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Goya, the Anguish’s Painter
article [ Art ]
an existence generating controversies

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by [cam ]

2007-06-13  |   

Literary Translation - Translations of classic and original poetry and other materialsThis text is a follow-up  | 

“Art is one of the most powerful ways of redressing the world, a noble realm where man extricates from human condition for touching that one which is the measure of gods.” (André Malraux – Saturn: An Essay on Goya)

Goya’s work has tried – aware or not – the readmeasurement of a world that people obstinately strive to tailor it cut out for their dimension. It remained an eternal testimony of the voices that inwardly have invaded him. If the sleep of the reason produces monsters, Goya used its sleeplessness for showing them to us. This “shapeless genius, who creeps alike a paralytic” and upholds on its own clumsiness, “succeeds in the most skilful leaps unto the highest art” (José Ortega y Gasset – Goya). Without him, Spain would never have been the same.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746 March 30, Fuendetodos/Aragon - † 1828 April 16, Bordeaux/France), the first painter who proclaims the right at lunacy, of which deafness intensified the violence of the inexhaustible voice that was resounding inside him, has magnificently and desperately tried a dialogue with the art. It means a dialogue with love, not with the heart’s one, but with the soul’s, with the metaphysical love. The reason of any life consists in the bitter unrest from the inside, which comes up against the circumambience vicissitudes. It is significant what accrues from this fight, which composes a human life. It is not a sequence of events, moreover a „trajectory endowed with dynamical tension, alike a drama” (José Ortega y Gasset). Goya was convinced that the human being is worthy only insofar as he can express what surpasses him, the human condition being an eternal prison, inside a world deprived of grace, of which savior didn’t come and will never come. That is why he hates the “traffickers of hopes”. He saw in Jesus Christ the “inner part of a metaphysical world that He cannot transcend”. The art of Goya establishes another kind of dialogue with God; coercing Him into listen to those things, that He would have preferred not to hear.

"...Loneliness has its limits, for Goya was not a prophet but a painter. If he had not been a painter his attitude to life would have found expression only in preaching or suicide." (André Malroux - Saturn: An Essay on Goya). The painting is a way of reaching the mystery, and the same, mystery is a way of reaching the painting. Goya is the first painter who has a premonition about a painting that does not accept another law but “that one of its own unforeseeable development”. He has its own way of perceiving our world, like being a nocturnal one, lightened only by the weak rays of a dead star, “carrying within the implacably planets’ chase the dreams’ palpitation, equally deaf, stale and irresistible alike that one of people’s hearts”. Art works do not take birth in vain and from nothing, they are human lives’ fragments and that is why they themselves are alive. Because human life is a drama, we have to discover the dramatic subject that indwells inside it and generates its organic and live tension.

José Ortega y Gasset was alleging that the great Spanish painters possess a special dimension, which is “absurd, rough, bourgeois, peasant, limited”, but it contributes to the esthetical entity’s structure, this deficiency of Spanish painting being an ingredient of its rangy movement. To not trying to distinguish that aspect of Goya, which is homely and uncouth, means opacity at one of the most appealing dimensions of his genius. Even if his work arouses an “unrivalled alcoholic effect”, even if he is that painter of the universe with “sex-appeal” for all the imaginable themes of writing, there are a small number of studies dedicated to him and most of them are not able to understand or to explain the painter. The rigorous spirit of the bookman could be captivated by “the authentic and unswerving problem - a problem that jabs with perilous and thin horns-” of Goya’s work, the scholar by “the invisible life of Goya”; the essayist could be wrested from lethargy by “the torrent of suggestions that ceaselessly burst out from his engravings and pictures”. Altogether, there are only a few trials of writing about this painter. A “matter for an excellent exercise of melancholy”, in that from a vibrating and abundant existence everything has instantly volatilized, without remaining at list a reduced “repertory of authentic remembrances”. Ortega y Gasset was emphasizing that a characteristic feature of Spain is the absence of curiosity for human, for the most seductive enigma, which is any individual existence. Goya’s work, not only suggestive but also eccentric, asks for much more attention that the work of any else artist, claims for the life and the human figure from behind it. That is why the Goyesque legend joins in a kind of contemporary mythology. The effect replacing the cause, Goya is confounded with the personages of his pictures and drawings. Ortega y Gasset strongly has lined out the lack of controllably solidity of the adventures, unrests, and guilty habits attributed to the painter. His presumptive adventurism, composing from abstract assumptions, could not been chronologically placed. “Its amazing platitude”, is one of the most extraordinary aspects of Goya’s life. We should need quite “of alchemist techniques” – sustains José Ortega y Gasset – for drawing forth the symptom of his ego from the multitude of positive and negative deeds, from the multitude of actions and omissions. Defining the happiness like being “the coincidence of our ego with the circumstances”, he tries to emphasize the absence of this coincidence in Goya’s case. Possessed by the demon of his inspiration, his ego always placed in the future, faces out the present. Within the human being’s architecture, frailties represent “only little inner gardens inside the orbit of his vocation”. Goya has to be seen from the inside of Goya. “Who speaks about him has to keep a double entry bookkeeping: concerning the painter, the errors, and the deficiencies are equally consubstantial for his artistic existence like the most manifest perfections. Goya’s awkwardness, as a professional painter, is an inseparably component of Goya’s charm, as of genius painter. That one, who doesn’t accept this truth, didn’t learn to honestly listen what happens inside him while facing the artist’s work, and also is not able to discover the integrant elements of the art of this painter”. For explaining this genius it is necessarily but insufficient to start from the data that we own about him. These data are only some clues that circumscribe an imaginary character. Before all, a human being is a system of possibilities and impossibilities. Concerning the artist, every trail of the painter brush means a way for carrying out an intention. Only his life can be the grammar and the dictionary that allow us to “read” his creations. Because the most insignificant touch line, “throw us away from the easel, the canvas, the wall, the board or the pigmented paper unto the dynamical orbit of an existence”.

