Madness in Art – Prose by César Vallejo

A few abstract theodolites. The Mad Salon. A Chronicle of favourite pastimes. Art among the mad, or the mad in art. The opinions of two great French Psychiatrists. Thoughts written in the margin of insane pictures. The fatal breakdown of vocation. The restless creativity of an Indo-American. Madness, secret of human destiny.

The Countess of Noailles’s favourite pastime is to paint. Max Jacob and Francis Picabia have theirs also in painting. Charlie Chaplin has his in musical composition. Lindbergh has his in song. The French senators favourite pastime is the Basque Ball, and the members, in drawing. Marritte de Rauwera’s favourite pastime is classical dance. The deaf have theirs in sculpture, and the mad in painting. The favourite pastime is a current phenomena, because man never devotes both arms to a single vocation, but always reserves the left for what, just for an instant, may have been.

The principal vocation of the mad is madness. Such is their art, its fundamental motive in life. But the mad also make concessions to the remaining numbers of a problem. The mad seek to bite off  the whole right arm, but meanwhile carry out with their left eye, so as not to bore themselves, a criticism of pure reason or surprise a new dimension of the plastic arts. Similarly dividing their concern, the mad do it almost half and half, that’s to say, are almost equally enthused by both activities. This is one of the most important differences that distinguish the sane from the mad. In the sane man, the right differs enormously from the left and this marks out the irreproachable citizen, who never puts a foot wrong, or a serious child, who doesn’t play. By contrast, in the mad the right foot is hardly distinguishable from the left. If you ask a mad person of great precision what the difference is between day and night, or between the past and future, they’ll respond with wonders, distinguished stupidity. The mad then, contrary to what one might think, don’t give themselves over to complete madness, but divide their sensitivity almost equally between their predominant life vocation and some other sphere of life. The mad don’t put much east in this, nor too much west in that. We’re almost tempted to attribute to them a meridian position, the terrible metaphysical golden mean.

When the mad, apart from being mad, give themselves up to painting, they aren’t left-handed because, following what’s been said, they almost paint with both hands, or at least they ignore, in the act of painting, which is their left and which is their right hand, which is light and which is shadow, which is just a point and which a line. And their pictures, as a result, are magnificent, disastrous.

In an intrepid gallery on Vavin street, a few mad people from various countries offer, for communal sanity, a copious exposition of drawing, painting and sculpture. While rational decorative architects prepare us for Christmas with harmonious illuminations in shop facades and on The Eiffel Tower, the favourite pastime of the mad vibrates strangely; but the purity and clarity of their sad melodies surpass, in their creative surge, even the music of the celebrated Theremin. Without doubt, the mad are admirable people.

Some critics dare to believe that this exposition could actually support a fundamentally creative aesthetic. “Picasso already desires- ventures a critic in L’Art Vivant– to possess the mad Juny’s amazing resources, one of those exponents who’s written slogans and thoughts like this in the corner of their drawings: ‘And the bells of Meudón go ding dang dong!…Or that of: ‘These same walls, sir, have eagle eyes’.”

“The art of the alienated- says another critic of Crapuillot- has a guiding significance as great as that held by black art twenty years ago”. Called on to rule in this matter, the celebrated psychiatrists Marié and Vonchon, agree in affirming that “modern art seems to connect at a certain point with insane art, because both take their inspiration from the domain of the unconscious and express it, more or less, directly. It should be noted, as well- following these wise figures- that when an artist suffers mental disturbance, their spirit generally returns to primitive ideas of art and a similar tendency can be seen to manifest itself in our modern schools, just as it manifested itself in the past in the case of ancient artists, such as El Greco, for example?

What would older people back home say to all this? Recently, no less, on the occasion of an exposition of the work of the Peruvian artist Juan Devéscovi in Paris, people from overseas found themselves before that same direct expression, of the kind spoken about by Maré and Vinchon and which characterises the painting of this brave Indo-American artist.  These people do not want to be convinced that what man lacks in order to be completely happy is, precisely, more than a few mad comrades.

-Paris, December 1927. Translated by Michael Lee Rattigan 2011.

cesar vallejoCésar Abraham Vallejo Mendoza (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938) was a poet, writer, playwright, and journalist, born in Santiago de Chuco, a remote village in the Peruvian Andes. Thomas Merton referred to Vallejo as “the greatest universal poet since Dante”. In English, Vallejo began being represented in the late 50s and early 60s, with the most prominent current ‘Collected Poetry’ volumes translated by Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia (U.C. Press, U.S) as well as Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi (Shearsman, U.K). Much of Vallejo’s prose and plays still remain untranslated.

Michael Lee Rattigan is a poet and translator based in Surrey, England. His collection ‘Nature Notes’, and translations of Fernando Pessoa’s ‘Complete Poems of Alberto Caeiro’ were published with Rufus Books. Recent poems can be found in Black Herald 2, and at:   


About thefiendjournal

I was born in Blackpool, England and am currently based in Lancashire. Poems have been published in magazines in the U.K, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Canada, U.S.A and South Korea. A pamphlet; "MMV", was published in 2008. Hundreds of poems have been written in draft form, and multiple books are being planned and edited for future release. As well as editing 'The Fiend' I translate, paint and dabble in photography (images of which have occasionally been used here).
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4 Responses to Madness in Art – Prose by César Vallejo

  1. An interesting read – thanks for sharing. Is it also published in any book or online?

  2. I’ve been informed that there will be a book of Vallejo’s prose by a number of translators available fairly soon on a U.S press, and that the pieces at The Fiend, and/or other translations by Michael, may be included. By all means email me for more details and I can pass them on when I have them.

  3. Reblogged this on .

  4. Pingback: Vallejo on Arts « days of parrhesia

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