Academic Writings

On Cezannes Doubt

On Cézanne’s Doubt

Cézanne’s Doubt by Maurice Merleau-Ponty is by the far the most interesting article I have read recently. There were numerous interesting, thought-provoking points made. As an artist, I especially liked the following quote:

“It is not enough for a painter like Cézanne, an artist, or a philosopher, to create and express an idea; they must also awaken the experiences which will make their idea take root in the consciousness of others.”

To me, having an idea is important, expressing it utilizing sound construction and craft is also important, but imbuing it with feeling… atmosphere… life… an essence that makes others not just understand my idea, but experience it as if it is theirs -- indeed, uniquely theirs, no longer just mine – is of vital importance. As Merleau-Ponty put it: When an image comes to life for other people “the work of art will have united these separate lives; it will no longer exist in only one of them like a stubborn dream or a persistent delirium… It will dwell undivided in several minds, with a claim on every possible mind like a perennial acquisition.”

I feel my future works of art long before they exist. I visualize their presence in my gut before in my mind. When my limbs grow weak and I feel a weight on my chest, I know the potential for connection is there. Then, it is up to me to create the work physically while maintaining its feeling. This is tricky business, of course. The mechanics often attempt to consume the soul of the work. To implement an idea without allowing the implementation to overwhelm the idea is extremely challenging. To do so requires, I think, a constant connection to myself because the work exists within me; is part of me. As Merleau-Ponty says: “Although it is certain that a person’s life does not explain his work, it is equally certain that the two are connected. The truth is that that work to be done called for that life.” Further, he says, “His life was the preliminary project of his future work.” I love it. Makes such sense. Each artist lives a unique life and, to be successful, his or her art must be an extension of the life. (Here, I am not talking about financial success necessarily. I believe some formula art sells very well. I am talking about successful in the sense of connection with -- “taking root in the consciousness of” – others.)

Further, Merleau-Ponty says, “The psychoanalyst’s hermeneutic musing, which multiplies the communications between us and ourselves, which take sexuality as the symbol of existence and existence as symbol of sexuality, and which looks in the past for the meaning of the future and in the future for the meaning of the past, is better suited than rigorous induction to the circular movement of our lives, where the future rests on the past, the past on the future, and where everything symbolizes everything else.” This is a very freeing thought; that what we do is what we are and what we are is what we do; that the two cannot – should not – be separated and, if they are, authenticity and truth are lost. Our lives permeate everything we do and everything we do permeates our lives. Thus, our lives are constantly changing and our work constantly changes. Our work, then, can only end when our lives end and, conversely, if our work ends, our lives would end. Only through meaningful work can we truly live and only by truly living can we continue meaningful work.

- January 29, 2003

© 2021 Carol Hummel