Theo van Doesburg

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photo of Theo van Doesburg in Davos, January 1932

Theo van Doesburg (30 August 1883 – 7 March 1931) was a Dutch artist, practicing in painting, writing, poetry and architecture. He is best known as the founder and leader of De Stijl together with Piet Mondrian. Later he engaged himself more with Dadaism, in cooperation with Kurt Schwitters and Hans Arp.

Quotes of Theo van Doesburg[edit]

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes of Theo Van Doesburg
Van Doesburg, 1905: 'Summer-Dream', chalk and brown watercolor on paper; location: Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, 1906: 'Self-portrait with Hat', oil-painting on canvas mounted on panel; location: Museum De Lakenhal Leiden, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, c. 1912: 'Dunes and Sea', oil-painting on canvas; location: Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, 1913: 'Mouvement héroïque', pastel sketch on paper; location: Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, 1914: 'Girl with Buttercups', oil-painting on canvas; location: Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, c. 1915: 'Self-portrait', oil-painting on canvas; location unknown
Van Doesburg, c. 1915: 'Composition', pastel on black paper; location: Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, 1915: 'Composition with two Oval Forms' - (page from his sketch-book, which front-cover is dated, 1915, Utrecht; pencil and pastel on paper; location: Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, c. 1916: 'Sphere', oil on canvas mounted on plywood
Van Doesburg, c. 1917: 'Study for Russian Dance' ink-drawing
Van Doesburg, 1917: 'Abstraction of a city-view' - (from sketchbook 13), pencil sketch on paper; location: Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands
photo of Van Doesburg in his studio (with one of his recent paintings on the background), with Lena Milius; in Leiden, The Netherlands, 1917
Van Doesburg, 1917-18: 'no title', brick mosaic, detail - in the walls of 'De Vonk' vacation hostel, in Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands, designed by architect J.J.P. Oud.
Van Doesburg, 1918: 'Study for Composition VIII' (The Cow)
Van Doesburg, 1918: 'Composition VIII' (The Cow)
Van Doesburg, May/June 1920: 'Composition XVIII in Three Parts', oli-painting on canvas; location: Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, 1920: 'Composition XX', oil-painting on canvas; location: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum Madrid
Van Doesburg, Aug. 1921: 'Harmony 1. / Harmonie 1.', collage and gouache on textile; location unknown
Van Doesburg, 1922: 'Poster for Small Dada Soirée', printed poster; location: Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands
Van Doesburg, 1 February, 1922: advertisement for 'Grand Dada Night' 14 February, in Leiden, The Netherlands - involved artists: Kurt Schwitters, Mrs. Petro (Nellie) van Doesburg, Theo van Doesburg, Huszar.
Van Doesburg, Summer 1923: 'Basic Principle of sculpture', later printed in the magazine 'Architectura', Vol. 27, pp. 200-204
photo of Van Doesburg (with pipe) and Dutch architect Van Eesteren, working together on their architectural models in their studio in Paris. 1923
I.K. Bonset (= Van Doesburg), c. 1925: 'Construction I', collage and ink on paper; location: Kunsthaus Zürich, graphic collection
Van Doesburg, 1925-26: 'Counter composition XIII', oil-painting on canvas; location: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Van Doesburg, February-October 1927: 'Final colour design for the wall - Small Ballroom side - of the Ciné-Dancing of the Aubette in Strasbourg
photo of Theo van Doesburg in the Aubette in Strasbourg, 1927. Between 1926 and 1928 the Aubette was re-decorated by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hans Arp and Theo van Doesburg
Van Doesburg, 1927; design for the Aubette

1912 – 1919[edit]

  • [ Futurism's] ..superficial expression of velocity, the aeroplane, the racing-car and so on, is but a weak expression of the inner velocity of thought compared to which the velocity of radium represents nothing but inertia.. .The mimetic expression of velocity (whatever its form may be: the aeroplane, the automobile, and so on) is diametrically opposed to the character of painting, the supreme origin of which is to be found in inner life.
    • Quote from Dutch art-magazine: 'Eenheid' (Dutch, for Unity) no. 127, 9 November 1912; as cited in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 16
  • The problem which Mondrian undertook to solve in nr. 116 [a new painting of Mondrian, exhibited in a group-exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in 1915 in Amsterdam] was handled very successfully. This work spiritually dominates all others. It gives the impression of Repose; the repose of the soul. Its predetermined structure embodies 'becoming' rather than 'being'. This represents a true element in art, for art is not 'being', but 'becoming'. The idea of 'becoming' has been expressed in black and white.. ..Through years of hard work my own experiences have led me, before I came to know the theories of Uexkuell or Picasso, to prefer the use of the white-black-grey palette in works of a purely spiritual content...
