…Again, Malraux writes of Cezanne: “His genius rejects appearance as much as the sacred arts did: and faced with so many centuries which rejected it in the name of a Truth he does not know- but to which he spectacularly devotes his life. He saw the death of works which Michelangelo believed immortal. He knew they were forgotten for over a thousand years, and that during five hundred the cathedrals were thought barbaric. Neverhtless, if God had told him that his paintings would not live, Cezanne would not hav believed Him and would have led Him to the Louvre.” Cezanne paints ” to attain that world in which Poussin is united with Tintoretto…in which The Architect with the Plan will be united for us with the Kore of Euthydykos and the kings of Chartres, the Piets of Avignon with the Ajanta frescoes, and Vermeer with Rembrandt- the world which renders present, in our lives, that which ought to belong to death.”
In short, Malraux invents a kind of Great Beyond of art. He describes at one point in his book how Eden was replaced by the vision of an earthly paradise; he himself replaces it by a paradise of paint. What does it mean to say that Cezanne paints so that his works might enter this paradise? If anything, it means that he paints because he wants to be “immortal.” Does such a desire ever shape a picture? Only in the event that the painter copies other “immortals”- obviously not the case with Cezanne or any good artist. But simply feeling a sense of exalted empathy with masterpieces, and wishing to join their company, cannot possibly account for major artistic creation. ( to be continued)…
Derek Allan:For the contemporaries of Leonardo, Poussin or Delacroix their paintings were, certainly, ‘works of art’, but in the specific sense we have examined in which they stood for an exalted world of harmonious beauty. All other painting (including, by this time, Giotto as well, and of course Byzantine art) was at best a failed attempt to achieve the same goal. As Malraux writes, making the same point but choosing different examples,
In the twelfth century, there could have been no question of contrasting or comparing a Wei statue with a Romanesque statue; on the one hand there was an idol, on the other a Saint. Similarly in the seventeenth century a Sung painting
would not have been contrasted with a work by Poussin. For this would have meant comparing a ‘queer’ outlandish landscape with a ‘noble work of art’. Yet if that Sung landscape were not appraised primarily as a work of art, it simply did
not exist. Its significance was repudiated not by Poussin’s artistic talent but by the conception of art for which that talent catered and from which it was inseparable.
The quite different attitude that seems second nature to us now, which allows us see all these objects as ‘works of art’ is thus unprecedented. As Malraux writes:
It must not be forgotten that we are the first to realise that every art is closely bound up with a significance peculiar to itself; until our times such forms as did not tally with a preconceived significance of art were not linked up with other
significances, but relegated to the scrapheap. Does this mean that we are the first to see art ‘as it really is’—in its ‘definitive’ form, free at last from all extraneous values that previously obscured its true nature? That would be a misunderstanding.
Malraux is not presenting us with a teleology or treating art as we now know it as a kind of apotheosis. Indeed, he writes in The Voices of Silence, ‘Should a new absolute emerge, a large part of [our] treasured heritage of art would doubtless fade into oblivion.’40 He is certainly arguing that all those objects that we today call art, from the horses of Lascaux to Picasso, have sprung from the same creative impulse—the urge to create ‘another world’ acting in defence against the chaos of appearances, ‘the desire to build up a world apart and self-contained, existing in its own right’.