The meaning of art--some thoughts [Archive] - Artist Forum

: The meaning of art--some thoughts

M Winther
02-24-2017, 09:43 AM
The mimetic view of art has retained its grip on artists and amateurs alike. It means that art comes from the outside, and we simply copy it. Already Plato was very critical of this stance. According to Plato, pure Beauty is non-representational, because it is a transcendental Form (cf. 'Plato's Aesthetics', Stanford Encyc., here ( The breaking of the bonds with the outer world represents detachment--in psychoanalytic terms "resolution of the mother complex". We are all very fond of nature and the Impressionists' representations of it. We are also fond of sweets, alcoholic beverages, and many other things that we ought to detach ourselves from. According to my argument, that's why we mustn't see painting as mere pleasurable activity, through the easy path of mimesis, because it means that the bond with the world is retained.

Matisse, in his dialogue with Masson, expresses this idea of detachment when he says: "I always start with something--a chair, a table, but as the work progresses I become less conscious of it. By the end I am hardly aware of the subject with which I started." So the process of detachment is repeated again and again during his work. That's why we must continue in the footsteps of Expressionists and Suprematists, and not backpedal to a mimetic art form. Impressionism needn't be practiced as such, however. Yet, the way painting is taught today is to use Impressionist means to copy correctly, so that one gets the right impression. It goes in the other direction than detachment and emancipation, as professed by Matisse, because with increased skill, the better is the mimetic result. But, really, painting is all about getting the right expression.

As Matisse expressed it, he and the Fauvists broke through the stone wall that Paul CÚzanne had worked to undermine, thus invoking the epoch of modern art. Characteristic of Matisse's art is the large fields of pure colour, contrasted with each other. So it was a move towards greater abstraction. This was continued in Expressionism, which is essentially a development of Fauvism. And then Malevich and the Suprematists took the process even further and said that there must only be rectilinear fields of colour, and perhaps one or another circle and triangle. Eventually, colour was removed altogether when Malevich painted a white square on white background ("White on White", 1918).

So this represents a continual move towards transcendence. According to Malevich, the white background represents infinity, emptiness, and transcendence. Malevich says: "Things have disappeared like smoke; to gain the new artistic culture, art approaches creation as an end in itself and domination over the forms of nature" ("From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism", 1915). An art catalogue says:

White was for Malevich the color of infinity, and signified a realm of higher utopian world of pure form, attainable only through nonobjective art. Indeed, he named his theory of art Suprematism to signify 'the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts'; and pure perception demanded that a picture's forms 'have nothing in common with nature.' Malevich imagined Suprematism as a universal language that would free viewers from the material world. (MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, rev. ed. 2004, p.85)

In "Suprematism3", the emancipative process is expressed in the fading of the form into white mist.

The development of modern art, since Matisse, coincides with spiritual tradition, as taught by the Neoplatonists of ancient antiquity, Christian mysticism, Indian Dharma tradition, and Taoism. The goal is to overcome attachment, achieving transcendence. In Neoplatonic terms, what first takes place is the reversion (epistrophŕ) of one's life's energy, so that movement is instead directed toward the transcendental One. This will lead to hen˘sis, which is spiritual union and the achievement of Oneness.

Such spiritual language may seem preposterous, but it serves the important function of "overcoming the world", which is essentially the same theme as modern artists have laboured with. According to a modern psychological view, it leads to the freeing of personality and the achievement of individuality proper. This coincides with the resolution of the mother complex, which in its broadest definition is equal to unconscious attachment to anything worldly. Psychologists do not know why the unconscious psyche strives after this development. However, Marie-Louise von Franz says that the spiritual passion is even stronger than sexuality. This is corroborated by the enormous following that spiritual tradition has amassed throughout history.

The conclusion is that both art history and the psychological motive behind painting revolve around similar themes as spiritual tradition. Yet, many a painter will continue to paint just for pleasure and to "have fun", because he/she lacks the strong spiritual impetus of the unconscious. There is nothing wrong in this, so I'm not going to say that the mimetic art form is abominable. However, we should promote the higher art forms, because these coincide with the directionality of the unconscious that strives to achieve the individuation and emancipation of personality. It is the only remedy against collectivism, which has haunted us throughout history. Malevich said that art was essential in reconstruction of the world, and he was right, because it serves an end of individual emancipation.

Mats Winther

See also:

Schjeldahl, P. (2013). 'The Prophet - Malevich's revolution'. The New Yorker, June 2, 2013. (here (

02-24-2017, 10:54 AM
What textbook did you cut and paste this from? Not much original thought applied

M Winther
02-24-2017, 11:22 PM
No, I wrote it entirely by myself, as I did with all articles on my homepage. But I'm glad that you deem it text book quality. If you have found this concept elsewhere, namely art as coincident with the spiritual tradition of detachment, I would be grateful if you point me to it. /Mats