Sartre Essay On Giacometti

These are mostly for me, just kind of gathered here without order or comment for the moment. I’ve been thinking about Alberto Giacometti lately, and his sculptural, spatial pursuit of that moment when a figure comes into view.
Arthur C Danto in The Nation 2001 about Sartre in 1948 on Giacometti:

Sartre says something even more striking about Giacometti’s figures. “The moment I see them, they appear in my field of vision the way an idea appears in my mind.” This is a way of explaining the somewhat ghostly feeling of his figures, as if they were persons whose bodies had been all but erased. Giacometti was legendary for destroying his work–his studio floor would be found littered with broken plaster in the morning, after undoing a night’s work. I think this was the result of an impossible effort to eliminate whatever gave them the solidity that belonged to their material condition as sculpture.

Rosalind Krauss in Artforum 2001 quoting Sartre in 1948 on Giacometti:

“Giacometti,” Sartre wrote, “has restored an imaginary and indivisible space to statues. He was the first to take it into his head to sculpt man as he appears, that is to say, from a distance.” And because this is man as he is perceived, it is fitting that these sculptures should all be vertical, since Sartre equates perception with walking, traversing space, doing things, just as he links imagining with the body’s repose. If one dreams lying down–as in the sculptor’s earlier, Surrealist, s leeping women–one perceives standing up.

Michael Kimmelman in NYT 2001 on Giacometti’s MoMA retrospective:

In the 1940’s and 50’s, when he made extremely thin heads, flattened on both sides like pancakes, Giacometti talked about the effect of looking at somebody straight on, then from the side. He was rejecting the Cubist idea that it was possible to keep different views of the same person in sight at the same time. ”If I look at you from the front, I forget the profile,” he said. ”If I look at you in profile, I forget the front view.” Which is precisely what happens: if we move 30 degrees left or right off-center of these heads, the face becomes a profile. Back six inches, the profile disappears. If we move: the work is about our distance from the figures, our position vis-a-vis the heads or striding men or standing women.

Kimmelman in the NYT 1996 reviewing David Sylvester’s incredible book, Looking at Giacometti:

The issue for Giacometti became the pursuit of what he called likeness. Roughly, it had to do with trying to represent the real experience of seeing, apart from artistic conventions: on the simplest level, conveying the actual swimmy sense of distance and engulfing space when viewing figures across, say, a broad street, or conversely, the vertiginous foreshortening you get when standing face to face with someone. Likeness also had to do with something less tangible but still real: the intense sensation of the shared gaze between living artist and living model. Mr. Sylvester contrasts Giacometti with Matisse in this respect. “The Matisse sculptures present a figure seen whole and entire now, in an instant of time, in any instant of time, meaning outside time,” he writes. “The Giacometti sculptures seem to present figures as they are perceived while time passes.”

I’ve GOT to get Sylvester’s book out of storage this weekend. That, and Herbert Matter’s photobook of Giacometti’s sculptures. I have my Bonnefoy, of course, which is beautiful to look at, but nearly impossible to read. Just, wow, what is going on there?
image: City Square, 1948, via

  • 1.

    ‘Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945–55’, Tate Gallery, London, 9 June–5 September 1993. The catalogue of the exhibition, F. Morris, Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945–55 (London: Tate Gallery, 1993), contains two extensively documented contextualising essays: (i) S. Wilson, ‘Paris Post War; In Search of the Absolute’, pp. 25–52; (ii) D. Mellor, ‘Existentialism and Post War British Art’, pp. 53–62. A version of this chapter on Sartre and Giacometti was originally delivered as a lecture at the Tate Gallery on 10 July 1993 as a contribution to the educational events linked to the exhibition.Google Scholar

  • 2.

    D. Sylvester, ‘In Giacometti’s Studio’, Independent, 10 July 1993, p. 29. For a broader assessment of the exhibition, see C. Howells, ‘A new resolve: Art and existentialism in the wake of the Second World War’, The Times Literary Supplement, 2 July 1993, pp. 18–19.Google Scholar

  • 3.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘La Recherche de l’absolu’, Les Temps Modernes, no. 28 (January 1948), pp. 1153–63; reprinted in SIT3, pp. 289–305. The text, translated as ‘The Search for the Absolute’, constituted the introducton to the catalogue of an exhibition of Giacometti’s sculptures at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, 10 January–14 February 1948.Google Scholar

  • 4.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Les Peintures de Giacometti’, Derrière le miroir (Review of the Maeght Gallery), no. 65 (May 1954); reprinted in Les Temps Modernes, no. 103 (June 1954), pp. 2221–32 and in SIT4, pp. 347–63. The text constituted the introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition of Giacometti’s paintings at the Maeght Gallery, 14 May–15 June 1954.Google Scholar

  • 5.

    Wols en personne, Jean-Paul Sartre, Henri-Pierre Roche and Werner Hauftmann (Delpire, 1962); the text by Sartre was reprinted as ‘Doigts et non-doigts’, in SIT4, pp. 408–34.Google Scholar

  • 6.

    SIT2, p. 63; SIT4, p. 368.Google Scholar

  • 7.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Mythe et réalité du théâtre’, Le Point, no. 7 (January 1967), pp. 20–5.Google Scholar

  • 8.

    ‘Paris Post War: Matter and Memory’, conference held at the Tate Gallery, 18 June 1993. Speakers were: Tim Mathews (‘Fautrier: Image and Body’), Sarah Wilson (‘Sartre and Art: From Surrealism to Existentialism’), Raymond Mason (‘School of Paris’), Alphons Grieder (‘Visions of Man: Phenomenological, Existential and Giacomettian’), Michael Kelly (‘Deaths and Entrances: Ideas and Ideology in Post War France’), Elsa Adamowicz (‘Michaux: Making Faces’), Patrick Marsh (‘Resnais: Film and Memory’), and Michel Oriano, William Turnbull, Olivier Todd, Bryan Robertson (‘Round Table Discussion’).Google Scholar

  • 9.

    Sarah Wilson, ‘Sartre and Art’, n. 8.Google Scholar

  • 10.

    Ibid.Google Scholar

  • 11.

    Raymond Mason, ‘School of Paris’, n. 8.Google Scholar

  • 12.

    Alphons Grieder, ‘Visions of Man’, n. 8.Google Scholar

  • 13.

    Olivier Todd; n. 8.Google Scholar

  • 14.

    J. Cau, in M. Contat and J. Lecarme, ‘Les Années Sartre’, radio programme broadcast on France Culture, 24 and 25 August 1990.Google Scholar

  • 15.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Réponse à Albert Camus’, Les Temps Modernes, no. 82 (August 1952), pp. 334–53; reprinted in SIT4, pp. 90–129.Google Scholar

  • 16.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘La Réponse de Jean-Paul Sartre au CNE’, Les Temps Modernes, no. 22 (July 1947), pp. 181–4.Google Scholar

  • 17.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘M. François Mauriac et la liberté’, La Nouvelle Revue Française, no. 305 (February 1939), pp. 212–32; reprinted in SIT1, pp. 35–52.Google Scholar

  • 18.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Les Bastilles de Raymond Aron’, Le Nouvel Observateur, 19–25 June 1968; reprinted in SIT8, pp. 193–207.Google Scholar

  • 19.

    The emergence of existentialism as the ‘cultural glue’ of postwar intellectual practice was assessed in detail by Michael Kelly at the Tate Gallery conference; see n. 8. See also M. Kelly, ‘Humanism and National Unity: the Ideological Reconstruction of France’, in N. Hewitt (ed.), The Culture of Reconstruction: European Literaure, Thought and Film, 1945–50 (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 103–19.Google Scholar

  • 20.

    R. Barthes, ‘Qu’est-ce que la critique?’, in Essais critiques (Seuil, 1964), pp. 252–7.Google Scholar

  • 21.

    For an account of this process of ideological criticism in Sartre’s work, see M. Scriven, Sartre’s Existential Biographies (London: Macmillan, 1984).Google Scholar

  • 22.

    J.-P. Sartre, Saint Genet, comédien et martyr (Gallimard, 1952). Genet himself wrote a perceptive analysis of Giacometti’s work: ‘L’Atelier d’Alberto Giacometti’, Les Lettres Nouvelles, vol. 5, no. 52. (September 1957), pp. 199–218; reprinted in Jean Genet Oeuvres Complètes (Gallimard, 1979), pp. 39–73.Google Scholar

  • 23.

    For a comprehensive account of Sartre’s approach to the visual arts, see (i) G. Bauer, Sartre and the Artist (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1969); (ii) M. Sicard, ‘Esthétique de Sartre’, Obliques Sartre et les Arts (1981), pp. 15–20.Google Scholar

  • 24.

    J.-P. Sartre and M. Sicard, ‘Penser l’art: entretien’, Obliques Sartre et les Arts (1981), pp. 15–20.Google Scholar

  • 25.

    J.-P. Sartre, La Nausée (Gallimard, 1938), pp. 120, 129 and 135–6. It is worth comparing the Bouville museum incident in La Nausée with the short piece that Sartre wrote entited ‘Portraits officiels’, Verve, nos 5–6 (1939), pp. 9–12; reprinted in ES, pp. 557–9.Google Scholar

  • 26.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Le séquestré de Venise’, Les Temps Modernes, no. 141 (November 1957), pp. 761–800, reprinted in SIT4, pp. 291–346; J.-P. Sartre, ‘Saint Georges et le dragon’, L’Arc, no. 30 (October 1966), pp. 35–50, reprinted in SIT9, pp. 202–26; J.-P. Sartre, ‘Saint Marc et son double’, Obliques: Sartre et les Arts (1981), pp. 171–202.Google Scholar

  • 27.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Visages’, Verve, nos 5–6, pp. 43–4; reprinted in ES, pp. 560–4.Google Scholar

  • 28.

    J.-P. Sartre, Visages, précédé de Portraits officiels (Seghers, 1948).Google Scholar

  • 29.

    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Visages’, p. 564.Google Scholar

  • 30.

    Ibid., p. 560.Google Scholar

  • 31.

    J.-P. Sartre, Les Mots (Gallimard, 1964), p. 193.Google Scholar

  • 32.

    S. de Beauvoir, La Force de l’âge (Gallimard, 1960), p. 561.Google Scholar

  • 33.

    Ibid.Google Scholar

  • 34.

    Ibid., pp. 561–2.Google Scholar

  • 35.

    J.-P. Sartre, Les Mots (Gallimard, 1964), pp. 193–4.Google Scholar

  • 36.

    Ibid., pp. 194–5.Google Scholar

  • 37.

    S. de Beauvoir, Tout compte fait (Gallimard, 1972), p. 102.Google Scholar

  • 38.

    SIT3, pp. 292–3.Google Scholar

  • 39.

    Ibid., p. 294.Google Scholar

  • 40.

    J.-P. Sartre, L’Imaginaire (Gallimard, 1940).Google Scholar

  • 41.

    S. de Beauvoir, Tout compte fait (Gallimard, 1972), p. 103.Google Scholar

  • 42.

    ‘Rétrospective Alberto Giacometti’, exhibition held at the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, 30 November 1991–15 March 1992.Google Scholar

  • 43.

    J.-P. Sartre and M. Sicard, ‘Penser l’art: entretien’, Obliques Sartre et les Arts (1981), p. 16.Google Scholar

  • One thought on “Sartre Essay On Giacometti

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *