Odilon Redon (1840 – 1916)

Artist’s Secrets 1894


I have made an art according to myself. I have done it with eyes open to the marvels of the visible world and whatever anyone says, always careful to obey the laws of nature and life.

I have done it also with the love for several masters who led me to the worship of beauty. Art is the Supreme Range, high, salutary and sacred; it blossoms; in the dilettante, it produces only delight, but for the artist, with anguish, it provides grains for new seeds. I think I surrendered obediently to the secret laws that led me to form, as best as I could and following my dream, things into which I put my entire being. If this art goes against the art of others (which I don’t believe it does), it has nevertheless brought me an enduring audience and friendships of quality and kindness that are dear to me, and rewarding.

[…] But now in my maturity, I declare, indeed insist, that all my work is limited exclusively to the resources of chiaroscuro. It also owes much to the effects produced by the abstract character of line, that deep source, acting directly on the spirit. Suggestive art can fulfil nothing without going back uniquely to the mysterious play of shadows and the rhythm of imaginatively conceived lines. Ah! Did these ever achieve a higher level than in da Vinci’s work! […] And it is also through perfection, excellence, intellect, obedient submission to the laws of nature that this admirable and supreme genius dominates the art of form; he dominates right through to its very essence! [Nature] was, for him and certainly for all the great masters, a necessity and an axiom. What painter could think otherwise?

[…] The credit for giving the illusion of life to the most unreal of my creations can never be taken away from me. My whole originality therefore consists in making the most implausible human beings live human lives according to the laws of the plausible, placing the logic of the visible, insofar as it is possible, at the service of the invisible. […] But on the other hand, my most fertile technique, and the one most necessary to my development, I have often said it, was to copy directly from the real while attentively reproducing objects from nature’s most ordinary, most special and most accidental characteristics. After trying to copy minutely a pebble, a blade of grass, a hand, a human profile or any other example of living or inorganic forms, I experience the onset of a mental excitement; at that point I need to create, to give myself over to representations of the imaginary. Thus blended and infused, Nature becomes my source, my yeast, and my leaven. I believe that this is the origin of my true inventions. I believe that this is true of my drawings; it is probable that even with the large proportion of weakness, inequality and imperfection inherent in everything that man recreates, one could not believe the images for an instant (because they are expressive in human terms) if they were not, as I have said, formed, constituted and structured according to the law of life and the moral transference necessary to everything that exists.

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