NEW INTERNATIONAL SURREALIST MANIFESTO (NISM)
by Terrance Lindall
NEW INTERNATIONAL SURREALIST MANIFESTO (NISM) by Terrance Lindall, September 2003
In creating the show Brave Destiny in in September 2003 in cooperation with the London’s Society for Art of the Imagination, I also, ultimately wanted to take a look at what the living and working surrealist/visionary/fantastic artist Saar thinking and doing in context of the past, especially since Breton.
I went back to Breton’s Le Manefeste du Surrealisme of 1924 to look at the definition - “pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason, and outside of all moral preoccupation's.’
As applied to the plastic arts, it would mean the creation of works of art dissociated from attempts to represent anything, involving more the pure free action of the hands without hindrance of thought. In other words, the purest form of surrealism would be abstract expressionism!
Clement Greenberg said in the Edmonton interview in 1991: “ . The abstract painters took their Surrealism from Miro and Masson. Not from... and that seemed a liberty for them. And then they didn't paint like Surrealists. But, oh, automatic writing, oh sure. You start off free with a scribble and a few marks... you got started from that. And that was a Surrealist method.They wanted to invent and so they would sit down, a Gorky did, and do Picasso. That's putting them down, because when Gorky did Picasso it turns out he did some damn good stuff. Automatic writing, automatic painting became almost a matter of course in New York on 8th Street at the end of the '30s. It was a way of working up invention, as it were, without worrying about figuration, representation, or symbols -- whatever. The Surrealists were a great encouragement in that respect.”
Bretion, was most interested in the dream state. He considered Freud’s ventures into interpretation of and the importance of dreams a great new science. Freud’s influence over psychology and psychiatry, even up until recently, has been great. His theories are perhaps entirely wrong. The one thing he was able to prove was that “belief systems” have a great influence on human behavior. It is the placebo effect. If one believes the interpretation of a dream will help the patient, then the patient can be cured of what ails him psychologically. Believe systems help us operate in the world, but they are not always based on fact. The Ptolmeic view of the world as the center of the universe probably was a very workable hypothesis until it failed to help in navigating at sea.
Yes, the dream is the important central sustaining foundation of what the surreal, visionary and fantastic are about.
Breton said at the beginning as a sort of lament, that “we are...living under a reign of logic.’ This was undoubtedly because the physical sciences and industry were beginning to show signs of dominating the thinking and spirits of men. But in fact, men’s spirits have never been ruled by logic, and the tools of logic as applied in science and mathematics only serve to deliver to the man what he irrationally desires as an animal.
Bretion says,” The mind of the dreaming man is fully satisfied with whatever happens to it. The agonizing question of possibility does not arise. Kill, plunder more quickly, love as much as you wish. And if you die, are you not sure of being roused from the dead? Let yourself be led. Events will not tolerate deferment. You have no name. Everything Is inestimably easy.
“What power, I wonder, what power so much more generous than others confers this natural aspect upon the dream and makes me welcome unreservedly a throng of episodes whose strangeness would overwhelm me if they were hap- pening as I write this? And yet I can believe it with my own eyes, my own ears. That great day has come, that beast has spoken.”
It is this freedom that the surrealist seeks in his art, to create spontaneously without effort, automatically, to discover the wonder of the universe in all of its manifestation with out the hindrance of cause and effect, to feel the fullness of both joy and horror without harm. This is not specifically what the abstract expressionists are offering, but it is what the surreal/visionary and fantastic artists of Brave Destiny are pursuing in their art.
How important is this? If man’s intellectual and emotional response to innovation and the envisioning of possibilities is important, then dreams, which are free wheeling manifestations of possibility, based indeed upon the waking experiences of the individual, are important!
What about the craftsmanship which is always an important part of the work of the artists of Brave Destiny? This preponderance of excellence of draughsmanship and composition has been disparaged in the recent past by the nonrepresentational artists and their supporters who call them mere “illustrators.” Again, going back to the Greenberg Interview:
Question: “Now to get back to this idea of modernism, are you saying that it really does not have as much to do with the way of structuring the picture or setting up the space in the picture?”
Greenberg: “What did happen was that Manet started flattening the picture. Fromentin said he was painting playing cards. And Cézanne said about Gauguin and Van Gogh that they painted Chinese pictures because they didn't deal enough with the illusion of the third dimension, that they were too flat. Cézanne, who wanted to get that third dimension, turned out in his last paintings to get terribly flat. And then the Cubists came along, and then the Fauves. The Fauves... ah, that's a special chapter, the Fauves. And it happened... well, it's this way: you painted to make as good a picture as you could -- no program -- you might have a program for making good pictures but no program beyond that. You wanted to paint as good a picture as you could, as all painters try, and you found that it wasn't good enough if you continued to shade and model. That's what happened. I mentioned before: Pollock wanted to model and shade and he found out he couldn't. It didn't come out good. He had to go flat relatively. Nobody wants to paint flat pictures, it's tougher to make them good... “
That is an amusing comment. Greenberg seems to say that all artists would love to paint in the manner of the 16th century master, but the New York School failed! They did come into styles that had what Greenberg called “quality” by pursuing what, through their limited skills, they could in fact achieve, but it was not high representational art.
