‘Painting and the Problem of Architecture’ by Kazimir Malevich (1928)

Extracts from “Painting and the Problem of Architecture”

Kazimir Malevich
Nova generatsiia
Vol. 3, №. 2 (1928)

If we examine the painting of the first quarter of the 20 century we immediately notice two trends: “objective” and “non-objective.” In the “non-objective” stages one is not dealing with the representation of phenomena “as such,” but with the communication of definite sensations which exist in the phenomenal world.

In the “non-objective” stages there comes to the fore the question of creating the “forming element” with which to communicate sensations. Thus the problem of form arises only in the new “non-objective” art. This is why the “non-objective” arts have had to rid themselves of the contents of various ideologies and also of the entire material side of everyday life, the system of which has been developing on a basis harmful to painting. Thus, for example, the table, house, motor, wedding, marriage did not develop as a result of people’s perceiving life artistically and expressing elements of this perception, as a revelation of artistic Weltempfang, in the form of a table. The table, in common with all objects of a technical purpose, has practical utilitarian functions, and therefore the content of such objects is functionality; and all the elements of the world’s material constitute a firm functional order. Thus the system of artistic perception of the functional order of the object may happen not to correspond to the artistic perception of the object, as one is dealing not with the functional content of a table but with its artistic content. The critics have regarded this trend as “abstract,” at the basis of “abstract” art, parting from practical, concrete life.

To this “non-objective” type belongs Suprematism. The problem of form has played and still plays an immense part in Suprematist art. Without it, it is impossible to reveal any of the elements of perception: color, dynamic, static, mechanical, motive, etc. It can thus be seen that the first essential is to create one objective element of form, with the help of which one can express perceptions by changing the relation of one to another. Thus in Suprematism there exists an element which has various names depending on circumstances. For example: the invariable forming, the supplementary forming, the deforming. It is called deforming if the relations of the elements in Cubism are reconstructed into Suprematism. Each such term expresses an action of some kind.

Art and the functional side of utilitarian life will not merge into one image or form. They are two entirely different human functions. Today we can create a building in the form of antique architecture, without regard for the fact that the functional side of life has changed. The examples of antique architecture which have been preserved speak of their great art but do not speak of the functional perfection of life of those that lived in them. The value of art is great, not because the functional side of life played a part in it, but because this form of pure art is now set aside from life and preserved in museums, as a non-objective, invariable treasury of art as such. One can say that the unchanging values of forms of art is the only thing that continues to be valued regardless of changes in economic conditions.

If the functional side of life had an influence upon the form of art, then with a decline in the quality of the functional side of life the form of art would also experience a decline. But in reality the opposite occurs: the functions of the majority of sides disappear, but art retains its value unchanged. Museum collections, where are concentrated all forms of human expression, testify to this: the form of art and the form of utilitarian functions are quite different. From the comparison we see that the forms like art will be valued today, whilst the others will merely have the value of human imperfection. Thus all that is created by art remains for ever, and neither time nor new types of social relations can alter it. Art liberated in museums from utilitarian functions lives on and maintains an unbroken link with humanity at all stages of its existence.

We have the idea that art is something that gives form to the functional side of life. It is as though art were an actor, playing some figure from life. This conception is false since it is impossible to form any function of life: forming it we do not really form it but merely place it in an order established by some form of art. For this reason objects like chairs, tables, crystalware, porcelain, etc. are preserved in museums, because some function is contained in them and not because they are examples of artistic form. The museum preserves not their utilitarian but their artistic function. The artist does not design the functional side of life, but his perception of a function of life: for example, Dynamic Futurism is the perception of a whole series of movements.

Not without reason is art divided into two types: applied and pure art. The role of applied art was intended to be to give form to objects of utilitarian character making them both “pleasant” and “useful.” If art of the highest order, that is to say pure art, formed utilitarian functions then these functions could be done away with by the establishment of elements of pure art. (For example the pure type of Cubism). There would result not a utilitarian object but a work of art — to be examined but not touched by hand. From such a division one can see that man makes various attempts to embellish the function of utilitarian form, so that in addition to its utilitarian purpose it may also have artistic value. But unfortunately this is impossible to attain, since only that which cannot be touched can be sacred. If one were to remove from the utilitarian-artistic objects in museums their artistic form one would have to the remaining skeleton of pure purpose. From this example we see that art cannot be applied to or combined with utilitarianism resulting from human economic relations.

The influence of economic, political, religious, and utilitarian phenomena on art is the disease of art. At some stage the evaluation of art from the viewpoint of economic conditions will cease, and then the whole of life will be seen from the viewpoint of art, constant and invariable. And it is only from such a viewpoint that we can create constant objects, i.e. “the world as an unchanging complex of elements.