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The paintings of Schönberg fall into two categories: those which are drawn perfectly to nature, such as people or landscapes; and those which are intuitively conceived heads, which he calls “Visions.” Of the first group, Schönberg himself refers to these as necessary finger-exercises, does not value them especially, and is reluctant to exhibit them.

The second group he paints, just as infrequently as the first, in order to allow those stirrings of the soul, which cannot find any musical form, to come to expression.

These two kinds are outwardly quite different. Inwardly they stem from one and the same soul, which sometimes is made to vibrate by external nature, and at other times, by nature within him. This division is naturally a generalization, and is largely colored schematically.

In a wider reality, one can hardly separate so bluntly outer and inner experiences. Both kinds of experiences have, so to say, many long roots, fibers and branches, which penetrate each other, intertwine, and form, in the final result, a complex which is and remains significant for the artistic soul.

This complex is, so to speak, the digestive organ of the soul, its transforming, creative force. This complex is the originator of the transforming inner activity, which manifests itself in a transformed external form. By means of the qualities of this complex, unique in each case, the art-forming apparatus of the individual artist produces works which bear, so to say, his “imprint” and reveal the “handwriting” of the artist. Of course these popular designations are completely superficial, since they stress only the external, the formal, and neglect the internal almost entirely. That means that here, as so often, the external is given altogether too much honor. With the artist, the external is not only defined by the internal, but it is also created by the internal, as in any other creation, even that of the cosmos.

Seen from this vantage point, the artworks of Schönberg permit us to recognize his emotional complex beneath the imprint of his form.

First of all, we see immediately that Schönberg paints not in order to paint something “beautiful” or “engaging,” but that he paints without even thinking about the picture itself. Renouncing the objective result, he seeks to affix only his subjective “feelings,” and uses for that purpose only the means which seem to him indispensable at that moment. Not every professional artist can lay claim to this mode of creativity! Or stated differently, infinitely few professional artists possess this fortunate power, and at times this heroism, this energy of renunciation, whereby all kinds of artistic diamonds and pearls, when they fall of themselves into their hands, are quietly left aside unnoticed, or are even discarded. Schönberg proceeds directly toward his goal, or led by his goal, directly toward the necessary resolution.

The purpose of a painting is to give an outward expression to an inner impression through the medium of painting. That may sound like a well-known definition! If we can follow it to its logical consequence, that a painting actually has no other purpose, then I should like to ask: how many paintings are perfectly clear examples of works unsullied by what is unnecessary? Or, how many paintings actually remain paintings when measured by this very harsh and infl exible test, and not mere “objets d’art” that deceitfully simulate the necessity of their existence?
A picture is an external expression of an inner impression in painted form.

He who accepts this definition after painstaking and exact examination, receives thereby a correct, and what should be stressed, an unchangeable standard for every painting, be it recently created, still wet upon the easel, or whether it be discovered as a mural, un-earthed from a bygone city deeply buried in time.

Many a “viewpoint” concerning matters of art must change if this definition be accepted. In passing, I would like to take one of these views, and, in the light of the above definition, remove it from the obscurity of the usual prejudices. Not only the art critics and the public, but usually also the artist himself, see in the “development” of an artist the search for the appropriate form. From this viewpoint often arise several poisonous consequences. The artist thinks that he, after he has finally “found his form” can continue to produce further works of art in peace. Unfortunately, he himself does not even notice that from this moment (of “peace”) he very soon begins to lose this ultimately found form. The public, (in part under the direction of the art theoreticians), does not notice this regression so quickly, and thrives on productions of a dying form. On the other hand, convinced of the possibility of “an artist finally achieving his personal form,” they criticize sharply those artists who are still without form, who reject one form after another, in order to find the “right” one. The works of such artists exist without the attention justly due to them, and the public does not even try to glean from these works the meaning necessary for them. Thus there originates a completely reversed relationship to art, in which the dead is taken for the living, and vice-versa. In reality, the development of an artist consists not in the external development (a search for form for the unchangeable state of the soul), but rather in the inner development (the refl ection of spiritually attained wishes in the form of painting). The content of the soul of the artist enlarges, it becomes more precise, and increases in inner dimensions, upward, downward and in all directions. At that moment at which a certain inner level is reached, the outward form lends itself to being at the disposal of the inner value of this level.

And on the other hand, at the very moment when inner growth comes to a standstill, and immediately falls prey to the decline of the inner dimensions, the “already achieved form” slips away from the artist. Thus we often see this dying of the form, which is the dying of the inner wish. Thus an artist loses mastery over his own form, which becomes fatigued, weak, poor. And so is explained the miracle that an artist suddenly, for example, no longer can paint, or that his earlier, living color lies on the canvas as a pale, mere illusion, as an artistic carcass.

The decadence of form is the decadence of the soul, that is, of meaning. And the increase of form is the growth of content, that is, of the soul.

When we apply these standards to the paintings of Schönberg, we see immediately that we are dealing here with painting, whether or not this painting may lie “apart” from the great “movements of today.” We see that in every painting of Schönberg, the inner wish of the artist speaks in the form that best befits it. Just as with his music, (inasmuch as I a layman may affirm), Schönberg also in his painting renounces the superfl uous, (therefore the harmful) and proceeds along a direct path to the essential, (therefore to the necessary). He leaves alone, unnoticed, all “embellishments” and artistic detail. His “Self-Portrait” is painted with so-called “palette dirt.” And what other painting materials should he have selected in order to achieve this strong, sober, precise and concise impression? A portrait of a woman shows, in more or less accented color, only the sickly pink of the dress – otherwise no “colors.” A landscape is grey-green, only grey-green. The drawing is simple and truly “awkward.”
A “Vision,” only a head, is on a very small canvas (or on a piece of packing board). Strongly expressive are only the red-rimmed eyes.

I should most like to call Schönberg’s art the painting of essence.

Schönberg himself reproaches for his “lack of technique.” I would like to alter these reproaches according to the standards delineated above. Schönberg is deceived – he is not dissatisfied with his technique of painting, but rather with his inner desire, with his soul, from which he demands more than it can give him today. I would hope for this feeling of dissatisfaction for every artist –for all times. lt is not difficult to advance externally. lt is not easy to progress inwardly.

May “fate” grant that we do not turn away the inner ear from words of the soul.

Arnold Schönberg. Mit Beiträgen von Alban Berg et al. München 1912, 59–64