Art Brut in Preference to the Cultural Arts - Jean Dubuffet
Whoever undertakes, like us, to consider the works of irregulars will be ledto a completely different idea than the current one of official art — the art ofmuseums, galleries, salons — what we shall call cultural art. This productiondoes not appear to be representative of the general artistic activity, but onlyof the activities of a particular clan, the clan of career intellectuals.What country doesn’t have its small sector of cultural art, its brigade ofcareer intellectuals. It’s obligatory. From one capital to the other they perfectly ape one another, practicing an artificial, esperanto art, which is indefatigablyrecopied everywhere. But can we really call this art? Does it even have anythingto do with art? It’s a widespread idea that in looking at the artistic production of intellectualswe simultaneously behold the flower of the general production —since intellectuals, born of the common people, can hardly lack all theirqualities — as well as those additional qualities acquired by long days spentwearing down their rumps on schoolchairs; not to mention that they think ofthemselves as quite intelligent by definition, much more intelligent thanordinary people. But is this the case? In fact, we also find many people whohave a much less favorable idea of intellectuals. Intellectuals appear to themto be directionless, opaque, vitamin deficient, swimmers in troubled waters.De-energised. Demagnetised. Lacking in clairvoyance. It may be that the intellectual’s seated position breaks the circuit.The intellectual functions all too often sitting down : in school, at meetings,during conferences — always seated. Often dozing. Sometimes dead : deadin a chair. Intelligence has often long been held in great esteem. When someoneused to be described as intelligent, wasn’t that to say everything? But now it’sa different story, we begin to demand something else, and the influence of suchintelligence is in marked decline. The preference now is for the effects of vitamins. We perceive that what was called intelligence actually consisted ofa feeble savoir-faire in the handling of a certain simplistic, false, trifling algebra,having nothing at all to do with true clairvoyance, but rather with obscurantism. We cannot deny that the intellectual hardly shines in the realm ofclairvoyance. The imbecile — or the person so designated by the intellectuals—is much more disposed towards that. We might even say that schoolchairswear down this clairvoyance along with one’s rump. Imbecile he might be, butsparks emanate everywhere from him like static electricity from a cat’s fur —unlike Monsieur the Grammar Master, who emits no more sparks than an old wet rag. So long live the imbecile! He’s our man! What they should have done, our doctors in their little caps, is got theirbrains curetted. Then they would become good conductors of electricity, anda myriad eyes would sprout from the blood as in a wild man, eyes more usefulthan the eyeglasses they balance on their noses. These doctors should commit the great intellectual hara-kiri, the great leap into extra-lucid-imbecility—only then would they sprout those myriad eyes. Of course there are still people(especially amongst the intellectuals) who have not yet become fully consciousof the illusory aspect of what is called intelligence, people who burst out laughing when someone claims that those deemed intelligent count for verylittle; while we, in complete lucidity, would rather count on those whom they callimbeciles. They don’t take such an idea at all seriously. Intellectuals are infatuated with ideas, are great masticators of ideas,and cannot imagine that there are any types of gums to chew on other than ideas. Well, art is precisely the sort of gum that has nothing to do with ideas,a fact often lost from sight. Ideas, and the algebra of ideas, is perhaps one path towards knowledge; but art is yet another means of understanding, whose ways are completely different — such are the paths of clairvoyance. This caresnot for scholars and intellectuals, and knows nothing of these domains.Knowledge and intelligence are puny flippers alongside clairvoyance. Ideas are a dull gas, a rarified gas. Only when clairvoyance isextinguished do ideas and the blind fish of their waters(the intellectuals)appear. The reason art exists is because its mode of operation does not takethe road of ideas. Wherever ideas are mixed in with it, art rusts, and loses all value. So lets have as few ideas as possible! Art isn’t nurtured by ideas! There are some— the author of these lines for example —who wouldgo so far as to consider the art of intellectuals as false art, counterfeit art, an abundantly ornate currency which nevertheless rings hollow. Ornamentation indeed holds some interest, but not nearly so much as does the tone. There are insignificant little works, quite summary, almost formless,but which nonetheless ring very loudly — which is precisely why weprefer them to so