We have spoken of Art while making use of the example of painting. Let us now speak of painting while making use of what we have said about Art. Each of the senses has its art.
Painting is the Art of the sense of sight. One sees space and surface. The Art of the sight of space or of a form enclosed by Space is sculpture. The art of the sight of space or of a form enclosed in Space is architecture.
(This is why one sees only the space closed by the surface of the statue, whereas one can also see the space enclosed within the surface of a building: one does not enter a statue.) The Art of the sight of the surface is painting.
The statue is a space closed by the surface. The tableau is only surface. That is why the tableau is essentially flat. Not the canvas (which can be concave or convex, etc.), but the tableau as tableau.
Generally, the tableau “represents” a space, that is, a statue (living or not) or a building (artificial or natural). In it, then, there is “perspective,” depth. But the maintenance [maintien] of the tableau, which is to say the beauty of the tableau, which is to say the tableau as tableau or work of art, does not depend on this “depth” that it “represents.” The law of its maintenance is realized in two dimensions only: it is in the plane [plan] and only in the plane that the balance affecting its maintenance or, rather, that is its maintenance—which is to say its beauty, its artistic value—is brought about: the balance of forms and colors.
The beauty of the tableau is thus the beauty of the single surface, that is, of what remains of the beauty of a body if one suppresses its extension in depth. If nothing remains, the body cannot be painted, even while it could be sculpted, for example. The Art of painting is, therefore, the art of making a surface that has a reason for being in-by-and-for-itself, which has a value solely because it is and [which] can be sustained [se maintenir] without needing the existence of something external to it. Clearly it is only the tableau that can exist wholly on such a pure, flat surface, for the canvas necessarily has depth.6 Note that a white plane, or a black one, or one covered in a uniform color, exists as a plane without depth only insofar as it is considered as a tableau. Without doubt, it can be so considered: a uniformly black sheet is a tableau, and only man can make a uniform black sheet, nature having made nothing uniform. A museum consisting exclusively of sheets covered in different uniform colors would be, without a doubt, a museum of paintings [peintures]: and each of these paintings would be beautiful—and even absolutely beautiful—independent of whether or not it was “pretty,” which is to say, “pleasing” to some and “displeasing” to others.
But uniform coloration does not exhaust the Art of painting. One again has tableaux if one divides the uniform surface with strokes of another uniform color, these strokes serving only to divide the surface: such tableaux are called drawings. And one also has tableaux if one inserts into a uniform surface other uniform surfaces of different colors (which can be of any dimensions whatsoever and can completely cover the original surface): these tableaux are called paintings. One can also make colored drawings, if one accentuates the division of the uniform surface by assigning different colors to the different parts of the divided surface (i.e., of the drawing). Finally, one can make a drawn painting if the inserted surfaces are surfaces of a single color, different only in the intensity of that color.7
These four types exhaust the possibilities of painting. But the possibilities of these four types are practically infinite.
Still, there will be—in all of these types—tableaux, which is to say works of Art or instances of pure incarnated Beauty only if the manufactured flat surface manages to be sustained [se maintenir] in-by-and-for-itself, thus having a value by the simple fact of its being.8 The man who makes a beautiful flat surface is a painter who has made a tableau: the one who has not succeeded in doing that has only managed to dirty a bit of paper or some other thing.
In order to explain the beauty of the surface of a body, that is to say, of its visual aspect, which, being closed to the body in three dimensions, is independent of its extension in depth—in other words, in order to explain a tableau—we will use an example borrowed from the domain of the nonartistic Beautiful.9
A woman’s breast can be beautiful (even without being “pretty” or “pleasing”). In this case, we attribute a value to the simple fact of its being, independent of its belonging completely to the body and to the universe, independent also of its “utility,” of the fact that it can, for example, appease the hunger of an infant or the sexual desire of a man. But the Beautiful incarnated in this breast—taken as the visual Beautiful—can be revealed in its three aspects of the architectural, the sculptural, and the pictorial Beautiful.
