Filozofia Nuanţelor / The Philosophy of Nuances
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An encounter with Brancusi

Translated from Romanian by Tudor B. Munteanu, © 2009, 2013, all rights reserved. One of the few texts Ţuţea saw published (in 1985, in a holiday almanac for the Viaţa Românească literary review, under the pseudonym Petre Boteanu). The illustrations are two views of  "Socrates"  by Constantin Brâncuşi, a sculpture whose perspectives vary wildly. The image captions are from one of Brâncuşi's notes (in French).


I am going to reminisce, making good use "the affective form of memory" - as Kierkegaard put it, if I'm not mistaken - despite its well-known shortcomings. After all, journals and memoirs, even as associations of facts and reflections, aren't any closer to truth. Even platonic ideas, as archetypes, should be considered mythical fabrications, unless they are [divinely] revealed.

Sometime before the second world war, my friend Haig Acterian and I were actively seeking a model on which we could establish our position in those troubled times. We were looking for spiritual certitude, so we started to examine all types of men, from the religious to the productive, and all we could find was the "all to human" - using Nietzsche's expression - a chaotic mixture of the human, inhuman and the superhuman. We gave up searching for certitude in this manner. We were guided by the idea of order, but also by the unsettling manifestations of becoming. This is how we had encountered the following epistemological terms: the divine, human, worldly, the truthful, and the mistaken, the beautiful and ugly, the sacred, satanic, the absurd; we also rediscovered their given sense and their imitation in art, where inspired purity encounters the form and sense we seek in human intersubjectivity and in nature - or just in subjectivity, as in the case of expressionism.

In any case, at some point we were looking for an artist, one who could show us how far art could enrich our knowledge; we wanted to find out if artistic language, made of images and symbols can get closer to truth than the formal language of science, whose signs do not really convey anything. Images and symbols or signs seem to slip away for both artists and scientists, since autonomous artists cannot overcome illusory beauty, and autonomous science is unable to overcome the utility of signs.

Then, Haig informed me that Brâncuşi is visiting Bucharest, and could be found at the "Boulevard" hotel. He proposed setting up an appointment so we would "investigate how his spirit reflects his life and the world". He added: "of course, let's keep in mind we are not meeting a theologian, a philosopher or scholar, but a great artist". "Let's go" I answered, "I am quite curious to find out the real content of these terms: vocation, inspiration, meaning, search, expression, image and symbol. As far as I know, Brâncuşi shouldn't be considered an 'intuitive' artist, since what has to be left unspoken, and what is infinite - even when downgraded so it can be somehow conveyed through words or matter, within the sphere or humankind, circumscribed as it is to the interplay between images and symbols - cannot really lose its ineffable character. Moreover, even human beings who remain in the 'here and now' but continue to search for form and sense may choose to arbitrarily situate themselves beyond good and evil, just like Nietzsche. Aesthetic perspectivism (Charles Andler)". "One thing is certain", said Haig, "Brâncuşi is an authentic artist, whose style reflects the soul of his nation".

Brancusi - Socrate, perspectiva 1
Rien n'echappe au grand penseur. Il sait tout, il voit tout, il entend tout. Il a ses yeux dans ses oreilles, ses oreilles dans ses yeux.
"We're going to inquire" I said, "if art is mimesis, autonomous production, or a manifestation of the artist's inspiration. This creature we call 'human', does it reflect a primordial given that unfolds through time and space in stages, as if humankind were condemned, or is it destined for permanent renewal; i.e. is life really constant or always moved by how it should become? In other words: is everything in us already set once and for all - as in fixism, or does it evolve in a predetermined manner, from the beginning, or else is it a "creative evolution" (Bergson)? In life, if we consider what should be, man moves through a world of values, as we usually call these attitudes that guide our acts - which are either predetermined, or supposedly autonomous", I concluded.

Haig, who was also a remarkable [theatre] director, decided: "Then we shall go see Brâncuşi, since artists can move freely between heaven and earth, without the constraints of scientific or common language". I added: "In the unfashionable position of authentic artists, we may encounter: the concrete, the purposeful, the ideal, sadness, joy, hopelesness, order, disorder, randomness, the trivial and the pure. To find the essence of these various states, we have to confront the artist directly. This way, everything could be bracketed into signs, objects, autonomy, heteronomy, the ethical, the aesthetic, the figurative, non-figurative, suggestion, evocation, search and inspiration. In this manner perhaps we could isolate and appropriate the form and content of the work of art".

Haig set up all details of the meeting. When we arrived, in the evening, Brâncuşi asked right away: "Why did you come to see me?"

