Like that bewildered savage who has picked up a strange object… perhaps something thrown up by the sea, perhaps disinterred from the sands or dropped from the heavens…an object intricate in its convolutions, which shines first with a dull glow and then with a bright shaft of light…who keeps turning it over and over in his hands in an effort to find some way of putting it to use, seeking some humble function for it, which is within his limited grasp, never conceiving of a higher purpose…
So we, too, holding art in our hands vaingloriously considering ourselves to be its master, undertake brazenly to give it direction, to renovate it, reform it, to issue manifestoes about it, to sell it for money. We use it to play up to those who possess power. We employ it at times for amusement—even in music-hall songs and night clubs—and also at times, grabbing hold of it however we can, for transient and limited political and social needs. But art is not desecrated by our carryings-on. It does not lose sight of its own origins because of them. And each time and in each mode of use it sheds on us a portion of its secret inner light.
But can we embrace all that light? Who is there so bold as to proclaim that he has defined art? That he has enumerated all its facets? Yet perhaps in ages past someone did comprehend and define it for us, but we grew impatient: we listened in passing and paid no heed and discarded it immediately in our eternal haste to replace even the very best with something else just because it is new! And then later on, when what is old is restated, we forgot that we heard it before.
One artist imagines himself the creator of an independent spiritual world and takes on his shoulders the act of creating that world and its population, assuming total responsibility for it—but he stumbles and breaks down because there is no mortal genius capable of bearing such a load; just like man, who once declared himself the center of all existence but was incapable of creating a balanced spiritual system. And then, when failure occurs, it is all blamed on the external disharmony of the world, on the complexity of the shattered contemporary soul, or the stupidity of the public.
Another artist realizes that there is a supreme force above him and works away gladly as a small apprentice beneath God’s heaven, even though his responsibility for everything he draws or writes and for the souls which perceives it is all the more strict. But still: it was not he who created this world, nor is it he who provides it with direction, and he has no doubts of its foundations. The artist is only given to sense more keenly than others the harmony of the world and all the beauty and savagery of man’s contribution to it—and to communicate this poignantly to people. And even in the midst of failure and down at the lowest depths of existence—in poverty, prison, illness—the sensation of a stable harmony will never leave him.
However, all the irrationality of art, its blinding twists and turns, its unpredictable discoveries, its soul-shaking impact on people are too magical to be contained within the world-outlook of an artist, in his conception or in the work of his unworthy fingers…
“Dreams, memories, the sacred—they are all alike in that they are beyond our grasp. Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch. How strange man is! His touch defiles and yet he contains the source of miracles.”