Witold Gombrowicz

Above all, break once and for all with the words 'art' and 'artist.' Cease intoxicating yourselves with those words which you repeat with the monotony of eternity. Is not everyone an artist? Does mankind create art only when seated at a desk in front of a sheet of paper? Is not art continually being created in the course of everyday life? When a girl puts a rose in her hair, when we make a good joke in the course of an agreeable conversation, when we exchange confidences at dusk, is not that art? Why, then, this terrible division between art and everyday life? Why do you say: Oh, I am an artist, I create art—when it would be more appropriate to say simply: Perhaps I take a little more interest in art than other people? Moreover, why this cult, this admiration only for the kind of art that results in so-called works of art? Whence this naive belief that men so hugely admire works of art and that we go into ecstasy and pass away when we listen to a Beethoven symphony? Have you never considered how impure, adulterated, and formidably immature is that area of culture which you wish to circumscribe with your over-simple terminology? Above all, the boring and commonplace mistake that you make is this: you refer man's contact with art almost exclusively to the aesthetic sense, and consider that contact from an excessively remote and special point of view, as if each individual communed with art in total solitude, hermetically sealed off from his fellows; whereas in reality we are confronted with a large number of different senses, complicated, moreover, by the intermingling of a large number of different individuals, who influence and affect each other and give rise to collective states of mind.

When a concert pianist plays Chopin, for instance, you say: The audience was roused and carried away by a brilliant interpretation of the master's music. But it is possible that not a single member of the audience was carried away; it is perfectly possible that, if they had not known that Chopin was a great master and the virtuoso a great pianist, they might have received the performance with less enthusiasm. It is also possible that the reason why everyone applauded so enthusiastically, their faces distraught with emotion, was that everyone else was doing the same. For each one of them, believing that all the rest were experiencing enormous, super-terrestrial, delight and pleasure, would tend for that very reason to display the same delight and pleasure; and thus it is perfectly possible that nobody in the hall was directly and immediately carried away by the experience, though everyone, adapting his attitude to that of his neighbour, showed all the external signs of it; and it is only when the whole audience has been thus carried away, when every member of it has been encouraged by everyone else to clap, shout, grow red in the face with pleasure and enthusiasm, it is only then, I say, that these demonstrations of pleasure and enthusiasm arise; for we have to adjust our feelings to our behaviour. It is also certain that in listening to the music we are performing something in the nature of a religious, ritual act; and that at a Chopin concert we prostrate ourselves before the god of beauty in a spirit similar to that in which we piously kneel at Mass. In the former case, however, we are merely paying official homage; and who can say what pan is played in this tribute to beauty by beauty itself and what part is attributable to the historico-sociological process? Bah! Mankind, as we know, has need of myths; and it picks out one or the other of its numerous creative artists (who will throw light on the reason for its choice?) and lo and behold! it elevates him above his fellows, starts learning his work by heart, discovers its magic and mystery, adapts its way of feeling to it. Now, if we set about exalting some other creative artist with the same persistence and indefatigability, I am convinced that we could make a similarly great genius of him. Do you not see, then, how many different and often non-aesthetic factors (the monotonous enumeration of them could be extended indefinitely) have obscure, troubled, and fragmentary coexistence with the art which you naively sum up in the formula: Let the inspired poet sing and let the listener be enchanted? That is why it sometimes happens that a poet is considered great, magnificent, and marvellous by everyone, though no one, perhaps, has ever enjoyed his work; or why sometimes everyone swoons away in the presence of a fine canvas, though no one ever thinks of fainting in the presence of a copy which may resemble it like two drops of water.

Have done, then, with your aesthetic transports, stop being artists, for heaven's sake drop your way of talking about art, its syntheses, analysis, subtleties, profundities, the whole inflated apparatus; and, instead of imposing myths, model yourselves on facts. That alone and by itself should bring you noticeable relief, freeing you from your limitations and opening your mind to reality. Moreover, you must cast off the fear that this broad and healthy way of regarding art will deprive you of any riches and greatness, for reality is richer and greater than naive illusions and petty lies; let me tell you straight away about the riches that await you along this new path.

Art certainly consists of perfection of form. But you—and here we are faced with another of the cardinal errors of yours—you imagine that art consists of creating perfect works. You apply the immense and universal aspiration to the creation of form to the production of poems and symphonies, but you have never managed properly to appreciate, or to make others appreciate, the role, and the important role, of form in your own lives. Even in pyschology you have not given form the place to which it is entitled. Hitherto we have always considered the feelings, instincts, or ideas which govern our conduct, and regarded form as at the most a harmless, ornamental accessory. When a widow weeps behind her husband's hearse, we think she does so because she is suffering because of her loss. When an engineer, doctor, or lawyer murders his wife, his children, or a friend, we think that he was driven to it by violent and blood-thirsty instincts. When a politician in a public speech expresses himself stupidly, deceitfully, or pettily, we say he is stupid because he expresses himself stupidly. But the real situation is this: a human being does not externalize himself directly and immediately in conformity with his own nature; he invariably does so by way of some definite form; and that form, style, way of speaking and responding, do not derive solely from him, but are imposed on him from without—and the same man can express himself sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, blood-thirstily or angelically, maturely or immaturely, according to the form, the style presented to him by the outside world, the pressure put upon him by other men. And just as worms and insects creep and fly all day long in search of food, so we, without a moment's respite or relief, perpetually seek form and expression, struggle with other men for style, for our own way of being; and when we travel in a tram, or eat, or enjoy ourselves, or rest, or engage in business, we are perpetually in search of form, and we delight in it, suffer for it or adapt ourselves to it, we break or violate it, or let ourselves be violated by it, amen.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.