    • Quote from Dutch art-magazine: 'Eenheid' (in Dutch: Unity) no. 283, 6 November 1915; as quoted in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 105
  • Piet Mondrian realizes the importance of line. The line has almost become a work of art in itself; one can not play with it when the representation of objects perceived was all-important. The white canvas is almost solemn. Each superfluous line, each wrongly placed line, any color placed without veneration or care, can spoil everything – that is, the spiritual.
    • Quote from 'Eenheid' [Dutch art-magazine] no. 283, 6 November 1915; as quoted in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, pp. 105–106
  • For – to say a few words on technique – whereas the curved line was used predominantly for reasons of beauty, (Phidias, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens) it has been used more and more economically for reasons of truth (Millet, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne) until it will end as the straight line for reasons of Love. This will enable the art of the future to create an international form; a form understandable to all and vital enough to the expression of a general feeling of love in a monumental way. Such is the future.
    • Quote from 'Onafhankelijke bespiegelingen over de kunst', by Theo van Doesburg, in the Dutch journal De Avondpost 23 January 1916
  • Since all preceding schools of painting have proved that the spirit of beauty does not lie in nature but in the 'I', now that painting in all its various expressions from Giotto to Cézanne has demonstrated that all beauty is in the 'I', that the 'I' is all emotion and that beyond the 'I' nothing can exist because all being exists only in relationship with the 'I', now the time has come to develop from this 'I' a new style. As soon as this 'I' becomes the general, universal 'I' instead of the individualistic or the rationalistic one, the new style will be a general style.
    • from his article: 'The new style in painting', in the Dutch journal 'De Avondpost', 2 May 1916
    • this quote of Van Doesburg is announcing more or less De Stijl movement as a general modern art style
  • European art [however] has developed from mimetic-ism and only today is arriving at an elementary plastic art.
    • Quote from van Doesburg's article: 'Great Masters of Art' in Dutch art-magazine Eenheid no. 357, 7 April 1917
    • with elementary plastic art Van Doesburg meant an art without representation (mimetic) any longer]
  • However, Man as the appearance of utmost internality, of spirit, does not possess any point in front, at the side or the back, no fixed point at all towards which he could define a dimension. This explains why in expressing the spiritual, in making spirit an artifact, he will be forced to a moto-stereometric form of expression. This moto-stereometric form of expression represents the appearance of a 4-n dimensional world in a world of three dimensions.
    • quote by Van Doesburg, as cited in 'Great Masters of Art' in Eenheid no 392, 8 December 1917
  • ..modern destruction begins where architectural structure is opened up and set into motion by colour relationships. The colour-planes, however, are always in orthogonal relationship.
    • Quote in Van Doesburg's article: 'Aantekeningen bij Bijlage 12 (Notes), De Zaag en de goudvischkom van P.Alma', by Theo van Doesburg; in art-magazine 'De Stijl' 1 8, June 1918, p. 93
  • and life are no longer separate domains.. .The word 'art' no longer has anything to say to us. In place of that, we [=De Stijl-artists ] insist upon the construction of our surroundings according to creative laws, deriving from a fixed principle. (quote of 1918)
    • quoted in Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson 1990, p. 85
  • The development of plastic art is determined by the will to visualize. Art of the past represented the subjective vision of 'naturalistic relationships'. Neoplasticism embodies a subjective vision of 'plastic' relationships.. .Pure thought, which does not signify a concept derived from natural phenomena but which is contained in numbers, measures, relationships and abstract lines, is revealed conceptually (as Reason) by Chinese, Greek and German philosophy, and aesthetically by contemporary Neoplasticism [= De Stijl.
    • Quote in Van Doesburg's art-review, published in: 'Thought – Vision – Creation', in De Stijl Vol ll, 2 December 1918; as quoted in 'Theo van Doesburg', Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, pp. 108–109
  • Perhaps it was his return to Paris [In June 1919 Piet Mondrian returned to Paris] that was needed to provide him with fresh new possibilities in his work. Invigoration. His most recent work is without composition. The division of the picture plane is modular. That means ordinary rectangles, all the same size. The only contrast is in the colour. In my view, this runs counter to his theory concerning the abolition of position and dimension. This is in effect equality of position and dimension.
