In Moscow, at the same time, we also had several interesting talks about art. These were connected with the story which was read on the first evening that I saw G.
“At the moment it is not yet clear to you,” G. once said, “that people living on the earth can belong to very different levels, although in appearance they look exactly the same. Just as there are very different levels of men, so there are different levels of art. Only you do not realize at present that the difference between these levels is far greater than you might suppose. You take different things on one level, far too near one another, and you think these different levels are accessible to you.
“I do not call art all that you call art, which is simply mechanical reproduction, imitation of nature or other people, or simply fantasy, or an attempt to be original. Real art is something quite different. Among works of art, especially works of ancient art, you meet with many things you cannot explain and which contain a certain something you do not feel in modern works of art. But as you do not realize what this difference is you very soon forget it and continue to take everything as one kind of art. And yet there is an enormous difference between your art and the art of which I speak. In your art everything is subjective—the artist’s perception of this or that sensation; the forms in which he tries to express his sensations and the perception of these forms by other people. In one and the same phenomenon one artist may feel one thing and another artist quite a different thing. One and the same sunset may evoke a feeling of joy in one artist and sadness in another. Two artists may strive to express exactly the same perceptions by entirely different methods, in different forms; or entirely different perceptions in the same forms—according to how they were taught, or contrary to it. And the spectators, listeners, or readers will perceive, not what the artist wished to convey or what he felt, but what the forms in which he expresses his sensations will make them feel by association. Everything is subjective and everything is accidental, that is to say, based on accidental associations—the impression of the artist and his’creation'” (he emphasized the word “creation”), “the perceptions of the spectators, listeners, or readers.
“In real art there is nothing accidental. It is mathematics. Everything in it can be calculated, everything can be known beforehand. The artist knows and understandswhat he wants to convey and his work cannot produce one impression on one man and another impression on another, presuming, of course, people on one level. It will always, and with mathematical certainty, produce one and the same impression.
“At the same time the same work of art will produce different impressions on people of different levels. And people of lower levels will never receive from it what people of higher levels receive. This is real, objective art. Imagine some scientific work—a book on astronomy or chemistry. It is impossible that one person should understand it in one way and another in another way. Everyone who is sufficiently prepared and who is able to read this book will understand what the author means, and precisely as the author means it. An objective work of art is just such a book, except that it affects the emotional and not only the intellectual side of man.” “Do such works of objective art exist at the present day?” I asked. “Of course they exist,” answered G. “The great Sphinx in Egypt is such a work of art, as well as some historically known works of architecture, certain statues of gods, and many other things. There are figures of gods and of various mythological beings that can be read like books, only not with the mind but with the emotions, provided they are sufficiently developed. In the course of our travels in Central Asia we found, in the desert at the foot of the Hindu Kush, a strange figure which we thought at first was some ancient god or devil. At first it produced upon us simply the impression of being a curiosity. But after a while we began to feel that this figure contained many things, a big, complete, and complex system of cosmology. And slowly, step by step, we began to decipher this system. It was in the body of the figure, in its legs, in its arms, in its head, in its eyes, in its ears; everywhere. In the whole statue there was nothing accidental, nothing without meaning. And gradually we understood the aim of the people who built this statue. We began to feel their thoughts, their feelings. Some of us thought that we saw their faces, heard their voices. At all events, we grasped the meaning of what they wanted to convey to us across thousands of years, and not only the meaning, but all the feelings and the emotions connected with it as well. That indeed was art!”
I was very interested in what G. said about art. His principle of the division of art into subjective and objective told me a great deal. I still did not understand everything he put into these words. I had always felt in art certain divisions and gradations which I could neither define nor formulate, and which nobody else had formulated. Nevertheless I knew that these divisions and gradations existed. So that all discussions about art without the recognition of these divisions and gradations seemed to me empty and useless, simply arguments about words. In what G. had said, in his indications of the different levels which we fail to see and understand, I felt an approach to the very gradations that I had felt but could not define.
There is the being of man number one, that is, the being of a man living by his instincts and his sensations; the being of man number two, that is to say, the being of the sentimental, the emotional man; the being of man number three, that is, the being of the rational, the theoretical man, and so on. It is quite clear why knowledge cannot be far away from being. Man number one, two, or three cannot, by reason of his being, possess the knowledge of man number four, man number five, and higher. Whatever you may give him, he may interpret it in his own way, he will reduce every idea to the level on which he is himself.
“The same order of division into seven categories must be applied to everything relating to man. There is art number one, that is the art of man number one, imitative, copying art, or crudely primitive and sensuous art such as the dances and music of savage peoples. There is art number two, sentimental art; art number three, intellectual, invented art; and there must be art number four, number five, and so on.