many of the monumental works of illustrious professionals.You only have to reveal to some people that the author of the work is a professional artist for it to immediately lose all its charm. For artists, as forcard players and lovers, the professional appears as somewhat a sham. After all, it must be said that some people desire to go off the beaten track, instead of sticking to small, barely clairvoyant works. As in the example of vacations, apart from the lovers of famous resorts like Capri and Miami, there are others who dislike the crowds, preferring to find some little, undisturbed cove. Indeed, as soon as a few people turn up in their little corner, they pack their bags and flee. There are peoplejust like that. There are people who detest sports, score-keeping and champions, who find the whole thing stupid and false. Such ideas are merely those of a would-be horseman, dreaming of riding the sweepstake winner. A true cowboy doesn’t dream of winning, but rather of a wild colt snared by his lasso. He doesn’t give a damn about pedigrees, and detests trained beasts! All these celebrations of the artist are quite nice, but what finally happens? Seeing all this, it’s the hermit crab who arrives at full speed to lodge itself in arts’ shell. When you see celebrations and champagne and bravos around a shell, you can rest at ease,knowing that there is a hermit crab inside. True art always appears where we don’t expect it, wherenobody thinks of it or utters its name. Art detests being recognized and greeted by its own name. It immediately flees. Art is a character infatuated by the incognito. As soon as it is divulged or pointed out, it flees and leaves in its place a glorified bit-player carrying on its back a large poster marked ART; everyone immediately sprinkles it with champagne, and lecturers lead it from town to town with a ringthrough its nose. This is the false Monsieur Art. He is the only one known by the public, since he bears the poster and the laurel. There is no danger that the true Monsieur Art will slap on such posters. Nobody would recognize him looking like that. He would stroll about everywhere, everyone would encounter him in the street and jostle him dozens of times each day at every street corner, without anyone having a clue it was Monsieur Art himself, of whom so much good is spoken. You must understand it is the false Monsieur Art who seems to be the true one, and it is the true one that doesn’t seem to be so.This means that we’re mistaken! Many are mistaken! In July 1945 we began methodical research, first in France and Switzerland and then in other countries, on those productions which we have henceforth called Art Brut. We understand by this term works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part (contrary to the activity of intellectuals). These artists derive everything — subjects, choice of materials, means of transportation, rhythms, styles of writing, etc. — from their own depths, and not from the conventions ofclassical or fashionable art. We are witness here to a completely pure artistic operation, raw, brute, and entirely reinvented in all its phases solely by means of the artists’ own impulses. It is thus an art which manifests an unparalleled inventiveness, unlike cultural art, with its chameleon and monkey-like aspects. Before concluding this expose’ we would like to say a few words about the insane.Madness lightens the man, gives him wings, and promotes clairvoyance — or so it seems. Many of the objects in this exhibition (about half) are the works of patients confined to psychiatric hospitals. Yet we see no reason to establish a special department for them, as some have done. All of the numerous relations we have had with our comrades more or less decked out in little bells have convinced us that the mechanisms of artistic creativity are exactly the same in their hands as they are for all other reputedly normal people.Besides, this distinction between normal and abnormal seems quite untenable : who, after all, is normal? Where is he, your normal man? Show him to us! Can the artistic act, with the extreme tension it implies and the high fever that accompanies it, ever be deemed normal? After all, mental ‘illnesses’ are extremely diverse — there are almost as many types of mental illnesses as there are mentally ill people — and it seems quite arbitrary to throw them all into one special basket of ‘illness’.From our point of view, the artistic function is identical in all cases, and there is no more an art of the insane than there is an art of dyspeptics or those with knee problems. ————————————— This piece originally appeared in the catalogue to the exhibition of Art Brut at the Galerie Rene’ Drouin in Paris, October 1949, and appears here with the express unwritten permission of the ghost of Monsieur Dubuffet, who appeared in a dream to this magazine’s editor in the form of a hovering mud stick. It was translated by Allen S. Weiss for a magazine read by Australian intellectuals.