The Realistic Manifesto
Naum Gabo, Noton Pevsner
Above the tempests of our weekdays,
Across the ashes and cindered homes of the past,
Before the gates of the vacant future,
We proclaim today to you artists, painters, sculptors, musicians,
actors, poets... you people to whom Art is no mere ground for
conversation but the source of real exaltation, our word and deed.
The impasse into which Art has come to in the last twenty years must be
The growth of human knowledge with its powerful penetration into the
mysterious Laws of the world which started the dawn of this century,
blossoming of a new culture and a new civilization with their
unprecedented-in-history surge of the masses towards the possession of
the riches of Nature, a surge which binds the people into one union, and
last, not least, the war and the revolution (those purifying torrents of
the coming epoch), have made us face the fact of new forms of life,
already bon and active.
What does Art carry into this unfolding epoch of human history? Does it
possess the means necessary for the construction of the new Great Style?
Or does it suppose that the new epoch may not have a new style?
Or does it suppose that the new life can accept a new creation which is
constructed on the foundations of the old?
In spite of the demand of the renascent spirit of our time, Art is still
nourished by impression, extemal appearance and wanders helplessly back
and forth from Naturalism to Symbolism, from Romanticism to Mysticism.
The attempts of the Cubists and the Futurists to lift the visual arts
from the bogs of the past have led only to new delusions.
Cubism, having started with simplification of the representative
technique ended with its analysis and stuck there.
The distracted world of the Cubists, broken in shreds by their logical
anarchy, cannot satisfy us who have already accomplished the Revolution
or who are already constructing and building up anew.
One could heed with interest the experiments of the Cubists, but one
cannot follow them, being convinced that their experiments are being
made on the surface of Art and do not touch on the bases of it seeing
plainly that the end result amounts to the same old graphic, to the same
old volume and to the same decorative surface as of old.
One could have hailed Futurism in its time for the refreshing sweep of
its announced Revolution in Art, for its devastating criticism of the
past, as in no other way could one have assailed those artistic
barricades of 'good taste'... powder was needed for that and a lot of
it... but one cannot construct a system of art on one revolutionary
One had to examine Futurism beneath its appearance to realize that one
faced a very ordinary chatterer, a very agile and prevaricating guy,
clad in the tatters of wom-out words like 'patriotism', 'militarism',
'contempt for the female', and all the rest of such provincial tags.
In the domain of purely pictorial problems, Futurism has not gone
further than the renovated effort to fix on the canvas a purely optical
reflex which has already shown its bankruptcy with the Impressionists.
It is obvious now to every one of us that by the simple graphic
registration of a row of momentarily arrested movements, one cannot
re-create movement itself. It makes one think of the pulse of a dead
The pompous slogan of 'Speed' was played from the hands of the Futurists
as a great trump. We concede the sonority of that slogan and we quite
see how it can sweep the strongest of the provincials off their feet.
But ask any Futurist how does he imagine 'speed' and there will emerge a
whole arsenal of frenzied automobiles, rattling railway depots, snarled
wires, the clank and the noise and the clang of carouselling streets...
does one really need to convince them that all that is not necessary for
speed and for its rhythms?
Look at a ray of sun ... the stillest of the still forces, it speeds
more than 300 000 kilometres in a second... behold our starry
firmament... who hears it... and yet what are our depots to those depots
of the Universe? What are our earthly trains to those hurrying trains of
the galaxies? Indeed, the whole Futurist noise about speed is too
obvious an anecdote, and from the moment that Futurism proclaimed that
'Space and Time are yesterday's dead', it sunk into the obscurity of
Neither Futurism nor Cubism has brought us what our time has expected of
Besides those two artistic schools our recent past has had nothing of
importance or deserving attention.
But Life does not wait and the growth of generations does not stop and
we who go to relieve those who have passed into history, having in our
hands the results of their experiments, with their mistakes and their
achievements, after years of experience equal to centuries... we say ...
No new artistic system will withstand the pressure of a growing new
culture until the very foundation of Art will be erected on the real
laws of Life.
Until all artists will say with us...
