“Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.” — Jean Dubuffet, 1951.Jean Dubuffet ( 1901-1985 ). A visionary of modern anti-culture. He had a private Art Brut museum, where the world’s largest collection of paintings and sculptures by the mentally ”ill” and other raw artists was kept.
”Savage seems to be the most appropriate description of Jean Dubuffet’s work and life. Like a savage, Dubuffet often shocked society, though he did so purposely. From the start, his attitude was anti-art and anti-culture. He believed that intellectuals were the enemies of art, and he refused to be restrained by such labels as “dadaist,” “surrealist,” or “futuristic.” Dubuffet strove to erase all categories, and in doing so he ironically created a category of art all his own — what he and his fellow artists would term “art brut.” Above all, however, he attempted to create a universal art rooted in simple, organic methods. As a result, Dubuffet’s artwork remains unfettered, real, and tangible. By antagonizing the established art world, Dubuffet created a new language of painting and sculpture to be understood by all.”
He increasingly moved away from paintings, through a deep suspicion of something that is hung on a wall in a rectangular frame. He had a huge studio, located eight miles outside of Paris that his wife referred to as the Renault plant; he has as much floor space as Bloomingdale’s in New York. He was called the best organized anarchist one could meet. In the late 1960’s he began some monumental constructions which involved encasing styrofoam shapes in a mold then pouring in a molten plastic resin. When the resin has dried, the mold is broken, revealing an amalgam of resin any styrofoam to which the original paint has adhered.
Dubuffet was a gilt edged artist who did fabulously well. It was a paradox that comforts as well as mocks: he was the apostle of spontaneity in painting who was also an obsessively systematic archivist of his own work. His office was lined with filing cabinets filled with a detailed inventory of his oeuvre; photographs of each piece, collectors and prices paid. Are system and spontaneity compatible? Dubuffet felt that spontaneity must be methodically sought and that it took greater care and deliberation to arrive at spontaneity than at order.
Dubuffet spent years taking a full census of his works. He sent galleries and known owners forms to fill out and he sent his assistant Max Loreau to the United States to trace missing paintings. Despite the Maigret like determination, there were about a hundred works they were unable to trace.
Dubuffet wrote extensively on his own work and in addition produced six recordings if not more of his own music, a rather forbidding mixture of exotic instruments and unidentifiable noises intended as an attack on conventional music. Any student of Dubuffet who stats out thinking they are going to look at paintings will find themselves confronted with a conglomerate that manufacturers a wide range of products.
Dubuffet had the reputation of being a difficult man. He was defensive because he felt no artist had been so copiously insulted as himself. He also refused to adopt any political positions, believing that painting is far more important than politics and not to be interrupted by manifestoes and other futile social pursuits.
What happened was Dubuffet, the untamed foe of western culture became outwardly domesticated; his work was selling at fancy prices and appearing in museums. The shock value giving way to avant-garde tremors of delight. It seemed to be the destiny of French revolutionaries to be absorbed into the establishment: ” When I made my ‘Hautes Pates’ , I thought these can never sell, but they did. So I deliberately went further, with grotesque landscapes, texturologies, to cut myself off from galleries, but more and more people became interested, there’s no way out. The system falsifies everything. You can’t look at a Dubuffet today without thinking that its worth twenty or forty thousand dollars, and its notible to love something that costs twenty thousand dollars” ( Jean Debuffet, 1970 )
At the beginning, Debuffet’s work was misunderstood. The obvious reaction was to label him a primitive , whereas, in fact, no painter was so cerebral or programmatic. Primitive artists like Grandma Moses try their hardest to paint well, without distorting the subject but the lack of professional training gave it a naive quality. Debuffet, on the contrary, purposely painted ”badly”, that is, against prevailing artistic conventions, and there was nothing naieve in his effects, which reflected a deliberate attempt to create an alternative to the artistic standards of Western culture. His refusal to abosrb other styles was one of the major differences between Dubuffet and Picasso, who sat at the banquet of Western art for over fifty years at partaken at will of Goya, Velazquez, Manet and many others.
Even the few critics who liked Dubuffet from the start did so for the wrong reasons. Clement Greenberg tied him to the philosophical despair of postwar France and to existentialism, whereas Dubuffet’s undertaking was completely alien both to events in France and to Sartre’s movement, which he considered merely a fashionable form of humanism deserving to be jettisoned along with the rest of Western philosophy. This strategy was made clear by his own dogmatic pronouncements in which he stated that all French art before Matisse must be thrown out. The essential quality of a work of art is surprise.A painting should be a spark of life, somewhere between scribbling and a small miracle.
To Dubuffet, paintings in a museum are like the imprisoned wives of Bluebeard. There is no such thing as ugliness and he liked what was embryonic, badly made, imperfect, and mingled. He claimed there was no such thing as abstract art than there was curved art or yellow art. He self styled himself as a rehabilitator of the unremarkable. Art must be subversive, and creation must always contest established values, otherwise it becomes a rite. His quandary was that though he shocked the establishment he had to fight against being absorbed into it.
Consistent with his belief that museums are cemetaries, he refused to show in a public gallery until 1960. In another age Dubuffet might have been a doomed artist, his work ridiculed or spurned, but in his era he was highly prosperous, condemned to a place of honor in the world’s major museums and selling everything he turned out; by the end of the 1960’s this was almost 6,000 pieces of which 1700 were paintings, 1000 gouaches and 2300 drawings. A production of one every two days since he began his career in earnest in 1944. Dubuffet said he was not a revolutionary, but a permanent subversive.
“For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity.“