I replied: "Whenever you are in Bucharest, only two meaningful events can happen: a meeting with you and a reception at the [Royal] Palace. Since we are here, we'd also like to find out directly from an outstanding artist if art should have any message, and if this message can get closer to truth than anything science would be able to convey."

"Please sit", Brâncuşi offered.

My first question was: "How are you able to bear the captivity of nature?

"Brâncuşi: "I don't feel captive at all. The force I feel belongs to me as well. I appreciate the inner structure of wood and stone, what others usually disfigure. Have you ever looked into how things are made?"

I replied: "Only in high-school, when I had to look at a vegetal structure under the microscope. I analysed it with indifference". Then, I made an ironic remark: "Perhaps I should be pleased that unlike some artists you mentioned, I never had a good excuse to disfigure wood and stone".

Brancusi looked at me with a curious gaze. I interpreted this as an expression of artistic, contemplative deference toward objects. I started to speak about artists who are captives of the eye vs. inspired artists. Haig was keen on adding that according to my position, inspiration is above initiation, since the latter is just "technical".

I said: "The uninspired drown in signs and in raw matter". Brâncuşi: "That's true. Could anyone sleep with a statue?" My reply: "I also try to move, spiritually, between the visible and the invisible, although without any artistic means at my disposal".

Pointing toward me, Brâncuşi addressed Haig: "What is his occupation?"

Haig: "He is an active spirit, one who wants to avoid intellectual and moral mistakes, his own and others'."

Brâncuşi, addressing me: "So, how did you manage so far?"

"I can't say I did; humans, on their own, cannot reach the truth and have to move somewhere between missing the path and finding it by chance, without even knowing for sure where they are". That's why Socrates was seeking a god, according to the Charmides, to find out what is wisdom. Now, Haig and I would like to continue by discussing about erotic and hieratic art".

Brancusi - Socrate, perspectiva 2
Pas loin de lui, comme un enfant simple et docile, Platon semble s'impregner de la sagesse du maītre.
Brâncuşi: "Go ahead."

Haig led the way with a statement, to the extent that humankind moves freely between heaven and earth. I followed: "Any artist can express desire, in the heat of the moment, but hieratic art is driven by a passion for purity, so this kind of artist would want to avoid moral errors, to produce in the contemplating audience and in the public at large the aristotelian k a t h a r s i s, toward the purification of the soul and of moral habits, by mixing the ethical with the aesthetic. I also stated that science can be useful, but it is ethically neutral. Science endeavors to eliminate error and to discover useful means in the struggle of conservation and adaptation; through science, man seeks to master his own nature and nature in general."

I asked Brâncuşi: "Considering your subtle geometrical simplicity, how do you manage, after all, to avoid decorative tendencies?

"Brâncuşi: "Every single work has to answer this question, if it manages to express anything beyond that". I proposed a definition of art, according to Charles Maurras: "Art is the interplay of appearances". "Is that all it is?!" Brâncuşi asked.

"No, that's not all", I replied. "But artists are confined by the visible an the invisible, and no matter how spiritually endowed an artist may be, one cannot achieve purity in art. Non-figurative art suggests, figurative art evokes; with respect to which among these styles should be chosen, I think the message should decide. In the case of a brilliant artist like Giotto, art interweaves suggestion, evocation and the passion for truth. While it obviously takes place here in this world, this kind of art expresses an interplay that may reflect here what is beyond - for example, a platonic idea - while technique and any such means steadily keep the artist on the way, toward perfection. Overall, Giotto's art suggests the earth is a temporary abode for humankind; while natural means may serve our aspiration, the latter always overcomes the means, and its purpose cannot be attained here. Any great artist is unsettled because he remains indebted to his ideal."

Finally, Haig formulated the basic purpose of our visit: we wanted an answer to a direct question, i.e. what was the idea behind his famous work, the "Maiastra"? After we finally asked this question, Brâncuşi stated, "I kept polishing matter to find the continuous line. Then, realizing it cannot be found, I suddenly stopped as if someone, unseen, had slapped my hands."

Our visit was over. We thanked Brâncuşi for his hospitality and conversation, then went our way. As we were going, I told Haig:

"I am reminded of Leibniz' combinatorial art, based on three terms: the infinite, the continuous and the limit, as it is commonly interpreted. Brâncuşi's answer, seen from a moral and epistemological perspective, indeed expressed the immanent limits of art, since any artist, even an exceptional one, is unable to overcome the limits of this world. However, Brâncuşi is unsettled by intangible reality, as any great artist, who cannot be satisfied with the usual game of hypotheses."

Petre Ţuţea

 
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