All is a fiction ... only life its laws are authentic and in life only
the active is beautiful and wise and strong and right, for life does not
know beauty as an aesthetic measure ... efficacious existence is the
highest beauty. Life knows neither good nor bad nor justice as a measure
of morals... need is the highest and most just of all morals. Life does
not know rationally abstracted truths as a measure of cognizance, deed
is the highest and surest of truths.
Those are the laws of life. Can art withstand these laws if it is built
on abstraction, on mirage and fiction?
Space and time are re-bom to us today.
Space and time are the only forms on which life is built and hence art
must be constructed.
States, political and economic systems perish, ideas crumble, under the
strain of ages... but life is strong and grows and time goes on in its
Who will show us forms more efficacious than this...who is the great one
who will give us foundations stronger than this?
Who is the genius who will tell us a legend more ravishing than this
prosaic tale which is called life?
The realization of our perceptions of the world in the forms of space
and time is the only aim our pictorial and plastic art.
In them we do not measure our works with the yardstick of beauty, we do
not weigh them with pounds of tendemess and sentiments.
The plumb-line in our hand, eyes as precise as a ruler, in a spirit as
taut as a compass... we construct our work as the universe constructs
its own, as the engineer constructs his bridges, as the mathematician
his formula of the orbits.
We know that everything has its own essential image: chair, table, lamp,
telephone, book, house, man...they are all entire worlds with their own
rhythms, their own orbits.
That is why we in creating things take away from them the labels of
their owners... all accidental and local, leaving only the reality of
the constant rhythm of the forces in them.
1. Thence in painting we renounce colour as a pictorial element, colour
is the idealized optical surface of objects; an exterior and superficial
impression of them; colour is accidental and it has nothing in common
with the innermost essence of a thing.
We affirm that the tone of a substance, i.e. its light-absorbing
material body is its only pictorial reality.
2. We renounce in a line, its descriptive value; in real life there are
no descriptive lines, description is an accidental trace of a man on
things, it is not bound up with the essential life and constant
structure of the body. Descriptiveness is an element of graphic
illustration and decoration. We affirm the line only as a direction of
the static forces and their rhythm in objects.
3. We renounce volume as a pictorial and plastic form of space; one
cannot measure space in volumes as one cannot measure liquid in yards:
look at our space ... what is it if not one continuous depth?
We affirm depth as the only pictorial and plastic form on space.
4. We renounce in sculpture, the mass as a sculptural element.
It is known to every engineer that the static forces of a solid body and
its material strengh do not depend on the quantity of the mass ...
example a rail, a T-beam etc.
But you sculptors of all shades and directions, you still adhere to the
age-old prejudice that you cannot free the volume of mass. Here (in this
exhibition) we take four planes and we construct with them the same
volume as of four tons of mass.
Thus we bring back to sculpture the line as a direction and in it we
affirm depth as the one form of space.
5. We renounce the thousand-year-old delusion in art that held the
static rhythms as the only elements of the plastic and pictorial arts.
We affirm in these arts a new element the kinetic rhythms as the basic
forms of our perception of real time.
These are the five fundamental principles of our work and our
Today we proclaim our words to you people. In the squares and on the
streets we are placing our work convinced that art must not remain a
sanctuary for the idle, a consolation for the weary, and a justification
for the lazy. Art should attend us everywhere that life flows and
acts... at the bench, at the table, at work, at rest, at play; on
working days and holidays ... at home and on the road... in order that
the flame to live should not extinguish in mankind. We do not look for
justification, neither in the past nor in the future.
Nobody can tell us what the future is and what utensils does one eat it
Not to lie about the future is impossible and one can lie about it at
will. We assert that the shouts about the future are for us the same as
the tears about the past: a renovated day-dream of the romantics.
A monkish delirium of the heavenly kingdom of the old attired in
contemporary clothes. He who is busy today with the morrow is busy doing
And he who tomorrow will bring us nothing of what he has done today is
of no use for the future.
Today is the deed.
We will account for it tomorrow.
The past we are leaving behind as carrion.
The future we leave to the fortune-tellers.
We take the present day.
N. Gabo Noton Pevsner 2nd State Printing House
Moscow, 5 August 1920
Copyright for all languages: Nina Williams, Biddenden,