on June 15, 2000
Subtitled "While Strolling from the Country to the City," this trialogue presents Mondrian's idealistic theories regarding art and life as a narrative occurring in real time rather than as a manifesto. The participants are identified only as "Y," a layman; "X", a naturalistic painter, and "Z," an abstract-real painter, obviously Mondrian himself. Taking place at six sites in the countryside at night while observing various natural and manmade phenomena, the trio discuss the relationship between art and life, and naturalistic vs. abstract art, finally ending in the studio of Z. The discussion is a re-working of Mondrian's ideas already presented in the previous essays "The New Plastic in Painting" (1917) and "Dialogue on the New Plastic" (1919).
Mondrian's clever use of the conversational format serves a dual purpose - it is his attempt to convince the world at large, represented by the layman and the naturalistic painter, of the necessity for the new in art (specifically Mondrian's own); and presents in written form the contrast of opposites so necessary in Mondrian's painting, the pairing of the naturalistic art (the "tragic") with abstraction (the "universal").
- or tries to. This brief book is a socratic conversation between three speakers: Mondrian's representative of the new, an agent of the old, and the naif in need of explanations.
The translator's notes quote Mondrian, in some other context, as saying that "writers are the worst criminals." Mondrian goes on to prove that in the example his own writing. The tone is strident and authorative. The line of development, however, has no apparent basis in logical reasoning. To my eye, it is barely comprehensible. (The two brief 'stream of consciousness' pieces at the end border on gibberish.)
As near as I can tell, Mondrian uses this book to predict some Edenic future where the arts have mostly passed away as separate activities. Instead, artistic expression would be fully integrated into the acts and artifacts of daily life. (OK, I'll go along with that.) He further insists that individual personality would be excised from art, replaced by self-working laws of esthetics and balance, somehow defined by the 'spirit of the times'. This writing dates from the era (1919-1920) when Bauhaus thinking was being developed and deployed, so I'm not surprised to hear Mondrian echo what was being said elsewhere.
What left me baffled, however, was a pair of assertions. First was that the new kind of vision was developing in the world, with historical inevitability, the vision that Mondrian attempted to explain. Second was that only a new kind of man (women were not named) would be able to share in this sensibility. It seemed that an esthetic that did not yet exist would be expressed only by a species that did not yet exist. Huh?
I did not pick this book up to be swayed by its logic or commentary. If I had, I would have been disappointed. Instead, I wanted to see the words actually set down by one of the twentieth century's influential thinkers, and I succeeded in that.
'Natural Reality' is fascinating as a historical document and as an exercise in rhetoric. Just don't expect to learn much about art from it.