In recent years considerable lip service has been paid the potentiality of the relation of painting and sculpture to contemporary architecture and the interior; although one discussion follows another, little in actual demonstration has resulted in this country, and unless we recognize the problems which beset collaborative effort, this dreamed of potentiality will remain in its conversational phase.
The correlation of architecture, painting and sculpture has in the past resulted in magnificent achievement. The sharing of a universal dogma, the particular social structure and the limits of technological and communicative techniques allowed this phenomenon. The communal efforts of the Romanesque period, as well as the spectacular Renaissance instances of one man performing excellently in all three of these arts (Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci), are examples. Again, in recent times, we have evidence of intense activity in architectural painting in Mexico, but the nature of these lands, of these people, these historical and cultural heritages are so different from ours that we are unable to find models of workable relationship suitable to our needs.
I have no pat, ready-made solutions to offer; to the contrary, I would like to speak to some of the problems which confront me as a working painter, and investigate possible avenues of contact with men working in allied fields, and finally, with society at large.
Arnold Toynbee has stated that the Western world has in the past three centuries turned from a religious fanaticism, through a religious skepticism, to a technological fanaticism. This to my mind has greatly contributed to the difference of position of the architect and painter and sculptor today. The expressed lack of connection and of understanding of one another’s problems and function makes collaborative effort particularly remote. Let me be more specific. I feel I need the architect a great deal more than he needs me, or rather, than he thinks he needs me. The painter and sculptor exist under much the same conditions today but the architect occupies a relatively enviable position. I refer to the comparative integration of the architect versus the comparative isolation of the painter and sculptor; the degree to which a man can see the products of his labors understood and use. In continually dealing with the tangible, physical function of man, in being able to exploit to good purpose the technological advances of our time the architect must experience satisfaction of achievement. In visible altering the fact of his earth and the ways of living of his time, in looking at a job done, tracking his contribution he can say, “I did it and it is good. It works.” With this experience he will turn to me and ask what I do, what I intended to do.
My possible contribution is far less easy to trace: first, I must tell him that I, too, work toward an enrichment of life; I must explain that if his art started with the idea of shelter, protection from the natural elements, from the wind, the beasts, the rain and cold, then my art began with the idea of shelter and protection from the winds of inner remoteness, the beasts of insensibility, the cold of spiritual isolation. The painter needs to identify himself and relate himself to his environment in pictorial terms and, as does the architect in tectonic terms, he must make tangible his perceptions, sensations and even his aspirations, the very questioning of the purpose of his existence, for what he makes is the result of this questioning.
In no way do I wish to infer that the architect is solely involved in mechanical problems; but to the contrary, that we have had in the past and still do have an overlapping of purpose though our media differ. We want to establish values in relation to living and it seems as important to me to desire to clear a spiritual slum existence as a physical slum existence. If it is true that we are involved in a fanaticism of technology I would then place painting at the service of the human sentiment.
I have tried to describe, if only in generalities, what to my mind is the utility of painting so that I might meet others who love their art as I do mine on terms of equality.
I have become increasingly apprehensive of the museum and gallery exhibition system as the sole or primary means of contact and outlet for painting. My misgivings relate not alone to the limitations of reaching the public, for our audience is increasing, but to the evidence of the possible influence of this system upon the painter and hence upon the very character of painting today.
I have heard of painters who pride themselves in being able to successfully tailor pictures to the winning specifications of juries, but is this not an extremely limited aim and cannot its motivation result in a reduction of the performer and the potency of his art? The emphasis upon the novel, the exciting, the immediate, the brilliantly performed often precludes the satisfying, the fulfilling, the digested, the deeply moving and—if you will—the quality of staying power. Malfunction is less readily discerned in painting than in architecture and interior design. In these latter two fields, malfunction produces tangible discomfort or even structural collapse. Like conditions occur in painting. The spectators’ experience can be just as discomforting and unrewarding and although the object may not actually disintegrate, a parallel collapse in the sense of sustained utility occurs. It does not hold up. It will not last.
The acceleration of adaptation and dissipation of mode without full understanding is conspicuous here. We work in our studios and the only known condition of presentation is the confusion of optical competition. Under these circumstances we expect acceptance and understanding and we are disappointed if our works are not utilized. I do not suggest that we simply abolish this system, but rather that we begin by trying to augment it to producing situations which may afford greater relation to and integration with our society.
It would be immediately necessary for the painter, sculptor and architect, were they do consider collaborative effort, to take into account the enormous effect, which the developments in the present technological and communicative techniques have had upon social and communal activity. Radio and television have decreased the need for gathering places. The accelerated pace of existence has created a frenzy of demand for entertainment and relaxation, but there is less actual participation demanded of the individual and he grows accustomed to a passive acceptance of the deluge of material that washes over him.
It would be the job of those working in collaboration to re-evaluate the role that the man-made image and structure may play in the practice of daily living. This would apply to civic buildings, housing projects, schools as well as private dwellings. I am quite sure that out of this would come a change of attitude which would result in the production of new objects requiring the use of new methods and materials. First the need; the techniques will follow.
For me, the challenge of a work related to a particular environment, involving a planned and synthesized point of view, is extremely stimulating. Among many of us, there has been an increasing concern in relation to spectator involvement. The consideration of the ambulating spectator, the power of conditioning through environment, is potent in directing an experience. We are forced to consider how he may live in and with what world if imagery we wish to share with him. We are pressed to discuss what we wish to do for ourselves, for him, and what we might accomplish in helping him to do for himself. Herein lie the fields of painting and sculpture, interior and exterior related to architecture.
Architects, in their interest in the humanization of the structure, cannot limit themselves to the physical function of man. On this basis, I suggest that the collaborative effort would be of advantage to them. I have been told by some architects that painting is in such a state of chaos today and that the economic pressures of competition within their own field is so great that they cannot see an immediate relation in joint effort. The fact that the first half of the twentieth century has produced simultaneous and divergent attitudes in painting need not necessarily be a symptom of chaos. It is certainly difficult to make an all inclusive judgment within one’s own time.
It would be ridiculous to assume that all painting per se is adaptable to architectural ends. We do know however that there has been a repeated phenomenon in painting described as a tectonic mode and much of contemporary painting with its emphasis upon material, scale and the two-dimensional surface falls into a category not far removed from it. We all know of those practical difficulties of client relationship which the architect encounters, but it still seems valid to me that his aim should not be one of accepting values but rather of establishing them.
If collaboration is not easily possible now, might not the architect, as desirous as he may be to produce an entity sufficient unto itself, consider the increased value of a structure designed to include the man-made image? The psychological impact of such related objects would allow him one more dynamic element with which to work. The painter cannot come to the architect with a pre-determined notion of his product and then ask the architect where he will place it. The architect cannot come with a pre-established and completed plan of his structure and then ask the painter to simply add to it; to decorate it. The decorative element exists in all painting. It is an element of painting, but in recent years the word has been used as a term of derogation for works which attempt but fail to fulfill themselves on other levels. We cannot afford to think of the image as an additive element, one of embellishment alone but rather as an integral part of the total conception. If this is, as I believe, a promising challenge to increased achievement, the solution can only come out of a concerted action on the part of artists and architects.