Margrethe Vogelius mvogel@eden.rutgers.edu World War II left Europe in a state of utter disillusionment and despair.

The horrors of the Holocaust and the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seemed to defy any faith in the notion of humanity. The French, following the Nazi occupation of Paris, struggled to come terms with the devastating effects of war. While some sought out a means to return to the status quo from before the war, the unprecedented cruelty and brutality of the war caused other to question the nature of modern society. The Reconstruction period became an age of extremes with traditionalists on one side, attempting to reestablish a sense of normalcy, and radical progressives, most notably to Communist party, on other side stressing the need for a drastically new social model and a purging of the past (Foster et al. 369). In this context it is not surprising that Jean Dubuffet’s 1946 exhibit, “Mirobolus, Macadam & Cie, Hautes Pates”, was met with heavy criticism. His works defied both the progressive utopian ideals of the Communist agenda and artistic aesthesis of the traditionalists. His work was largely dismissed as an aesthetic of filth, or “scatology”, based in the nihilistic traditions of the European Dada (Foster et al. 369). A more contemporary interpretation, attempts to validate the work of Dubuffet and its social relevance, as an idealistic style that paralleled the Communist desire for “epuration” through a revaluation of beauty and a rebirth in nature (Foster et al. 369-371). Both interpretations of Dubuffet’s work, either as the continuation of Dada nihilism or as the misunderstood idealist, are somewhat inconsistent with his own prescribed ideals as defined in his “Anticultural Positions”. While his writings reflect a desire for rebirth, a “rehabilitation of the mud”, they also reflect a pessimistic view of the nature of mankind. He doesn’t prescribe a utopian ideal of peace and progress, but rather an acceptance of the savage nature of mankind that lies beneath the shallow

“After Dadaism. He most certainly not a Neo-Plasticist. While Mondrian stressed reason and logic. Dubuffet more closely aligns with the traditions of Piet Mondrian than those of the Dada. positions him within an idealistic tradition rather than the nihilistic continuum of the Dada. Dubuffet’s professed opposition to the rational and the logic only furthered this interpretation. as defined by himself. here is Cacism. neither fits neatly into the nihilist traditions of Dada.façade of civility. is . 369) This statement was more than a somewhat crude play on words. and in painting as a visual language able to express and reveal deeper truths. Dubuffet’s fundamental motivations were innately different. seemed to aesthetically reflect the same anti-art attitude of the Dada. A more contemporary interpretation seems to favor the notion of Dubuffet as a misunderstood idealist. Works such as Volonte de Puissance (1948). Hautes Pates”. like Dubuffet’s. was to reveal what he believed to be the essential order of the world. Dubuffet’s belief in an essential order and the expressive potential of the canvas. Dada. With his belief in a universal fundamental order. provided an easy source for comparison to the work of Dubuffet. it was an interpretation of Dubuffet as a continuation of the antiidealistic traditions of the European Dada movement. geometry and balanced. While in many ways resembling the precepts of Dada. Dada was a movement of destruction of order towards chaos and anarchy while Dubuffet’s desire to obliterate tradition was a means of revealing an underlying truth. as a post war reaction that espoused anti-establishment and anti-traditional values. His fondness for “dirty things”. dismissed as vulgarity by his critics. In response to Dubuffet’s “Mirobolus. nor those of utopian idealism. Dubuffet. his fundamental intent. universal and immediate form of expression is also found in Dubuffet’s “Anticultural Positions” (196-197).” (Foster et al. Henri Jeanson announced. Mondrian’s notion of the medium of painting a means of true. Macadam & Cie.

