so cannot play a decisive role in the form of art.
If the functional side of life had an influence upon the form of art, then with a decline in the quality of the functional side of life the form of art would also experience a decline. But in reality the opposite occurs: the functions of the majority of sides disappear, but art retains its value unchanged. Museum collections, where are concentrated all forms of human expression, testify to this: the form of art and the form of utilitarian functions are quite different. From the comparison we see that the forms like art will be valued today, whilst the others will merely have the value of human imperfection.
Thus all that is created by art remains for ever, and neither time nor new types of social relations can alter it.
Art liberated in museums from utilitarian functions lives on and maintains an unbroken link with humanity at all stages of its existence.
We have the idea that art is something that gives form to the functional side of life. It is as though art were an actor, playing some figure from life. This conception is false since it is impossible to form any function of life: forming it we do not really form it but merely place it in an order established by some form of art.
For this reason objects like chairs, tables, crystalware, porcelain, etc. are preserved in museums, because some function is contained in them and not because they are examples of artistic form. The museum preserves not their utilitarian but their artistic function. The artist does not design the functional side of life, but his perception of a function of life: for example, Dynamic Futurism is the perception of a whole series of movements.
Not without reason is art divided into two types: applied and pure art.
The role of applied art was intended to be to give form to objects of utilitarian character making them both “pleasant” and “useful.”
If art of the highest order, that is to say pure art, formed utilitarian functions then these functions could be done away with by the establishment of elements of pure art. (For example the pure type of Cubism).
There would result not a utilitarian object but a work of art — to be examined but not touched by hand.
From such a division one can see that man makes various attempts to embellish the function of utilitarian form, so that in addition to its utilitarian purpose it may also have artistic value. But unfortunately this is impossible to attain, since only that which cannot be touched can be sacred. If one were to remove from the utilitarian-artistic objects in museums their artistic form one would have to the remaining skeleton of pure purpose. From this example we see that art cannot be applied to or combined with utilitarianism resulting from human economic relations.
The influence of economic, political, religious, and utilitarian phenomena on art is the disease of art.
At some stage the evaluation of art from the viewpoint of economic conditions will cease, and then the whole of life will be seen from the viewpoint of art, constant and invariable.
And it is only from such a viewpoint that we can create constant objects, i.e. “the world as an unchanging complex of elements.
The 20th century is rich in problems of form, not only in art but also in economic conditions. The most significant development in art has been its change to non-objectivity and its liberation from the content that for thousands of years had been attached to it. Cubism, Futurism, and Suprematism have established an immediate link with the world, revealing its sensations.
New art is in the sharpest opposition to that part of the functional role of life which is holding art in leash.
The 19th century may be considered to mark the burning down of art’s flame, the sparks of which have been extinguished in the morass of economic conditions, in various science, historical events, etc…
The formlessness of time has arrived. In the place of artistic form appeared the construction of utilitarian, profitable functions which totally rejected art, and in particular architecture, as an artistic form.
The 20th century is marked by sharp opposition on the part of painters and poets to objectivity. The former arrived at non-objectivity, the latter at “zaumnost” [Khlebnikov] (against both of which the objectivists and politicians have again raised their banner).
General calm reigns in the field of architecture. Cowardly architects have been unable to rise up and abandon the speculative building demanded by life’s speculators in order to extend the front of new architecture. One might say that to this day they remain on the front of naked utilitarianism, hindering with all the means at their disposal the movement of new architecture as an artistic form.
It was felt that new architecture as an artistic form had no role to play in our times. Only a small avant-garde of architects under pressure from and caught up with the new artistic form in painting is now beginning to extract itself from the “heel” of speculators and profiteers and to move towards artistic form.
There is beginning, a renovation of life through artistic form.
From a comparison of the form of new architecture with that of Suprematism, we see that it is closely linked with the problem of artistic form.
What is more, one can even find an affinity in the same Suprematist forming element.
By this I do not mean to say that the new architecture of the West is Suprematist, but I can say that new Western architecture stands on the road to Suprematist architectonics.
Analyzing new architecture we find that it is under the influence of “plane painting,” i.e. of artistic form containing the plane element.
For this reason contemporary architecture gives the impression of being two-dimensional.
We can feel the same thing in the various stages of development of Cubism and Suprematism.
From these architectural examples we see that they have the same forming or additional element of Suprematism as in painting. This element can serve as the factor that singles out the form of new architecture from contemporary architecture.
Insofar as new architecture has the feeling of pictorial two-dimensionality the architects must work on their architectural massif. “New architecture” is still on the way to the establishment of an order or motif which, being developed, could bring a period of new classical architecture.
But the line is not yet clearly defined, and is, besides, subject to two influences — of Asiatic architecture and European painting. This allows for an element of eclecticism to occur.
New architecture is distinguished from Suprematist architecture by the latter and also by the order of elements in Suprematist architecture.
This is clearly felt when one compares the two forms of Western “new architecture” and Suprematist architectonics. The architectonics — “Alpha” of horizontal building and “Gota” of vertical — reveal those features, which, it seems to me, ought to be in the new architecture. (See the “Alpha” of Malevich’s dynamic Suprematism and the architectonics of the artist N.M. Suetin).
Because of its formal similarity contemporary architecture may be divided into characteristic types: individual and collective. New architecture, as a form, I attribute to collective elaboration, on which not only architects but also artists who are basically painters are working. The collective of new architecture consists of a large number of people. This latter fact makes me think that our architectural period has even in immediate link with antique architecture, in its methods and even in its attitude to life.
In the classical architecture of the past there was also an invariable forming element present, which was worked on by many architects.
They were united by the same objective forming element that we now find in the new Suprematist architecture.
Now, as then, with the help of the same forming element which creates an architectural expression of life, the architect is able to reveal his own personality. This latter feature alters neither form nor style but merely produces an individual nuance.
Thus painting in the 20th century has discovered a new “additional forming element” which has led us to the problem of form in architectonics and thence to new Suprematist architecture.
Throughout the world the dictatorship of speculators in pursuit of profit has disfigured life, thus destroying art. Artistic culture has been replaced by speculation; but the new art, architecture, and painting of today is an indication that we are on the threshold of a great new classical age in art. Our contemporaries must understand that life will not be the content of art, but rather that art must become the content of life, since only thus can life be beautiful.
In the total process of human development we may not that the very best monument to any age is its art.
Every part of any work of architectural form, or of any other art form, is one of its most beautiful elements.
Any other side of life represents either evil or a clot of blood. Not one engineer, military leader, economist, or politician has ever managed to achieve in his own field a constant, beautiful forming element such as that achieved by the artist.