The architectural aspect, that is, the beautiful of the space contained by the surface, cannot—it is true—be seen in the proper sense of the term (one cannot enter to see the interior). But touch here can play the role of sight: the hand can transmit to us the Beautiful of the space limited by its skin. (The Beautiful in question here—and which the hand transmits to us—is not that of touch, but something completely different; it is the Beautiful of the geometric form of solid [plein] space become beautiful because it is a breast.) As for sight itself, it reveals to us above all the sculptural Beautiful, that is, the form contained in the surrounding space, form in the everyday sense of the term, which—although three-dimensional—does not evoke the interior, covered and forever hidden by the surface. In short, vision will make us see the Beautiful of the surface itself, that is to say, the beautiful of the skin of the breast or, more exactly, of its visual aspect. The Beautiful is incarnated in the skin, which follows the form of the breast. But this Beautiful is absolutely independent of that form, which is why it can be preserved as such [être maintenu tel quel] in being incarnated in a flat surface. And it is only this flat visual surface of the skin that is a pictorial value.
The painter who paints the Beautiful of the breast extracts what exists in-by-and-for-itself [extrait le maintien en-par-et-pour-soi] from the composing planes of the visual aspect, and from them alone. His painting can certainly also “reproduce” the form of the breast, but—in doing so—it will have no pictorial value. The painting can reproduce the sculpture and architecture of the breast, and this reproduction cannot harm its pictorial value. But if the painting does nothing but reproduce the sculpture and the architecture, it will not be a tableau: it will be a “photograph,” that is, a reproduction without proper artistic value, of a “sculpture” (colored or not) or of an architecture reproducing (artistically or not) the sculptural and the architectural Beautiful of the breast: the pictorial Beautiful will remain un-“reproduced.” And in this case it would be better to employ a sculptor (who can, if he wants, color his statue) without making a tableau at all. (This is why a painter will relinquish to the sculptor the model with breasts of impeccable form but skin that does not embody the Beautiful.)
In sum: the Art of painting is the art of creating—or of extracting from the real—two-dimensional visual aspects that are sustained [se maintiennent] in-by-and-for-themselves and that, as a result, are solely because they have a value, and have a value solely because they are.
6. The manuscript reads: “Il est évident que c’est seulement le tableau qui peut être en tant pure surface plane seulement, car la toile ne peut pas être sans profondeur”—rather than “en profondeur,” as it appears in the Roth and paperback editions of the essay.
7. This entire paragraph (which may strike us as fairly digressive in the present context) picks up the thread of an argument about the role of line in painting that had animated much of Kandinsky’s Punkt und Linie zu Fläche. See especially PLP, 634, where Kandinsky complains of a common “conceptual confusion,” in which “what belongs together (in the present case, painting and graphics) is painstakingly divorced. Line is here reckoned as a ‘graphic’ element that may not be employed for ‘painterly’ ends, although no essential difference between ‘graphics’ and ‘painting’ can be found.”
8. When the essay was published in Les Cahiers du Musée national, it included a mis-transcription of this sentence. The “il n’y aura—dans tous ces types—des tableaux” of the manuscript was printed as “il n’y a âme dans tous ces types de tableaux.” The mistake seems similar in kind to the one mentioned previously (see n3), in the version of the essay published in Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale—though now the result is rather less Hegelian. Presumably this projection of “soul” (âme) onto Kojève’s essay is an indirect consequence of the strongly “spiritualist” cast of so much of the Kandinsky scholarship.
9. No doubt there is plenty to be said about Kojève’s chosen example of the “nonartistically Beautiful”: a woman’s breast. Perhaps it will suffice here to say that the example is, obviously, highly overdetermined and, although clearly meant to demonstrate non-desirous contemplation (via the scholarly, authorial tone Kojève assumes throughout), somehow falls short of that goal.