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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

APPROACHES - In The Words Of . . . .

From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988.

Georges Mathieu

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Sign Comes Before Meaning
1951 - Writings and Theories

A youthful, cavorting master of Lyrical Absractionism, Georges Mathieu, at age thirty, is also a brilliant theoretician whom no modern scientific, psychological, or linguistic notion escapes. Skipping over the Renaissance, he believes that painting today is undergoing its most radical revolution since the time of classical Greece in that, from now on, the sign will precede meaning--something never before seen in the history of art. Descriptive or allusive figuration is over, gone are the days of Automatic Writing so dear to the Surrealists and later adopted in the United States by Hans Hofmann and Jackson Pollock. We must start all over on different premises. The text that follows has never been published before.

Just as there are approximations such as empty and full, permeable and watertight, light and dense, which are of some convenience in communication, so, it seems, there are two possible and rather decisive aspects of the means of expression: poetic and significant.

Through an almost total devaluation of the poetic, these two aspects, which were once intimately bond up, are in certain extreme current approaches completely separated.

The poetic, being irrepressible, had to take refuge in a sort of atonal superpoetic in order to find, in our Western mentality, a few traces of justification. It allowed the signifier to invade almost every area [even its own] at the expense of any secondary gratuitousness. This signifier, for its part, can no longer merely signify: it attempts to transcend meaning in order to attain effectiveness.

It has been stated elsewhere how much potential had been restored to the sign by the Gestalt theoreticians: There is no longer any need to make references to a previous sign in order to explain effectiveness--the fact that it existed is sufficient. The phenomenon of meaning is bursting forth: From now on, effectiveness would issue from the sign and not the signified. If this theory can be applied to figurative works, it is the only one to recognize the power of nonfigurative signs to convey meaning.

Indeed, in a figurative work, effectiveness enters into in the relationships of the signified, as signs are tainted with references that prevent them from acting autonomously and directly. In the nonfigurative work, on the contrary, the signs are not charged with resonances of "departure" or acquired resonances. Therefore, if they are effective, they have only themselves to thank . . .

The laws of semantics are suddenly reversed: Until now, given a thing, a sign was invented for it. From now on, given a sign, it will be viable and hence a veritable sign if it finds its incarnation.

Georges Mathieu, Note sur le poétique et le signifiant

[An Exerpt From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988. p. 488]




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