    • Quote from his letter to the Dutch modern architect Oud, 24 June 1919; as quoted in Mondrian, -The Art of Destruction, Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, p. 126

1920 – 1926[edit]

  • Only a radical cleaning of social and artistic life as, in the domain of art, is already done by Dada, which is anti-sentimental and healthy to the core, since it is anti-art. Only unscrupulously striking down any systematically bred amateurism in any field, can prepare civilization for the 'New Vision's happiness which is greatly and purely alive in a dew people.
    • Quote from Van Doesburg's article: 'Is a Universal Plastic Notion Possible Today?', as cited in 'Bouwkundig weekblad' [a Dutch architectural magazine], XLI 39, 1920, pp. 230–231
    • this quote of Theo van Doesburg is one of his earliest Dada expressions
  • At Weimar [ the Bauhaus art school I have radically overturned everything. This is the famous academy, which now has the most modern teachers! I have talked to the pupils every evening and I have infused the poison of the new spirit everywhere. De Stijl will soon be published again and more radically. I have mountains of strength, and I know now that our notions will be victorious over everyone and everything.’
    • Quote of Van Doesburg, in a letter to B. Koch, 7 January, 1921; as cited in the Stijl Catalogue, 1951, p. 45
  • In all these products, whether iron bridges, locomotives, automobiles, telescopes, cottages, airport-hangars, funicular railways, skyscrapers, or children's toys, the will towards a new style expresses itself. The similarity of these examples to the new creations in art consists in the same striving for clear, pure form which expresses truth in the objects.
    • Quote from 'The will to Style', in Dutch art-magazine De Stijl February-March 1922; as quoted in 'Theo van Doesburg', Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 123
  • Dada is able to mobilize the optical and dimensional static viewpoint which keeps us imprisoned in our [three-dimensional] illusions. Thus it became possible to perceive the entire prism of the world instead of just one facet at a time. In this connection Dada is one of the strongest manifestations of the fourth dimension, transposed onto the subject.. ..Dada is 'yes-no', a bird on four legs, a ladder without steps, a square without angels. Dada possesses as many positives as negatives. To think that Dada simply means destruction is to misunderstand life, of which Dada is the expression.
    • Quote from Van Doesburg's brochure 'What is Dada?????????????????', The Hague, 1923; as quoted in "Theo van Doesburg", Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 134
  • It must be emphasized that in seeing a work of art that has been composed by precise means, the viewer does not perceive dominant details. His impression is one of perfect balance to which all the parts contribute, an impression which not only applies to the parts as such, but is transmitted also to the relation existing between the work of art and the viewer. Although it is very difficult to express in words the effect of a work of art, it may be said that the viewer’s deepest impression can best be defined as the achievement of a balance between objective meaning and subjective meaning, both directly penetrated by awareness. He has a sensation of height and of depth which are no longer in any way bound to natural conditions or to spatial dimensions, a sensation which places the viewer in a state of consciousness harmony. [1922]
    • Quote from 'Grundbegriffe der neuen Gestaltenden Kunst', essay by Van Doesburg (published between 1921-23 in De Stijl) - last Chapter; as quoted in 'Fifty Years of Accomplishment, From Kandinsky to Jackson Pollock', by Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co. 1964, p. 85-86
  • Quite possibly this aesthetic contemplation coincides with religious feeling or with the uplift of the religious spirit, since in a work of art it is the deepest inwardness that expresses itself. It is necessary however, to bear in mind the essential distinction that the contemplation or uplift in art – i. e., the experience of pure art – contains nothing dreamy or vague. It is exactly the contrary; true artistic experience is altogether real and conscious
    • Quote from 'Grundbegriffe der neuen Gestaltenden Kunst', essay by Van Doesburg (published between 1921-23 in De Stijl) - last Chapter; as quoted in 'Fifty Years of Accomplishment, From Kandinsky to Jackson Pollock', by Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co. 1964, p. 86
  • True artistic experience is never passive, for the spectator is obliged to participate, as it were, in the continuous or discontinuous variations of proportions, positions, lines and planes. Moreover, he must see clearly how this play of repeated or non-repeated changes may give rise to a new harmony of relations which will constitute the unity of the work. Every part becomes organized into a whole with the other parts. All the parts contribute to the unity of the composition, none of them assuming a dominant place in the whole.
    • Quote from 'Grundbegriffe der neuen Gestaltenden Kunst', essay by Van Doesburg (published between 1921-23 in De Stijl) - last Chapter; as quoted in 'Fifty Years of Accomplishment, From Kandinsky to Jackson Pollock', by Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co. 1964, p. 86
  • ..a demand which will never be fulfilled as long as artists use individualistic means. 'Unity can only result from disciplining the means, for it is this discipline which produces more generalized means'. The objectification of the means will lead towards elementary, monumental plastic expression. It would be ridiculous to maintain that none of this relates to creative activity. If that were true, art would not be subject to logical discipline.
