Before beginning I must say that speaking on art is extremely difficult, for there are many kinds of views upon it and nearly every opinion can be the right one. I personally must say that I have no opinion on art at all, or better that my opinion on art is always changing. As I want to be a painter myself, I am within the stream, within the current of art and therefore I cannot have the whole outsider's view on art. All that I can do therefore is to raise the problems that occupy me, but I am not able to solve them.
Therefore I think it would be best for me to quote the different opinions on art, the opinions of the artists themselves, the opinions of the outsiders of art, and then my own opinion.
In the public, that is to say in the non art-creating world, there are in general two views, two opinions on art that are especially and strikingly opposed.
1st: art must only give copies true to nature.
2nd: art must be expressive.
According to the first point of view art has only to give a true picture of the facts, a true picture of the reality. These people say art must be comprehensible and easy to understand. To their minds a picture is better, the more resemblance it has to the model, or to the painted object.
As for me, I must say that this opinion is entirely unfounded. Pictures that are made in such a way are nothing but photographs. Yes, it is true, that in former times painters made pictures true to nature and that they intended to give the pictures the utmost resemblance, but these pictures served only as photos and had no other purpose.
But now, after the invention of photography, it is senseless for artists to paint true to nature. As for the photo, I must say that it can never be a competitor of art.
I think, most of you will find it ridiculous to speak about such things at all, but it is a true and very regrettable fact that the majority of people think that way; art has only to have the aim to depict things in the most resembling way.
But there are still many people who admit they know nothing about art. It is the artist's task to disturb and awaken them.
Real art must be expressive. Real art must give things another sort of life. The aim of art is expression. The function of art is to infect others with the artist's world view. That is to say, while observing a picture of art you must feel something that neither nature nor a picture true to nature can give you. You must get the same feeling in observing a piece of art that the artist had, when he painted the picture. But at any rate you must be overwhelmed, you must get deeply impressed. For in a work of art there must be something supernatural that gives life to figures and things that seem to be dead.
And then there arises one more question, especially among artists: should art be the echo of our own hard life, or should it be the means to flee into another, better world? Should art deal with our problems or be completely separated from our own life? The first standpoint is the following one. Art must fight with us; art must be an ally of mankind. In the world we live in now, the artists cannot paint lovely, picturesque things; it would be betraying the world around us and the artist himself. The world was never so turbulent as just now and art should not escape or flee this world.
Maybe that in a later world, when everything will be settled again, it would be possible again to paint as in former centuries, to paint for mere pleasure and happiness. But now it is impossible, it would be betraying, it would be deceitful.
And then, at last, I will speak about that kind of art, which is to my mind the highest and deepest one, that kind of art that is the real one, of that art, which I fully acknowledge and appreciate. It is the act that wants to flee this world. Pictures of that kind cannot be explained and yet they have the greatest expression. I might say they impress as deeply, as great music does.
In great art there lies a great miracle, but you cannot guess what sort of a miracle. You can simply get a slight feeling of the great, endless depth that art opens before your inner eye. You will never be able to understand fully, especially because great artists don't understand their works themselves and therefore they cannot explain their own works. This seems quite impossible, but yet it is the truth. While working they come to results which are entirely new for them and which are amazing to them even more than others.
And therefore great artists seem to be messengers, ambassadors of another world, may be of a world in strangest colours and forms. But they seem to have not learned the words of the messages correctly and have difficulties in reproducing them. But never, never say, modern art is without God. Modern art has almost entirely the tendency to flee this world. And fleeing means searching, seeking something that is not found as yet, that cannot be found on this earth, that means searching for God. Therefore it is only right to say that modern art is trying to seek or perhaps create God as was never done before, and a greater God too, than all religions of earth claim to have found.
Art is now trying to open a new trend to mankind, is now fighting for a new God and the world does not realise, does not recognise this biggest fight of art, that art is undertaking for mankind. Great things are happening just now. I think, every great modern artist is a prophet who precedes great new things that has to come soon. And it is either a misunderstanding, or very mean and shameful, but at any rate very grieving to the artists that people call this great battle crazy, mad or even insane.
You cannot judge modern art and say, this is good and this is bad. This will be the task of future generations. But one thing can be said: a contemporary picture, that looks as if nothing is going on in the world, is no work of art. And therefore, as I pointed out, is it impossible for art to act according to people's satisfaction. It is the duty of art to lead us to another region, though against our will.
And therefore let us keep the liberty, the full freedom for art, and give art the means for continuing the fight for that new, great, unknown Something.


Speech held at the Leopoldskron castle, January 1949

Published in:

Hundertwasser. New York: Parkstone Press International, 2008, pp. 55-56