Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | October 19, 2010

Tarkovsky on spiritualism and Avant-garde

Gerard Rancinan Les Menines

Gerard Rancinan Les Menines

Indeed, in the art of the latter half of the twentieth century, mystery has been lost. Today artists want instantaneous and total recognition—immediate payment for something that takes place in the realm of the spirit. In this respect the figure of Kafka is outstanding: he printed nothing during his lifetime, and in his will instructed his executor to burn all he had written; in mentality he belonged, morally speaking, to the past. That was why he suffered so much, being out of tune with his time. What passes for art today is for the most part a demonstration of itself, for it is a fallacy to suppose that method can become the meaning and aim of art. Nonetheless, most modem artists spend their time self-indulgently demonstrating method. The whole question of avant-garde is peculiar to the twentieth century, to the time when art has steadily been losing its spirituality. The situation is worst in the visual arts, which today are almost totally devoid of spirituality. The accepted view is that this situation reflects the despiritualised state of society. And of course, on the level of simple observation of the tragedy, I agree: that is what it does reflect. But art must transcend as well as observe; its role is to bring spiritual vision to bear on reality: as did Dostoievsky, the first to have given inspired utterance to the incipient disease of the age. The whole concept of avant-garde in art is meaningless.

I can see what it means as applied to sport, for instance. But to apply it to art
would be to accept the idea of progress in art; and though progress has an obvious place in technology—more perfect machines, capable of carrying out their functions better and more accurately—how can anyone be more advanced in art? How could Thomas Mann be said to be better than Shakespeare? People tend to talk about experiment and search above all in relation to the avant-garde. But what does it mean? How can you experiment in art? Have a go and see how it turns out? But if it hasn’t worked, then there’s nothing to see except the private problem of the person who has failed. For the work of art carries within it an integral aesthetic and philosophical unity; it is an organism, living and developing according to its own laws. Can one talk of experiment in relation to the birth of a child? It is senseless and immoral. Could it be that the people who started talking about avant-garde were those who were not capable of separating the wheat from the tares? Confused by the new aesthetic structures, lost in the face of the real discoveries and achievements, not capable of finding any criteria of their own, they included under the one head of avant-garde anything that was not familiar and easily understood—just in case, in order not to be wrong? like the story of Picasso, who when asked about his ‘search’ replied wittily and pertinently (clearly irritated by the question): ‘I don’t seek, I find’ And can search really be applied to anyone as great as Lev Tolstoy: the old man, you understand, was seeking! It’s ridiculous; though some Soviet critics almost say just that,  pointing to how he lost his way with his search for God and non-violent resistance to evil—so he can’t have been looking in the right place . . .Search as a process (and there is no other way of looking at it) has the same bearing on the complete work as wandering through the forest with a basket in search of mushrooms has to the basketful of mushrooms when you have found them. Only the latter—the full basket—is a work of art: the contents are real and unconditional, whereas wandering through the forest remains the personal affair of someone who enjoys walking and fresh air. On this level deception amounts to evil intent. ‘The bad habit of mistaking metonym for revelation, metaphor for proof, a spate of words for fundamental knowledge, and oneself for a genius—that is an evil which is with us when we are born.

–Andrei  Tarkovsky



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