arp s    duo coll

 Collage with Squares 1917                  Untitled (‘Duo Collage’) 1918     

‘Art without Feeling’ – The Arps

The Swiss artist Sophie Taueber-Arp, and her French husband Jean Arp, often collaborated. There seems to have been no unhealthy power imbalances between them as is often the case with artistic relationships. Sonia Delaunay, a good friend of Sophie Arp, for example, reduced her artistic output in favour of supporting her husband’s work.

The Arps were very interested in chance and accident and the idea that the artist, rather than the autonomous creative genius he was thought to be in the past , is not central to the work he creates. In this collage they wanted to exclude as much personal input on the part of the maker as possible, and so the paper rectangles were cut with a paper-cutter rather than scissors  and were laid out in a strict grid system in an attempt to prevent any personality creeping in. As well as an interesting experiment, this was an extreme form of rationalism. Abstraction (especially geometric abstraction), often aimed to eliminate emotion and feeling, which is subjective, in order to express archetypes (e.g perfect geometric shapes and pure colours), which are objective. However, the insertion of two rectangles of silver leaf (the pale bluish oblongs), don’t fit into the ‘rational system’ and create a subtle and intriguing effect which in a way subverts the whole idea of objectivity.

In an earlier experiment, Jean, who like Sophie was heavily into the Dada movement, had made a collage with a very opposite method, though with the same desire to remove the artist’s personal feeling and intent. Dada was a rebellious trend which reacted against the ‘serious art’ of the past which it believed was primarily based on the rational intellect. It placed a high value on chance and the playful and random. Apparently, after working for a long time on a rigorous drawing, Jean –

“[. . .] finally tore it up, and let the pieces flutter to the floor of his studio [. . . .] Some time later he happened to notice these same scraps of paper as they lay on the floor, and was struck by the pattern they formed. It had all the expressive power that he had tried in vain to achieve. How meaningful! How telling! Chance movements of his hand and of the fluttering scraps of paper had achieved what all his efforts had failed to achieve, namely expression. He accepted this challenge from chance as a decision of fate and carefully pasted the scraps down in the pattern which chance had determined’

Yet one can hardly believe he didn’t order these ‘random pieces’ carefully when he stuck them down as the work has a strong feeling of balance and control about it. I think both works prove the opposite to what Arp intended – you can’t have a purely rational nor purely chance work of art.