"Some Parallels in Words and Pictures"
There is nothing like a good quote to launch remarks on a subject as freighted as “visual arts and literature,” so here goes. This one is from André Breton:
“The whole point for surrealism was to convince ourselves that we had grasped the ‘prime matter’ (in the alchemical sense) of language.”
I’ve been collecting these gems for years. They are scattered through recent cultural history like seeds. There isn’t a participant—I shall call us all participants as distinguished from those who are not intimately involved in the creative process—who hasn’t made a stab at the definitive statement about art’s relation to literature. The subject has been chewed like a bone, albeit not contentiously, by poets, prose-writers, philosophers, painters and their partisans, all of whom are ineluctably related, like cousins whose resemblance lies in a passion for the communication of truths.
The general conclusions are (1) that visual art is necessary (2) that it is the true reflection of the human soul (3) that it goes hand in hand with the written word. The same three truisms hold by transposing “visual art” and “the written word”….
That what takes place in an artist’s studio is all craft may be what many people think who haven’t been there. Surely there are few, if any artists no matter how conceptual whose mental baggage is without referral. Referral to something read, thus something envisioned from that reading, a shape, a color, a sign, provoked by the works. For me surrealism was condonement for what I had been painting and a spur to do it better, to go farther. I am, moreover, perfectly sure that its impact on American artists and writers was general, in varying degrees, not just on those painters who rushed to conclusions about the surreal by painting landscapes bristling with incongruous objects; or on young poets wading in swamps of chaotic words.
Am I a surrealist? Am I a sophist, a Buddhist, a Zoroastrian? Am I an extremist, an alchemist, a contortionist, a mythologist, a fantasist, a humorist? Must we artists bow our heads and accept a label, without which we do not exist? The underlying ideas of surrealism are still very much with me. They are in the backs of a lot of other minds too, even in those so young as to have known only the records, the hearsay, the debris. But I have no label except artist….
–excerpts, pp. 167, 169-171.