knowledge and revelation. the “dirty things” of the earth that so revolted modern society. in infinite number. and reveal. and contempt for. and new values not yet perceived. which ascribed arbitrary value onto certain things and while cheapening others.”(Dubuffet 197). He believed that primitive art held potential to “endow man with new myths and new mystics. unsuspected aspects of things. thereby. 371). as a tool for expression. The idea that there were beautiful things and ugly things was an ever changing and inconsistent standard. the things with which throughout his life he shared a closeness (Foster et al. He believed there to be an underlying order to be found in the “stuff and noise of the real” (Foster et al. 371). art could return to its more meaningful purpose. Dubuffet criticized the Western world’s perceived detachment. 371). were the things that should be the cherished most. Dubuffet’s idealistic notion of rebirth through his art as a more contemporary interpretation notes. He asserted that the Occident’s insistence on designating value though a standard beauty was inherently flawed. . the natural world (Dubuffet 192-194). In his interpretation there were no beautiful things and no ugly things. His desire to “rehabilitate the mud” was an intention to return to more primitive artistic traditions as a means for a rebirth (Foster et al. 367-371). His works reflected these natural forms and materials which he believed to be intrinsically more truthful. By abandoning the pursuit of the “beautiful”. Dubuffet saw the concept of beauty to be an entirely artificial construct. becomes ironically very much in line with the fundamental intentions of “epuration” of the Communist party (Foster et al. 371).presented as representing his more idealistic intentions. imposed by society. His aesthetic of filth reflects his reevaluation of the notion of beauty and worth (Foster et al. They were man’s most constant companions. pleasing aesthetics bared no relation to value (Dubuffet 195-196).

they are savages. is an interpretation of Dubuffet’s admiration of Art Brut (Foster et al. purer in form and “unscathed by artistic culture” (Foster et al. the grotesque distortions he so valued. impulse and passion as a utopian ideal. yet in reality.Both the more contemporary interpretation and that of Henri Jeanson seem based upon Dubuffet’s “scatology” in terms of his crude forms and materials. choosing to interpret the brutality and violence of war as a purer form of human nature rather than a defect. He compares Western culture to a coat that no longer fits (Dubuffet 192). rather. a return to the natural order is an acceptance of these primal urges. His vision of rebirth and the return to natural order does not culminate in a peaceful harmony for humanity. 371). were the result of a scarred psyche. What neither seems to address is that beyond the thick impasto smears and ruddy colors lies an inherent aggressiveness. While Dubuffet presents this violence. Dubuffet’s figures are not just primitive. it is hard to not interpret it as a reflection of post war disillusionment and pessimism. Expanding this interpretation to the broader context of Dubuffet’s work could serve to explain his paradoxically pessimistic idealism. His idealism seems paradoxically cynical and disenchanted. it reflects a somewhat pessimistic view of man as a beast of passions and violence. madness. 371). His rebirth is simply the relinquishment of any pretence of being more than brutes. He perceived the psychotic as being closer to truth. violence [and] madness” (Dubuffet 192). as a no longer valid façade society insists on maintaining while in reality acting as savages. Perhaps relevant to understanding Dubuffet’s pessimistic idealism. mood. it is impossibility. passion. . Man is inherently a savage. ruled by the “instinct. A more modern opinion posits that this contradicts the reality of psychosis which is largely a result of trauma. Dubuffet saw purity in the work of the insane. Peace is not an ideal to strive for.

guilt or shame.becomes a means of rationalization and acceptance. Print. something inevitably human. Art Since 1900: Modernism. Works Cited: Foster. et al. elaborated thought." Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. logic. Postmodernism. New York: Thames & Hudson. he is neither truly a nihilist nor an idealist. Peter Selz. artistic tradition. analysis and written language (194-195). Print. 192-197. . Kristine Stiles. interpretations of others or even his own words is fundamentally contradictory to his intentions and thus more or less irrelevant. then there’s no need for blame. It seems impossible to succinctly categorize the work of Dubuffet. If savagery is simply part of the natural order. Jean. optimistic or pessimistic. Antimodernism. 2011. Hal. Ed. Dubuffet effectively negates the legitimacy of any interpretation. Dubuffet. but also the validity of reason. "Anticultural Positions. Berkeley: University of California Press. Any attempt to understand or categorize his work through historic context. In “Anticultural Positions” he not only condemns the concepts of civilized society and beauty. 1996. formal ideas. Perhaps most frustrating of all is in searching for a concrete understanding of his motivations and methodology.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful