Landscape Thinks

He inquired about the geological structure of bis landscapes, convinced that these abstract relationships, expressed, however, in terms of the visible world, should affect the act of painting. The rules of anatomy and design are present in each stroke of his brush just as the rules of the game underlie each stroke of a tennis match. But what motivates the painter’s movement can never be simply perspective or geometry or the laws goveming color, or, for that matter, particular knowledge. Motivating ail the movements from which a picture gradually emerges there can be only one thing: the landscape in its totality and in its absolute fullness, precisely what Cézanne called a “motif.” He would start by discovering the geological foundations of the landscape; then, according to Mme. Cézanne, he would halt and look at everything with widened eyes, “germinating” with the countryside. The task before him was, first to forget all he had ever learned from science and, second through these sciences to recapture the structure of the landscape as an emerging organism. To do this, all the partial views one catches sight of must be welded together; all that the eye’s versatility disperses must be reunited; one must, as Gasguet put it, “join the wandering hands of nature.” “A minute of the world is going by which must be painted in its full reality.” His meditation would suddenly be consummated: “I have my motif,” Cézanne would say, and he would explain that the landscape had to be centered neither too high nor too low, caught alive in a net which would let nothing escape. Then he began to paint ail parts of the painting at the same time, using patches of color to surround bis original charcoal sketch of the geological skeleton. The picture took on fullness and density; it grew in structure and balance; it came to maturity all at once. ‘The landscape thinks itself in me,” he said, “and I am its consciousness.” Nothing could be farther from naturalism than this intuitive science. Art is not imitation, nor is itsomething manufactured according to the wishes of instinct or good taste. It is a process of expressing.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Cézanne’s Doubt (1945)

Paul Cézanne, Views of the Sainte-Victoire Mountain (around 1902-1904)