At the many questions aroused by Goya’s painting: -“A bad joke?”, “Dislikeness towards the painting’s beauties?”, “A confession expressing an out of the ordinary, but authentic and lucid awareness of the tragic human existence?” -, from the possible responses, must be carefully one by one eliminated, until it remains the real one, the doubtless one. Firstly, it is necessarily to have a general view of his entirely work, to inventorize the themes that he has painted. “The style of a painter appears, like a plant on a certain land, from the way in which he attaches himself by his profession and appreciates it”. Goya has painted divine, human, diabolic, and fantastic themes. Between caricature and religious themes, he has repelled none. He was disposing of “an almost unlimited wealth of ability as a handicraftsman, of practice in all the techniques of painting, drawing, and engraving”. This ability has made him like feeling capable of anything, even if he wasn’t. And when he was not, his impotence was due to the lack of affinity with some themes.

Which Ortega y Gasset has observed was a strange outdistancing of the artist from the theme he paints. The interpreted objects – things or beings – are void of personal interest, from where the lack of any kind of “human warmth” directed unto them. “The absence of the condolence concerning the beings that he paints is even one of the causes generating his style”, abashed by the mysterious and demonic potency hiding within the human being’s underground. Ortega y Gasset was naming Goya “the great stammering painter”, which could never surpass a certain clumsiness of his hand. He had a rough and impulsive nature, void of “the system of inhibitions composing the upbringing”. He possessed an exacerbated sensitiveness at the circumambience influence. Only at 40 years old, he suffers the first “instructive shock”. “Uneducated and slow-witted”, he finally understands that he has not let himself abandoned to the private or collective “vegetative spontaneity” like the majority of Spanish people, moreover he has to “live an idea”. Goya’s contact with the elevated rules of behavior splits his personality: on the one side, he is an innate folk soul, on the other side, he becomes a soul engaged himself in living another kind of life. This duality was his eternal foe, being unable ever to fuse it. Actually, he wasn’t really adapted neither to the tradition’s world, nor to the culture’s one, from where aroused his unrest and the lack of security. The deafness has isolated him within a painful loneliness, within an almost pathological one. Loneliness has allowed him the observation and the reflection. Thus, he retires himself into the deep and reflexive zones of his being, setting free his originality, as if it was awoke from a long sleep. This genius was hag-ridden by his own creations. His dreams were more similar with some drawings than his drawings with some dreams. Goya had not vocation for painting, rather the vocation was completely possessing him.

For Goya the caricaturism was signifying the representation of an ephemeral show, free from esthetics, released from the “art’s laws”. The caricature was the staple through which he was “shaping” his style. His art expresses people’s character, rather than their passion or sufferance. His deformations tend unto mask. The animal – the symbolic donkey, the flying dog, the bloody he-goat, the monkey, the frog – is the mask’s baroque. The role of mask is to fix the face not to hide it. It is concomitantly the “death’s face”. The language of his art consists in dosing the apparitions, in taming his own lunacy. Goya’s deformations have something unearthly. Generally, “cartoonists have intended to lowly reduce this world at a single dimension”, while he has intended “to extend it, to add to this world the feature that prolongs it until mystery”.

Goya was engraving with the edged knife and drawing with the painter brush. He “re-engages the expression from where Rembrandt has let it. He also prefers to draw with the painter brush; he also searches for an own expression; he also cares less for the face than for the gesture, less for the gesture than for the scene, less for the scene than for a dramatic and complex sign, which gives unity to the engraving and creates an art work.” This opinion belongs to André Malraux, which tries to understand Goya as a genius, unlike José Ortega y Gasset, which tries to understand Goya as a common person. The black is the expression of fantastic, it gives to the engraving the disquieting accent, displaces the scene unto preternatural, wresting it from reality and placing it within a universe that does not belong to the man.

Goya’s style is the anguish’s style, of inhuman one. Between reportage and nightmare, he tries to represent the world in the way he sees it, an ordering not after his flowers, but after his underground roots. Divinity has also, for him, an underground element in a world where is always present the devil. The fiction doesn’t mean the embellishment of this world, but the getting through to the surface of the other. The atmosphere of his paintings betrays Goya like being one of the greatest poets, “a poet of blood”. Through a “broken and panting painting, he does not symbolize, but reveals”. In a permanent watch of forms, he does not comply with them, their selection “becoming established by his soul”. His imagination brings back to life the forms “lost in the darkness of Genesis”. It lights up only at night “likewise the cats’ eyes”.

His personages are not some disguised ones, “but butterflies emerged at light, for an instant, from a larval world, getting the revelation of freedom”. They disclose nights of obsessions. His fiction attacks “not only the social quality in the favor of the artistic one, but even the world’s order to the advantage of mystery”. The supernatural is the light that he spreads over his masks. Through the system of correspondence and allusions, he “converts into dissonance every of the accords that the order of this world was based on”.

Goya finds out that if exists a loneliness in which you are alone because you are abandoned, it exists other one, in which you are alone because people do not yet arrived unto you. He has the instinct that every thing is sacred, and this sacral that blenches at the surface only upsetting the relationships between people, coerces him into painting these bearings: the carnival, the madness, the night, the torture, the rape, the bullfight. Goya is the example of the creative man, while creation means “any production of a new form of life within art, thinking, behavior or in any else category belonging to the human existence”.

From 1790 Goya’s painting becomes plane, the third dimension - “the corporality”- starts to be bantered and virtualized. The third dimension is absorbed within the other two, being replaced by the “plane’s values”. His portraits become hallucinatory. There is inside them a dramatic force, the force of the trial of bringing something from the absence into presence, a trial of showing the real face of people. In his paintings is not possible to identify the sky or, at least a fragment of it. “The geometrical indecision deliver to the figure a fundamental unrest, it generates a continuous removal into the canvas’s vertical direction, a kind of advancement and withdrawal”. Goya paints “phantoms”, phantasms. “Do look at the lunatics as much as you want”, goads us Malraux, “but after you have watched them, do look in the mirror!”

Goya’s biography is one of the most controversialist ones. Usually the biographers know, even before starting their writings, how the show of their books will end, causing “the final’s reverberations from the beginning of the life they write about”. In Goya’s case, this procedure was very harmful, pretends Ortega y Gasset, being in an objective searching for the painter’s personality.

André Malraux was asserting that some of Goya’s paintings are carrying your mind unto the great Dostoievski’s novels, the two artists being, both of them, separated from people by irremediable. “The Deaf’s House” was deserving of being inhabited by Karamazov family”, he was saying. An “obscure and insistent sermon like any modern prophet’s language” is also Dostoievski’s writing, trying to wrest the world from blindness and deafness. However, José Ortega y Gasset reduces the entire phantasmagoria accumulated around “The Deaf’s House” at less than three years. It was documentary attested that the famous house nearby Manzanares was acquired by Goya in 1819 and inhabited from 1820 until 1824, when the painter went to France. He also reduces the signification of the black paintings from the house’s walls at the “work of a dotard man, who hardly could see anymore”.

“Goya’s work never germinates within the intelligence’s “frontiers”: it is common professionalism or perspicacity of a night-walker.” His creations generate a quasi-constant shock; their contemplation turns into a fight with ourselves, because we do not know what to think about during this contemplation. We do not know if the “author has intended to do what resulted, or it resulted accidentally. Is he a genius or rather a maniac? The painter’s intelligence is different from the intellectual’s one. The thinker manipulates ideas that do not oppose resistance allowing them in being generously combined and deformed. To the painter always opposes “the matter’s incorruptible consistence”. His hands stumble in it, acting alike a conscience. The artist “lives within his work more than the intellectual, and when his fingers remain alone, when they leave the canvas, the painter brush, the chisel gab, the clay or the marble, it seems that he remains without brain and appears stupid”.

At the old age, Goya could not see anymore. His sight was turning, by degrees, into a black glass through which he hardly could discern the stars. Nevertheless, he finds a solution also during the last years of his life. He starts to use the magnifying glass, not for taking care of details, but because he cannot else way. Thus, the aged man’s shaky hand becomes again an “almighty paw”. From the stone’s grey, he wrests the white with the grater. He does not see anymore his pencils, nevertheless he wins the matter, the black, the violent and decisive lines. He paints also “within the heartrending light from nearby death”. His loneliness becomes “haunted by eternity”, his deafness a “Beethovenian” one.

With the price of which anguish “built this man, against the whole culture in which he has born, his desperate and solitary art”? Until his last night, this colossus of painting, drawing half-blind “The Sleeping Colossus”, has strived to make heard “the avidest of absolute voice, and the most isolated from it, that art has ever known”. From his work blenched “unexpected arrows, equal in highness with the noblest questions of the human mind that only the poet’s lyricism and the philosopher’s thinking have tried, until then, to formulate”.

José Ortega y Gasset – Velázquez. Goya
André Malraux – Saturn: An Essay on Goya

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