    • Quote from Van Doesburg's text 'Towards elementary plastic expression', as cited in Material zur elementaren Gestaltung, G-1, July 1923; as quoted in 'Theo van Doesburg', Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 141
  • ..the modern artist can conclude that impulsive and speculative production has come to an end. THE ERA OF DECORATIVE TASTE HAS VANISHED, the artist of today has finished completely with the past. Scientific and technical developments oblige him to draw conclusions.. revise his means, to establish laws creating a system, that is to say, to master his elementary means of expression in a conscious manner.
    • Quote from Van Doesburg's article: 'Towards elementary plastic expression', in 'Material zur elementaren Gestaltung', G-1, July 1923; as quoted in 'Theo van Doesburg', Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 141
  • 'Art' is a Renaissance invention which has been carried to a state of extreme refinement in the present day. This is the so-called 'abstract art'. The production of good works of art was achieved only at the cost of an enormous concentration upon certain matters. This concentration could be achieved only through neglecting 'life', through the very loss of life- just as religion had experienced before. 'Today this situation is no longer tolerable'. Today life is paramount. Modern life in general rejects all tendencies towards isolation and ivory tower-like exclusiveness. It is absolute un-modern to concentrate upon just one thing (as did the middle Ages!) Modern life is based upon the construction, which is to say, upon a system of tensions or the neutralization of the system of carry and support. In agreement with this concept we too must distribute our vitality over the whole range of life taken in the broadest possible sense. All other attitudes towards life produce tragedy.
    • Quote in 'The end of Art', in De Stijl; Theo van Doesburg – series XII, 1924-5, pp. 135–136
  • Art has poisoned our life. Aesthetics has infected everyone.. .If one chooses a typewriter or a sewing machine in the living room, the housewife say: 'Please take it away; it destroys the harmony of the room'. Post-cards, stamps, pouches, railway-tickets, pots umbrellas, towels, pyamas, chairs, blankets, handkerchiefs and ties – everything is 'arty'. How much more refreshing are those articles which are not called art: bathrooms, bath-tubs, bicycles, automobiles, engine-rooms and flat-irons. There are still people who can make beautiful things without art. They are the progressives.
    • Quote of Van Doesburg in his article: 'The end of art'; in 'De Stijl' series XII, 1924-5, pp. 135–136
  • We speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a colour, a surface. [quote of Van Doesburg, c. 1925]
    • quoted in 'Abstract Art', Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson 1990, p. 107
    • Hans Arp used some years earlier already this new term: 'concrete art' as a rejection of the term 'abstract art'

1926 – 1931[edit]

  • Our time has produced a need for contrast. This has been achieved not only in the external appearance of plastic expressions of colour and matter, but also, and chiefly, in the tempo of life and in the techniques related to the daily, mechanical functions of life; namely standing, walking, driving, to lying and sitting – in short, every action which determines the content of architecture.
    • In: 'Painting: from composition towards counter-composition'; in 'Painting and plastic art', De Stijl, series XIII, 73-4, 1926, pp. 17–18
  • The other face. To be
  • He who is above cannot be below / Not to show one’s colours is to be like flotsam / not to be consistent (to be oneself) is not being / inconsistent / but never being true / here all flag-heroism but incite to / being oneself / suffering the consequences of being:/ to be hard to be cold to be cruel / To kill to hurt / to disturb tranquility / to distort harmony / from truly being / that is heroic thing / to be oneself is / being neither under bond nor borrowed nor sold nor hired / to be / means / to be spiritually free
    • lines from his poem 'The other face. To be', I.K, Bonset (= pseudo as writer for Theo van Doesburg); 'De Stijl' Vol. XIII, 75-6, 1926, p. 64
  • Had optical perception not evolved into something more than sensory perception, into super-sensory perception, then the present period would never have had the courage to discover the spiritual in matter. There would have been no fundamental difference between a painting by Picasso [from Picasso's so-called 'abstract' period] and one by Paulus Potter [Dutch painter from the 17th century, famous for his painting of cows]
    • Quote from 'Painting: from composition towards counter-composition'; in 'Painting and plastic art', 'De Stijl' – Theo van Doesburg, series XIII, 1 73-4, 1926, pp. 17–18
  • In addition, 'Elementarism' is real instead of abstract. The use of the term 'abstract' also caused much misunderstanding. This is easily explained.. .As used in connection with visual methods of expression, the term 'abstract' is extremely relative. 'To abstract' something implies one of those mental activities (in contrast to emotional spontaneity) through which certain [aesthetic] values are isolated from the world of reality. However, when such values were realized visually and applied as purely constructive means, they became real. Thus the abstract was transformed into the real, thereby illustrating the relativity of the former term. Hence, the term ‘abstract-real’ [proposed by his former artist-fellow Piet Mondrian,] was a fortunate invention, although in reference to a new orientation [van Doesburg's new art orientation 'Elementarism'] the term 'real' is sufficient. The period of abstraction is at an end. Is not an elementary painting, which is to say a certain composition of plane-linear colours, organic in itself, more concrete...
    • Quote from Van Doesburg's article 'Elementarism as real art', in: 'Painting and plastic art' - Rome, July 1926, in De Stijl', series XIII, 1 75-6, 1926, pp. 35–43
  • Elementarism has been born partly in reaction to an over-dogmatic and often narrow-minded application of NeoPlasticism [a critic on his former artist-companion Piet Mondrian, partly as its consequence but ultimately from what is primarily a radical correction of Neo-plastic ideas. Elementarism rejects the demands of pure statics which led to sterility and to the laming of creative potentialities. Instead of denying Time and Space, Elementarism acknowledge these elements to be the most elementary means for creating a new plastic expression.. .In contrast to the Neo-plastic [= De Stijl] manner of expression, which is restricted to two dimensions [the plane], Elementarism acknowledges a form of plastic expression in four dimensions, the realm of space-time. In opposition to the orthogonal style of plastic expression, which is 'homogeneous' with natural construction, Elementarism postulates a 'heterogeneous' contrasting, unstable manner of plastic expression based upon planes oblique in relation to the static, perpendicular axis of gravitation
    • Quote of van Doesburg, in van 'Painting and plastic art': Elementarism – fragment of a manifesto' Paris, December 1926 – April 1927; in De Stijl, Theo van Doesburg – series XIII, 78, 1926–27, pp. 82–87
  • But the projects with which the architects of Russian proletarian architecture present us are not only based on pure imagination, but their construction would, if they were fitted for realization, entail enormous waste of space and materials. The dwelling complex 'Wolkenbügel' [architecture, designed by Lissitzky, with the help of [ w:Emil Roth - Swiss architect, 1924] (assuming that one could live here without either freezing or melting!), shaped like a 4, stands in a very un-constructive way on three legs in which the elevators are located. The latter take up as much space as would one or more skyscrapers. And these 'architects' are to teach the West what architecture is!
    • Quote of Theo van Doesburg, in Architecture and revolution — Revolutionary architecture? Utopian designs by Tatlin, Lissitzky, and others, Theo van Doesburg, in 'Het Bouwbedrijf' (1928)
  • The plastic expression of space is inconceivable without light. Light and space complete one another. In architecture light represents an element of plastic expression – in fact, the most important one. An organic relationship between 'space' and 'material' is possible only with the aid of light. The highest achievements in architecture can be accomplished only if light also is treated as plastic form.
    • Quote in van Doesburg's article: 'Space – time and colour' in 'De Stijl', Aubette Issue, series xv, 87-9, 1928, pp. 26–27
  • Plastic expression in architecture is inconceivable without colour. Colour and light complete one another. Without colour architecture is expressionless, blind.. .If the Functionalists wish to suppress colour completely, then this merely proves that they never understood the importance of colour as an ‘architectural’ element, as a means of plastic expression, no matter whether used with iron, glass, or concrete.
    • Quote in van Doesburg's his article: 'Space – time and colour', in 'De Stijl', Aubette Issue, series xv, 87-9, 1928, pp. 26–27
  • Gradually we began [ De Stijl-artists in The Netherlands, 1918] to present a closed front. By working there had been created not only a clarity in the collective consciousness of our group, but we had gained a certainty, which made it possible for us to define our collective attitude towards life and to perpetrate it according to the requirements of the period.. .As the world war [ World War I ] was coming to an end, we all came to feel the need of securing an interest in our efforts beyond the narrow boundaries of Holland.
  • White
    This is the spiritual colour of our times, the clearness which directs all our actions. It is neither grey nor ivory white, but pure white.
    White This is the colour of modern times, the colour which dissipates a whole era; our era is one of perfection, purity and certitude.
    White It includes everything. We have superseded both the 'brown' of decadence and classicism and the 'blue' of divisionism, the cult of the blue sky, the gods with green beards and the spectrum.
    White pure white...
    • Quote in Van Doesburg's text 'Towards white painting', Paris, December 1929, in 'Art Concret' April 1930; as quoted in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 183
  • We speak of concrete and not 'abstract painting', because we have finished with the period of research and speculative experience. In their search for purity artists were obliged to abstract from 'natural forms' in which the plastic elements were hidden, in order to eliminate natural forms and to replace them with 'artistic forms'. To-day the idea of 'artistic form' is as obsolete as the idea of 'natural form'. We establish the period of pure painting by constructing 'spiritual form'. Creative spirit becomes concrete.
    • Quote on 'Concrete art', in: 'Comments on the basic of concrete painting', Paris, January 1930; 'Art Concret', April 1930, pp. 2–4
  • After having passed through the various phases of plastic creation [the phases of arrangement, composition, and construction] I have arrived at the creation of 'universal forms' through constructing upon an arithmetical basis with the pure elements of painting.
    • Quote in Van Doesburg's article 'From intuition towards certitude', 1930; as quoted in 'Réalités nouvelles', 1947, no. 1, p. 3
  • Marinetti's [leading Futurism founder and theorist] Tactilism can be seen as an instinctive effort in this direction [of the new architecture, according to Van Doesburg] even if it presents only the sensuous-tactile expression of space through using various materials. Picasso's earlier compositions in various materials also concerns us here. The Russian artists [ Tatlin and Lissitzky, both Constructivist artists] also appreciated the exterior quality of the plane, not only optical, but also in a tactile manner.. .Intuition already produced a foreknowledge of these new realms, but they can be established fully only by science.
    • Quote in van Doesburg's unpublished writing: 'The struggle for the new', 1929-30; as quoted in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 187
    • Van Doesburg's quote is proposing here the sensuous-tactile expression of space as essential for modern architecture
  • The work of art should be entirely conceived and formed by the mind before its execution. It should receive nothing from Nature’s formal properties or from sensuality or sentimentality.. .The picture should be constructed entirely from purely plastic elements, that is to say, planes and colours. A pictorial element has no other significance than 'itself', and therefore the picture has no other significance than 'itself'.
    • Quote from the first and only! issue of the art-magazine 'Art Concret', Paris 1930
  • We speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real then a line, a colour, a surface. A woman, a tree, a cow; are these concrete elements in a painting? No. A woman, a tree and a cow are concrete only in nature; in painting they are abstract, illusionistic, vague and speculative. However, a plane is a plane, a line is a line and no more or no less than that. 'Concrete paintin'. Spirit has arrived at the age of maturity...
    • Quote in 'Comments on the basic of concrete painting', Paris, January 1930, in 'Art Concret', April 1930, pp. 2–4
  • I would like to offer an illustration. Imagine a house which is well designed from a material or practical point of view .. .Apart from these physio-functional demands, there are also psycho-functional demands which correspond with our optical, phonetic and tactile experiences. Until now, mankind has attempted to satisfy these 'supra-material' demands with a painting on the wall or a sculpture in a room.. ..the architecture of the future will have to destroy this duality. Its task will be to express completely and fulfill all our demands.
    • Quote from Van Doesburg's unpublished writing, 'Fundamental principles', 1930; as cited in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 203
  • The new architecture has 'opened' the walls so that the separateness of interior and exterior is suppressed. Walls no longer sustain since the system of construction is based upon the use of columns. This results in a new type of ground plan, an open ground plan, which is totally different from classical ones, since interior space and exterior space are interrelated.
    • Quote from Van Doesburg's unpublished writing, 'Fundamental principles', 1930; as cited in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 203
  • The new architecture considers not only space, but also time to be an architectural value. The unity of space and time will give architecture a new form of appearance, which is more complete. This is what is meant by 'active space'.. ..the dissimilar space-cells develop eccentrically from the center to the borders of the cube, thereby granting a new plastic quality to the dimensions of height, width, depth, and time.
    • Quote from his unpublished writing, 'Fundamental principles', 1930; as cited in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 203
  • The new architecture has suppressed monotonous repetition and destroyed the equality of two symmetrical halves. It does not allow for continuous repetition. A block of houses is as much a whole as an independent house. Balance and symmetry are two entirely different things. In place of symmetry the new architecture proposes a balanced relationship of unequal parts or parts which differ [in position, proportion, size and materials] in functional character.
    • Quote from his unpublished writing, 'Fundamental principles', 1930; as cited in Theo van Doesburg, Joost Baljeu, Studio Vista, London 1974, p. 203
  • To be white, red, yellow, or black is to be a painter. Today it is not sufficient for the painter to think of colour; he should be colour, feed on colour and transform himself into painting. That is the essential thing. To feel like colour means to carry within oneself the entire range of colours, not as a treasure, but as a trust.
    • Quote in Van Doesburg's article 'Elementarism', as cited in De Stijl – Van Doesburg Issue, January 1932, pp. 17–19
  • The artist's studio will be like a glass-bell or a hollow crystal. The painter himself must be white, which is to say, without tragedy or sorrow. The pallet must be of glass; the brush must be square and hard, dust-free and as immaculate as a surgical instrument. Doubtless there is much to learn from a medical laboratory.. .The studio of the modern painter must reflect the ambiance of mountains which are nine thousand feet high and topped with a eternal cap of snow. There the cold kills the microbes.
    • Quote in Van Doesburg's article 'Elementarism', as cited in De Stijl – Van Doesburg Issue, January 1932, pp. 17–19
  • The complete and definitive work of art is created beyond one's individuality.. .The universal transcends such a level. Mere spontaneity has never created a work of art which possesses a lasting cultural value. The method leading to universal form is based upon calculations of measure and number.
    • Quote in his article 'Elementarism', as cited in De Stijl – Van Doesburg Issue, January 1932, pp. 17–19
  • One must always paint in opposition to nature, and to one’s own 'mood'. To let oneself go is a weakness, a sort of hysterics. If you are full of red, choose a green or a blue; if you feel like yellow, choose grey or black. In this continuous opposition lies the entire secret of plastic creation.. .To create a great work of art demands self-mortification.
    • Quote in his article 'Elementarism', as cited in De Stijl – Van Doesburg Issue, January 1932, pp. 17–19

Quotes about Theo van Doesburg[edit]

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes about Theo van Doesburg
  • Forgive me of saying so, but good things just have to grow very slowly. I say this in connection with your [Van Doesburg's] plans.. ..for launching a journal. I do not think that the time is favourable for it. More must be achieved in art in that direction. I hardly know anyone who is really creating art in our style, in other words, art which has arrived.. will have to include in it [in the new journal] what is not consistent with our ideas.
    • Quote from a letter of Piet Mondrian to Theo van Doesburg, Amsterdam, November 20, 1915; as cited in Letters of the great artists, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 234 (translation Daphne Woodward)
  • With regard to the diagonal, too, I am in complete agreement with you [with Theo van Doesburg ]. As soon as it appears together with straight [horizontal and vertical] lines, I believe it should be condemned.. .A while back I started a thing entirely in diamonds [diamond-shape] like this [his sketch in the letter of several diamond-forms]. I have to find out if it's possible: intellectually I'm inclined to say it is. There's something to be said for the idea, because perpendicular and flat lines can be seen everywhere in nature; by using a diagonal line I would be canceling that out. But I'm inclined to say that this cannot be combined with perpendicular and flat lines or with different kinds of slanting lines.
    • Quote of Piet Mondrian, in a letter to Theo van Doesburg, undated, c. May 1918; as cited in Mondrian, - The Art of Destruction, Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, p. 120
    • quote about the growing controversy between Mondrian and Van Doesburg. concerning the use of diagonal lines
  • And now about architects in general – I have to say it, Does [= Theo van Doesburg] - when 'De Stijl' was founded I left it up to you, but I never did agree with you when you ranked the architects alongside us, alongside our N.B. [Nieuwe Beelding = Neo-Plasticism = De Stijl ] I knew then that it would lead to conflict.. ..I cannot write about architecture, because I'm not an architect. I mean, I cannot write about the way I write about painting. Later on, though, I will put forward a few ideas.
    • Quote of Piet Mondrian in his letter to Theo van Doesburg, Paris 9 July 1918; as cited in Mondrian, - The Art of Destruction, Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, p. 139
  • And then about whether or not to work from a given in nature. In my view, you [Van Doesburg] define this in a rather narrow sense. In the main, I do agree with you that the destruction of the natural, and it reconstruction, must be accomplished according to a spiritual image, but I believe that we should take a broad view here. What is natural does not have to be a representation of something. I'm now working on a thing that is a reconstruction of a starry sky [in the painting: Composition, Checkerboard Dark Colours, 1919] and yet I'm making it without a given from nature. Someone who says he uses a theme from nature can be right, but also someone who says he uses nothing at all.
    • Piet Mondrian in his letter to Theo van Doesburg, 18 April 1919; as quoted in 'Mondrian, - The Art of Destruction', Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, pp. 125-26
  • The new vision.. ..does not proceed from a fixed point. Its viewpoint is everywhere, and not limited to any one position [in space]; [Mondrian is discussing here with Van Doesburg who had a different view on architecture]. Nor is it bound by space or time. In practice, the viewpoint is in front of the plane.. ..Thus this new vision sees architecture as a multiplicity of planes; again flat. This multiplicity composes itself (in an abstract sense) into a flat image [where Van Doesburg emphasis the dynamic position of the viewer – an core idea of Futurism – while wandering with his eyes through the designed/painted environment]
    • Quote by Piet Mondrian, in 'Mondrian, - The Art of Destruction', Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, pp. 148
  • Van Doesburg's preoccupation with the 'pure form' did not accord with the ideal of the Institution [ Bauhaus ], which was to educate the individual in the interest of the entire community.
    • Quote of Walter Gropius c. 1925, as cited in 'Fifty Years of Accomplishment, From Kandinsky to Jackson Pollock', by Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co. 1964, p. 83
    • Van Doesburg visited the Bauhaus in the early 1920's and attracted then many students who flocked to the private courses Van Doesburg gave there; according to Michel Seuphor who visited the Bauhaus in 1928 and still felt the influence of Theo van Doesburg under the students and the rejection by the teacher like Gropius.
  • In his later works Doesburg tried to destroy static expression by diagonal position of his lines. But in this way the feeling of physic equilibrium which is necessary to enjoy a work of art is lost.
  • The year 1921 was of great importance for Weimar Bauhaus art-school and for the development of German art. In that year the Dutchman Theo van Doesburg came to Weimar as our guest. His activities were devoted to the new way of expression, which he brought in his work as a stimulus. Through his periodical De Stijl.. ..he made us acquainted with the work of 'De Stijl' artists in Holland. He zealously propagated the best foreign artists, who have acknowledged the expression of new spirit. His lectures illustrated with slides stimulated the younger generation which at that time was assembled at the Weimar Bauhaus. Many pupils accepted the doctrine of the new expression, which has its master in Van Doesburg. I have been an enthousiastic pupil of this master and I honour him as the herald and pathfinder of the new era.
  • I arrived at suppressing the closed effect of abstract form, expressing myself exclusively by means of the straight line in rectangular opposition; thus by rectangular planes of colour with white, grey and black. At that time, I encountered artists with approximately the same spirit, First Van der Leck, who, though still figurative, painted in compact planes of pure colour. My more or less cubist technique - in consequence still more or less picturesque - underwent the influence of his exact technique. Shortly afterwards I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Van Doesburg. Full of vitality and zeal for the already international movement that was called 'abstract', and most sincerely appreciative of my work, he came to ask me to collaborate in a review he intended to publish, and which he [Theo van Doesburg] was to call 'De Stijl'. I was happy with an opportunity to publish my ideas on art, which I was engaged in writing down: I saw the possibility of contacts with similar efforts.
  • Every field of artistic activity seems to have been inspired by 'De Stijl's' dynamic and purifying attitude. Architecture in the first place bears the marks of 'De Stijl' and no wonder, for a series of daring and revolutionary projects had already been realized by the group. But its influence is not limited to architecture only, because it does not emanate from any specific work of the group. It is mainly due to the activities and the dynamism of Theo van Doesburg - 'De Stijl's' gifted and courageous leader. He propagated 'De Stijl's' principles and achievements all over Europe and by his fascinating lectures - the one I heard as a schoolboy has since remained in my memory as one of the most impressive speeches I have ever heard - and his great personal charm, he would find an echo even in the remotest corners of the Continent. He and the small group of friends and followers had to fight against various forms of resistance, i.e. conservatism, an inveterate addiction to baroque pomp, mere external show and façade.
  • At the Aubette, Sophie Taeuber executed reliefs of a simple, clear rhythm, in the purest Neo-Plastic tradition; Arp drew great forms with ample, flowing lines, which were perhaps figures, hair, or gestures, or lamentations. Van Doesburg accomplished his finest works here: a dynamic room entirely in diagonals [1], and another static room in horizontal and vertical plane-reliefs. Of all these there remain only photographic reminiscences.
    • Quote by Michel Seuphor, in 'Fifty Years of Accomplishment, From Kandinsky to Jackson Pollock', Dell Publishing Co. 1964, p. 95

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