The artists like Salvador Dali and his great living contemporary Ernst Fuchs were indeed masters of the craft of painting. Ernst carried his evolution of this mastery of painting to the point wherein he rediscovered the 16th techniques of the high renaissance masters - the Mische technique. Today he teaches this technique and has a number of master followers including Brigid Marlin of the Society for Art of the Imagination, who is world renowned and teaches worldwide. In America we have Roberto Venosa. In Europe and the United States, many artists are coming back to this method of painting.
Today's artists of the surreal/visionary/fantastic genre have in hand two goals: mastery of technique and pursuit of the possibility envisioned in the dream state, as presented in a concrete representation of the waking state.
Breton was looking for a time when dreams could be subjected to methodical examination. He said “When the time comes when we can submit the dream to a methodical examination, when by methods yet to be determined we succeed in realizing the dream in its entirety (and that implies a memory discipline measurable in generations, but we can still begin by recording salient facts), when the dream's curve is developed with an unequaled breadth and regularity, then we can hope that mysteries which are not really mysteries will give way to the great Mystery. I believe in the future resolution of these two states -- outwardly so contradict- tory -- which are dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, a surreality, so to speak, I am aiming for its conquest, certain that I myself shall not attain it, but too indifferent to my death not to calculate the joys of such possession.”
His comment reminds me of this quote: “This is not a dream of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia (Donna Haraway, "A cyborg Manifesto")."
(I will now borrow heavily from my own “Epistemological Movement” essay, 2001, which appeared in New York Arts Magazine in February 2002. To fully understand the foundations of my statements here you can go to that. )
Amazingly we see Breton’s search for a perfect surreality of an understanding, an amalgam of waking and dream, reflected in Star Trek’s Borgs. They have perfect common understanding, they translate to each other all meaning perfectly, but they have no sense of love or beauty. Is this why our artists rejoice in the uncontrolled logic of the dream state, untranslatable to the waking? Because in the perfect amalgam and understanding of waking and dream there would be no beauty or wonder? Is Breton’s hope a self-defeating one: that the artist is trying to communicate as perfectly as possible an expression of waking and dream that would be opposed to the wonder embodied in the surreal? Would there still be the “Great Mystery” after his vision is fulfilled?
The waking and the dream are seemingly in opposition to each other The very idea that systems and people need not oppose each other and that there will be harmony in nature is absurd. If there is harmony, it is the harmony ofprocess in which things and ideas are created and destroyed, or the harmony that is observed from a distance: the beauty of star systems colliding. At a closer look it is devastatingly violent and frightening. Krishna and Shiva, the gods of creation and destruction, a continual war of creation and destruction, the Great Dialectic. Perhaps the fires of the dialectic wars will burn away the dross to reveal the gold, as Breton's Merging of the waking and dream. The fires themselves have a terrible beauty. In fact, the contradiction of the dream state and waking state, the uncontrolled dream versus the controlled & practical and logical of the waking state, is a necessary condition whose energies of their dialectic yield new possibilities. They give impetus to invention in science and art. They will never be one thing, and should not. We should always be wondering and interpreting our dreams and trying to make them manifest. The wonderment should reside in the place where no language can describe the process of creation, destruction and change, a place of such unknown mystery, Breton’s Great Mystery!
Between the realms of waking and dream and creation & destruction, there is an unknown land. It is that land that Breton wanted to understand. The physical sciences pursue that mystery too and have found that “Greater Mystery.” Scientists found a level at which matter did not behave in a predictably determined manner. To describe this in the language of mathematics Heisenberg stated his famous "Indeterminacy Principle." . Nothing stands as truth in the world, it is always toppling. Consciousness endlessly transforms. If it did not there would be no consciousness. Transformation is a necessary condition of consciousness. In dreams especially there is transformation without cause. One moment we are flying, next we are somewhere else. The composite self exists as two poles, the dreaming and the waking, reifying the world: The poles are like binary stars pulling upon one another and transforming one another exchanging tremendous energies of insight and creativity.
The distinction between mind and body is not valid. That is not to say that only the material world exists. In fact, there is no proof that the material world apart from mind exists at all, rather all we really have evidence of is that there are perceptions. Therefore, mind states and brain states, the perception of either, are perceptions alone, pure and simple. The sensations of the body are also perceptions. All is perception. Dreams and waking reality are of the same fabric.
Intelligence can create great art, and sometimes great natural "intuition" does. But "intuition" is the working of the subconscious “dream-state.”
What is art? it is the changing of mind states to perceive the world in various new ways with no necessary condition of practical application for procreation or survival.
Dreams and waking reality are one in the same: perceptions, dual aspects of consciousness! They inform one another, and transform the self.
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