For a Programmed Experimental Painting (1962)

There are thousands of masterpieces in museums.

There are thousands of talented painters who contrive to reach a vast audience by successfully adapting themselves to current tastes.

The isms forever follow one another, bringing shock, pleasure, or amusement.

It would be quite mad and hypocritical to revolt against such a flourishing scene in the visual arts.

Yet we can only be astonished at the almost total absence of any sort of really experimental painting in all these miles and miles of masterpieces, and in the weighty mass of studies pertaining to them. For with none of these works can we speak of a genuine and verifiable experiment.

Their authors either identify themselves with their works, seeing them as an unmeasurable manifestation of their own personality, or, following a more modern development, they attach a primordial value to the discovery of a new artistic procedure, and, once the paternity of that procedure is well established, they go on to repeat a few variations of it arbitrarily chosen.

A genuine experiment, however, must be carried out on the basis of verifiable components, progressing systematically and following a program.

The unfolding of an experiment must happen by itself, and in a way that is almost unconnected to its designer.

Let us take one example: if we superpose very simple forms (the basic forms of Gestalt theory), and if we vary the angles of superposition, then a whole series of structures will appear.

These structures, perfectly verifiable and easily re-created, are choice materials for aesthetic experiments, and this material is clearly much more appropriate than any sort of unique, intuitive work, and even more appropriate than tests designed by psychologists.

Similarly designed experiments are applicable, for example, to color and movement.

To put it briefly, such a programmed experimental painting would answer to two needs: 

First, the need on the part of a section of the public who wants to share in the “creation” of works of art, and who are interested in demystifying art and in better understanding it; second, the need for new materials on the part of aestheticians, those scientists who are at once mathematicians and psychologists, and who, on the basis of the theories of modern psychology (in particular concerning the transmission of messages), are laying the foundations of a new science of art.

Translated by Nicholas Huckle. © Dia Art Foundation. English translation originally published in Béatrice Gross with Stephen Hoban, eds., François Morellet (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2019), p. 193. Originally published as “Pour une peinture expérimentale programmée,” in Groupe de recherche d’art visuel (Paris: Galerie Denise René; GRAV, 1962), n.p.