The picture is made of air
Movements and proclamation
We think most of useless things
This is an extract from an article I published in a journal of children’s poetry, Kirin (giraffe), in February, March, and April of 1962. If I read it now, it doesn’t seem so new, but at the time I thought it was very radical. Meanwhile, Kirin is no longer in print, probably because of what I wrote.
‘Which of the two are more important: useful things or useless things? Of course, the useless things are much more important.’
If you think for a moment, it seems better to do useful things. It’s definitely not bad if you do something useful that brings joy to somebody else. There’s no need to explain that many people work in order to be useful to society, and it is thanks to all this that we live so comfortably.
In fact, means of transport are comfortable, and the evening is lit up. In the cold night we can live with heat, but this is still a form of organisation to do something, yet this is not the end purpose. Let’s take money as an example; if we have a lot of money, we can do what we want, so everyone wants money. However, if the purpose of life is to get money, we lose sight of the priorities.
Because these types of people have never thought seriously about useless things, they haven’t been able to grasp the really beautiful things apart from the useful things.
A few years ago, I saw a film about the life of Picasso. I was surprised not only at how simply Picasso painted a beautiful picture, but at the enjoyment he got from terracotta pipes lying in the street. As soon as he found them he would just start playing with them, making and creating the outline of a man or faces. I was surprised, not because Picasso would create beautiful figures of a man with these materials, but because he enjoyed himself with the naturalness of a child, without hesitation.
He didn’t do this to study something, nor even as an exercise for making a sculpture; it simply amused him in a natural way, like a child. That is when I understood why Picasso’s painting is so rich. When we find stones or tiles, or earthenware pipes, everyone wants to play with them. In fact, small children enjoy themselves with these materials, often on building sites where they really shouldn’t be. The heart of the pure child is really beautiful…. when I say this, the majority of adults agree with me saying, ‘it is true, this is the most important human treasure’. But in reality, I only see everyone in society destroying this wonderful treasure.
‘You have to do useful things or do nothing’. You are a ‘good for nothing’ (so you have to do something useful…)
It’s the same thing in art teaching. We had the idea that by studying art we would become good at choosing a nice accessory or a beautiful design of Kimono. However, I don’t think kids paint in order to learn to paint well or to be good at choosing a tie, but for the true purpose, that of cancelling out useful things. If all the things they study at school are useful things, they will become men without taste: it is a terrible thing! While the most useful thing for human beings is to create or think about useless things.
Culture is preserving a tramp’s home
Generally speaking, when a painter paints, he changes the initial project. For example, if the colours have not dried properly, they mix with the new colours. So, this unexpected change is new, and remains. But this cannot be true of architecture. First you prepare the project and you construct your building on this basis. For this reason I thought that architecture was less interesting than painting because it does not directly express the human heart. However, I’ve discovered an architecture that truly does have a human heart.
A few years ago, I saw a photograph of a house created by an old tramp on the outskirts of Hakata. His house was made from scrap metal and pieces of wood carried from the river Nakagawa Hakata. He used electricity poles as supports, and gradually built up around them. It is fascinating the kinds of objects this river throws up. For the interior decoration, pictures of nudes from magazines picked up in the street had been pasted on the walls. But above all, I was struck by the greatness of the man and his warmth. I doff my cap to his obsession.
It is a unique work. I can safely say that this is culture.
However, this house was demolished by the city and the old tramp was put in a nursing home. This is typical cultural policy in Japan.
Culture does not mean constructing a building with gleaming marble, or a thing of luxury with a lot of money. It is an action that people who have lost their culture per-form. On the other hand, renovating and maintaining the tramp’s house would mean creating an attraction in Hakata; this is culture.
If the same thing happened in Europe, the Europeans would immediately transform it into an attraction. In Japan, we mix art and the common sense of ethics. The tramp is dirty, but this has nothing to do with art.
When the Pompidou Centre in Paris was inaugurated, I went to visit it. In the lobby on the ground floor, there was a monstrous work by Tinguely. Tinguely is a sculptor who creates mobile sculptures from scrap metal. What I saw at the centre was a monster made of scrap metal the size of a Japanese house.
Normally, and especially for the inauguration of a museum, a ‘majestic’, ‘refined’, ‘deeply meaningful’, ‘safe’ etc., work, possibly in ‘quality materials’ is placed at the entrance. But this work had none of all this. It gives the impression of being dirty and poor, light and insubstantial.
I was under the impression that it moved like the last, desperate struggle of a scrap factory that was falling into ruin. Also of extreme interest were the rather unpleasant noises. When I walked into the womb of this gigantic monster, there was drawing paper that had been set at the corners using a stapler. Some mere cardboard boxes had been installed as something important and they were lit up. They say this is the hat that Marcel Duchamp wore. So there was no reason for it to be installed in the most important museum in the world: as a matter of fact, these are things that everyone throws away. This, however, was new and moving. A perfect example of the wisdom of the people of Paris. If that tramp had had a home in Paris, he would have had a very famous attraction.