Synthetic Main Ideas

The modern movement in art starts with Cezanne who was trying to be objective while others weren’t. Why weren’t others being objective? Interpretation which included perspective, but that doesn’t show us reality. Cezanne wasn’t worried about others failures and thought he would succeed in being objective.

There is no doubt that what we call the modern movement in art begins with the single-minded determination of a French painter to see the world objectively. There need be no mystery about this word: what Cézanne wished to see was the world, or that part of it he was contemplating, as an object, without any intervention either of the tidy mind or the untidy emotions. His immediate predecessors, the Impressionists, had seen the world subjectively-that is to say, as it presented itself to their senses in various lights, or from various points of view. Each occasion made a different and distinct impression on their senses, and for each occasion there must necessarily be a separate work of art. But Cézanne wished to exclude this shimmering and ambiguous surface of things and penetrate to the reality that did not change, that was present beneath the bright but deceptive picture presented by the kaleidoscope of the senses.

Great revolutionary leaders are people with a single and a simple idea, and it is the very persistency with which they pursue this idea that endows it with power. But let us ask why, in the long history of art, it had never previously happened that an artist should wish to see the world objectively. We know, for example, that at various stages in the history of art there have been attempts to make art “imitative”; and not only Greek and Roman art, but the Renaissance of Classical art in Europe, were periods of art possessed by a desire to represent the world “as it really is.” But there always intervened between the visual event and the act of realizing the vision an activity which we can only call interpretative. This intervention seemed to be made necessary by the very nature of perception, which does not present to the senses a flat two-dimensional picture with precise boundaries but a central focus with a periphery of vaguely apprehended and seemingly distorted objects. The artist might focus on a single object, say a human figure or even a human face; but even then there were problems such as that of representing the solidity of the object, its place in space.

In every instance before Cézanne, in order to solve such problems the artist brought in extra-visual faculties-imagination, which enabled the artist to transform the objects of the visible world and thus to create an ideal space occupied by ideal forms; or intellect, which enabled the artist to construct a scientific chart, a perspective, in which the object could be given an exact situation. But a system of perspective is no more an accurate representation of what the eye sees than a Mercator’s projection is what the world looks like from Sirius. Like the map, it serves to guide the intellect; perspective does not give us any glimpse of the reality.

One might conclude from the history of art that reality in this sense is a will-o’-the-wisp, an actuality we can see but never grasp. Nature, as we say, is one thing, art quite another. But Cézanne, though he was familiar with the “art of the museums” and respected the attempts of his predecessors to come to terms with nature, did not despair of succeeding where they had failed-that is to say, in “realizing” his sensations in the presence of nature.