“You must first of all remember that there are two kinds of art, one quite different from the other—objective art and subjective art. All that
you know, all that you call art, is subjective art, that is, something that I do not call art at all because it is only objective art that I call art.
“To define what I call objective art is difficult first of all because you ascribe to subjective art the characteristics of objective art, and secondly because when you happen upon objective works of art you take them as being on the same level as subjective works of art.
“I will try to make my idea clear. You say—an artist creates. I say this only in connection with objective art. In relation to subjective art I say that with him ‘it is created.’ You do not differentiate between these, but this is where the whole difference lies. Further you ascribe to subjective art an invariable action, that is, you expect works of subjective art to have the same reaction on everybody. You think, for instance, that a funeral march should provoke in everyone sad and solemn thoughts and that any dance music, akomarinsky for instance, will provoke happy thoughts. But in actual fact this is not so at all. Everything depends upon association. If on a day that a great misfortune happens to me I hear some lively tune for the first time this tune will evoke in me sad and oppressive thoughts for my whole life afterwards. And if on a day when I am particularly happy I hear a sad tune, this tune will always evoke happy thoughts. And so with everything else.
“The difference between objective art and subjective art is that in objective art the artist really does ‘create,’ that is, he makes what he intended, he puts into his work whatever ideas and feelings he wants to put into it. And the action of this work upon men is absolutely definite; they will, of course each according to his own level, receive the same ideas and the same feelings that the artist wanted to transmit to them. There can be nothing accidental either in the creation or in the impressions of objective art.
“In subjective art everything is accidental. The artist, as I have already said, does not create; with him ‘it creates itself.’ This means that he is in the power of ideas, thoughts, and moods which he himself does not understand and over which he has no control whatever. They rule him and they express themselves in one form or another. And when they have accidentally taken this or that form, this form just as accidentally produces on man this or that action according to his mood, tastes, habits, the nature of the hypnosis under which he lives, and so on. There is nothing invariable; nothing isdefinite here. In objective art there is nothing indefinite.”
“Would not art disappear in being definite in this way?” asked one of us. “And is not a certain indefiniteness, elusiveness, exactly what distinguishes art from, let us say, science? If this indefiniteness is taken away, if you take away the fact that the artist himself does not know what he will obtain or what impression his work will produce on people, it will then be a ‘book’ and not art.”
“I do not know what you are talking about,” said G. “We have different standards: I measure the merit of art by its consciousness and you measure it by its unconsciousness.We cannot understand one another. A work of objective art ought to be a ‘book’ as you. call it; the only difference is that the artist transmits his ideas not directly through words or signs or hieroglyphs, but through certain feelings which he excites consciously and in an orderly way, knowing what he is doing and why he does it.”
“Legends,” said one of those present, “have been preserved of statues of gods in ancient Greek temples, for example the statue of Zeus at Olympia, which produced upon everybody a definite and always identical impression.”
“Quite true,” said G., “and even the fact that such stories exist shows that people understood that the difference between real and unreal art lay precisely in this, an invariable or else an accidental action.”
“Can you not indicate other works of objective art?” “Is there anything that it is possible to call objective in contemporary art?” “When was the last objective work of art created?” Nearly everyone present began to put these and similar questions to G.
“Before speaking of this,” said G., “principles must be understood. If you grasp the principles you will be able to answer these questions yourselves. But if you do not grasp them nothing that I may say will explain anything to you. It was exactly about this that it was said—they will see with their eyes and will not perceive, they will hear with their ears and will not understand.
“I will cite you one example only—music. Objective music is all based on ‘inner octaves.’ And it can obtain not only definite psychological results but definite physical results. There can be such music as would freeze water. There can be such music as would kill a man instantaneously. The Biblical legend of the destruction of the walls of Jericho by music is precisely a legend of objective music. Plain music, no matter of what kind, will not destroy walls, but objective music indeed can do so. And not only can it destroy but it can also build up. In the legend of Orpheus there are hints of objective music, for Orpheus used to impart knowledge by music. Snake charmers’ music in the East is an approach to objective music, of course very primitive. Very often it is simply one note which is long drawn out, rising and falling only very little; but in this single note ‘inner octaves’ are going on all the time and melodies of ‘inner octaves’ which are inaudible to the ears but felt by the emotional center. And the snake hears this music or, more strictly speaking, he feels it, and he obeys it. The same music, only a little more complicated, and men would obey it.
“So you see that art is not merely a language but something much bigger. And if you connect what I have just said with what I said earlier about the different levels of man’s being, you will understand what is said about art. Mechanical humanity consists of men number one, number two, and number three and they, of course, can have subjective art only. Objective art requires at least flashes of objective consciousness; in order to understand these flashes properly and to make proper use of them a great inner unity is necessary and a great control of oneself.”